Ghosts of Violence, performed by the Atlantic Canada Ballet Theatre of Canada, made its world debut in Ottawa, February 15th, 2011. The multi-media production, accompanied by the music of Alfred Schnittke and Sergei Rachmanin, brings to light the tragedy of women abused or killed by intimate partners. By the end of Ghosts’ three-year run it will have been performed in at least 40 different Canadian communities. For the next two months, the piece will touch Atlantic Canadian audiences, including tomorrow night at the Imperial Theatre in Saint John. Arts East had the pleasure to talk with the Ballet Theatre’s founding artistic director and choreographer, Igor Dobrovolskiy.
AE: How was Ghosts of Violence born?ID: The story started in 2007. The Silent Witness Committee in Moncton had a fundraising event and they asked if I would create some choreographed piece on the subject matter. So, I did an eight minute piece and we performed and the reaction was 500 people in tears. Later they came to me and asked what I thought of extending it to a full-length performance. I thought this subject matter was not typical for a ballet company. It would be typically performed by contemporary or modern dancers. But I started thinking it would be interesting to develop a style of choreography and style of performance that can be powerful media for this subject matter. I started working with Sharon Pollock - she is the dramaturge and has worked with our company for the last four years.
AE: What is Ghosts of Violence about?ID: It’s all about the women who died from intimate partners. In a community, people try and pretend it’s not happening. Nobody’s talking about it. This is why this performance is important – it’s to tell people it’s here in their neighbourhood! Victims don’t talk and this is the problem. The performance creates open discussion. I call it a ‘provocative performance’. When I started this, I did not want to create a documentary piece, but an independent creation. I didn’t do any research [on real life stories]. Sharon Pollock, she did huge research, and then I talked with her, because otherwise I would have been a prisoner with all this information. I tried to start from a blank page, like all artists. I didn’t want to do something that I already knew. I tried to create in my mind something that looks surreal but provoke in people real feelings.
AE: What has been the reaction so far?ID: For two women who were at a performance in Ontario, some of the scenes reminded them of what happened to them exactly. (Before shows, we have some organizations, that fight against any kind of violence, come and set up tables, and we have counsellors if people need help and this is an important part of the whole production). The next day we received a message that the two ladies went to see counsellors after the show to seek help. It’s amazing! Imagine! They had not talked with anybody, but all of a sudden, after the production, they felt they had to talk. If we save one life by this production, I think it’s important. I know a social worker in Fredericton who for 30 years has seen this tragedy every day and she told me it was perfect and that I revealed everything of how these ladies feel – how they feel isolated, how they don’t talk, how they suffer, how they hope it will be better tomorrow…but it’s not.
AE: Did you approach the choreography differently with this production?ID: Yes, of course. I had to be one side and the other – the victim and the aggressor. When I did choreography for abused women, for example, I had to be one of them – I had to feel like them. So, it’s an interesting process because, like I mentioned, it’s all imagination, it’s all inspiration from the music. I know generally the subject matter - the ladies suffering at home with intimate partners and I know some of them were killed – but the rest of that comes from putting myself in their position. This is why ballet is important for this production because what I wanted on the stage was to be more surreal than real. It’s more powerful because it’s an unusual aesthetic and dynamic of the movement, especially for this subject matter. But it reminds people that it has happened in real life.
AE: How have students at the school performances reacted?ID: The first time in Moncton, we had a high school come. Most of them had zero experience with ballet. I sat in the back of the house and I was shaking thinking how we were going to catch them if they wanted to escape. But, believe me, for two acts – pin drop. I was amazed! And this did not happen in Moncton only. In Ontario, we had a sold out house and these kids were moving around before the show, and then when we opened the curtain - boom! Silence…none of them moved. It made me feel we were on the right track. In Moncton, we had some interviews on the CBC and the kids commented on how they were impacted, how important the performance was, how they felt… Students will come to the school production and the next day they’ll bring their parents. Plus for kids who have never seen a ballet and come to this one, they’ll probably be back for other productions because of what the impact this ballet has. I’m sure some felt, “Wow, I never knew ballet looks like that!” I remember when I was 9 or 10 and went to see Swan Lake, I thought I hated ballet, and now I can’t live without ballet. We try to bring in people who have no experience with the ballet, and they come because of the subject matter. And we also hope audiences that have experience with ballet will further develop a curiosity about how the ballet can show this kind of subject matter.
Photo: Aleksandr Onyschenko