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Dancers jump into multidisciplinary collaboration

Dance, Piano & Voice is at Waldorf Ballet Studio Oct. 20 to 22
Sylvain Brochu (at centre) with the musicians and dancers he assembled for Dance, Piano & Voice.

The uncommon coupling of live music with original choreography by a lifelong dancer from Gibsons has produced a multigenerational performance that radiates emotional vulnerability. 

Dance, Piano & Voice is a creation of Sylvain Brochu, a veteran performer originally from Sherbrooke, Quebec, who himself has worked with more than 40 choreographers over his four-decade career. It also features a piece designed by Vancouver dance artist Judith Garay.  

The performance was a late addition to the official lineup of the Sechelt Arts Festival, now under way. The three performances scheduled for this weekend offer an intimate counterpoint to the large-scale Celebration of Dance scheduled to run the following week. 

“Practically, it’s unusual to combine live music and dance because it’s usually costly,” explained Brochu, “and it requires a lot of coordination of different art forms. It’s much simpler to just press a button. It’s very demanding, but at the same time, the rewards are astonishing.” 

The 60-minute production features soaring vocal harmonies by Janice Brunson, Sara Douglas, Tom Kellough and Brochu himself. Kellough also provides piano accompaniment throughout the program, playing works by Claude Debussy, Sergei Rachmaninov, and Australian composer Luke Howard, who writes contemporary classical music. 

More than a dozen local dancers volunteered to be part of the production. Cassidy Gerwing, Courtney Hobson and Gabriel Leonard Ditmars perform a piece (Impression sur Debussy) that Brochu created 20 years ago, a series of linked solos in which the artists vigorously reach across the gulf between stage and audience. 

Eight members of Brochu’s adult dance class stepped forward to perform a piece accompanied by piano and vocals (Cycles). The music coaxes the dancers from supine positions into a stately whirlwind. At its denouement they settle to the earth once more, poised for metamorphosis. 

The theme of reawakening that runs through the pieces is no coincidence. Last December, Brochu’s involvement in the dance community had dwindled to a one-hour weekly class taught via video conferencing software. Given the constraints of COVID-19 and his devotion to work as a Zen Shiatsu practitioner, Brochu was uncertain about the next step. 

“And then things started happening again in the world,” he said. “And then upon hearing the music of Luke Howard, I could see dancers. And I thought: I’ve got to make dances to this. It was a remarkable group of serendipitous events and Johanna [Waldorf] was very supportive of this as well.” 

Waldorf is the artistic director of Waldorf Ballet. She offered her sun-drenched Sechelt studio as a performance space. At the same time, five of Waldorf’s dancers — all still in high school — enlisted in Brochu’s production. Adele Dubin, Annah Kotai, Waverlee Meisinger, Brooklyn Turner and Lyla Wilson perform a new piece to the music of Debussy, titled Chassés, Jumps & Falls. 

“I really wanted to try experiencing other things than ballet,” said Turner. “I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and try something new,” agreed Wilson. Dubin pointed out that playing with a pianist of Kellough’s calibre permits minute adjustments to the tempo of performances. 

“For me,” added Kotai, “seeing other and older experienced dancers, and different types of dance, is really touching and powerful.” 

Dance, Piano & Voice takes place at the Waldorf Ballet Studio on Oct. 20, 21 and 22. Details and tickets are available via the Sechelt Arts Festival online at