A Labour of LOVE
Montreal Dance Company Stages Production to Help Prevent Youth Violence
More than once in rehearsal, emotion has gotten the better of the dancers in Sonia Balazovjech’s company.
For their latest production, the dancers in the non-profit company have linked up with the youth violence prevention program LOVE—an acronym for Leave Out ViolencE—to bring attention to the challenges facing youth, from bullying to drug abuse.
“Some pieces get so intense we all end up crying,” said Lindsey Haywood, a member of the Sonia Balazovjech Dance Company since 2010. “We’re looking at each other, remembering Grade 6 when other girls were so mean to you, and called you ugly, brace-face and four eyes.
“For the moment, you have to stay in character to make sure your message comes across as genuine as possible.”
Founder of the company, Sonia Balazovjech, and her fellow dancers, who are trained in contemporary and classical styles, want audiences to walk away from their performance with a deep impression.
“We really want it to be an experience for them rather than just a show,” she said. “We always felt that if an audience comes and watches the show, claps and leaves, our message is lost. But if they come and we teach them something, it’ll have a longer lasting effect.”
In the past, the dance company has donated all proceeds from their shows to other local charities, including the West Island Women’s Shelter, 60 Million Girls foundation, and St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation. Balazovjech says her company’s new partnership with LOVE is a natural fit.
“The concern that I had [to prevent youth violence] just kept brewing, until I was like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to do something with this cause,’” she said.
LOVE debuted in Montreal just over 17 years ago. Sheila “Twinkle” Rudberg founded the program after her husband, Daniel, tried to stop a 14-year-old from mugging an elderly woman and was fatally stabbed.
The incident led Rudberg to launch an organization to curb youth violence and crime. LOVE got its start in a class of 15 students in a Dawson College CEGEP photography course and has since expanded to other Canadian cities and abroad.
Using spoken word poetry, journal writing and photography, volunteers for the organization teach non-violence to middle and high school students.
In its production “Addicted to LOVE,” Balazovjech’s dance company is out to show that the social ills that the organization was founded to address persist today—and that there are solutions.
The SBDC and its technical director, Robert Lynch, found inspiration for the show leafing through a collection of LOVE students’ poetry, photography and journal entries. The booklet has been passed around among the company so much that it is creased and dog-eared.
“It’s a very emotional show. We really wanted to get behind the psyche of what kids are dealing with on a daily basis,” said Balazovjech. “It’s such a fast-paced world now, and there are so many pressures.”
The dancers conveyed the students’ experiences of physical and verbal abuse, addiction, and depression into movement. A year-and-a-half in the making, the show is the product of a collaborative process.
Each dancer had input in the show’s conception, from choreography to music. The songs in the performance range from Patrick Watson to live music by local hip-hop producer and MC David Hodges and folk singer Stefanie Parnell.
SBDC will take the stage just a few feet away from the audience to try to convey the piece’s highs and lows in intimate detail.
Many of the dancers in the company come from a gymnastics background so there is no shortage of acrobatics in the performance. But, for SBDC, expression takes precedence over technique.
“Some pieces are very technical, but we have a few pieces where we throw the dance moves out the window. It’s like acting,” said SBDC dancer Dawn Patulli, who graduated from Concordia’s John Molson School of Business in December.
The opening of the 90-minute show focuses on the difficulties facing youth. The second half is more hopeful, beginning with a sequence in which the dancers form a line-up in front of a mirror. Strapped to elastics symbolizing love and organization in the community, Petulli breaks down the wall.
“That’s really the first piece in the show with that uplifting, soul[ful] feeling where we’re really starting to reach for hope—which is what LOVE signifies through the show,” she said.
“Through LOVE [troubled youth] can get past whatever they’re going through and [we can] help them in the right direction.”
Addicted to LOVE // Feb. 7 and Feb. 8 // Espace Reunion (6600 Hutchison St.) // 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. // $20 students with valid ID, $37 regular advance
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