People’s faces lit up. Seeing their astonishment was just as much fun as watching the performers: the dancers of Ballet Victoria, just arrived on the MV Coho ferry.
This was the 2019 Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts, where the women and men floated, frolicked and partnered each other across the Elks Naval Lodge ballroom floor.
Dancing only a few feet away, they mesmerized us. We could see their eyes sparkle. And after the performance, we could walk up and chat with the dancers and their choreographer, Paul Destrooper.
For 25 years, every Juan de Fuca Festival offered dozens such communal experiences.
See the fabulous band on the stage a few feet away; minutes later, enjoy a chat with the artists outside. Repeat for three more days and nights. I came to expect it; I looked forward to the Memorial Day weekend event more than I looked forward to other holidays.
Then came 2020 and cancellation. Enough said about that.
This May 28-31, a new creature arrives: the hybrid Juan de Fuca Festival, with two evenings of in-person concerts and 20 virtual shows to watch — and rewatch — all the way through the month of June. Details await at JFFA.org.
Destrooper, a generous soul as well as an unconventional choreographer, has had Ballet Victoria’s performance of Bizet’s “Carmen” filmed and sent it to us to watch.
Now I’m not pretending virtual is anything like seeing these dancers in the flesh — and hearing the glorious music from a live orchestra. I wasn’t looking forward to sitting in the TV room and previewing “Carmen” on the screen. But I turned down the lights and settled in for the 45-minute production.
The ensemble is a miracle to behold: Yui Watanabe, one of Ballet Victoria’s seasoned artists, has the title role; newcomer Sebastian Fairley dances the role of Don Jose while Andrea Bayne, in her 13th and farewell season, appears as Mikaela.
This is Destrooper’s own version of “Carmen,” based on Prosper Mérimée’s novella of one woman contending with a society that values power and control.
Carmen is a “misunderstood, uncompromising outcast,” Destrooper said. She follows her heart and her appetite for freedom.
Whether you know the story or not, you’ll feel the emotions of the characters. The dancers speak with their bodies — so eloquently, I couldn’t look away. I watched the video twice, and was equally knocked out both times. The dancers’ love for their art is on full display.
This was all the more powerful since I haven’t seen a ballet performance in more than a year, and I feel like I know these dancers, having seen them perform in Port Angeles.
Ballet Victoria isn’t the only Canadian ensemble in the Juan de Fuca Festival. The Paperboys, the folk-soul-stomp band from Vancouver, and Locarno, Tom Landa’s Latin outfit, have also sent us fully produced concerts to watch. In a conversation I had with Landa, I learned that these are multi-camera affairs, complete with short interviews with the musicians.
After and amid our long separation, I feel even more grateful for the artists who put themselves out there.
I look forward, of course, to the day when festivals and any music and dance can be all in-person, and when the border reopens so we can visit our Canadian neighbors. Until then, I’m all in for the virtual Juan de Fuca Festival. I’m filled with respect — and happy anticipation — for the artists who are re-emerging with their passions intact.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com.
Her column runs the first and third Wednesday of the month. The next one will appear June 2.