Alegria Contemporary Ballet Company expresses the emotional side of dance in a way that is personal for both the dancers and the audience as the pieces capture the transformative power of dance. It is McGill’s first and only contemporary ballet company, founded in 2014 by Karen Chen and Zoë Goldstein. They decided to start Alegria because they felt there was a lack of opportunities in the McGill dance community for dancers who were more ballet-focused. The majority of Alegria’s pieces incorporate elements from classical and contemporary ballet, creating a spectrum of different styles.
Chen, a U3 Political Science and Philosophy major, and Goldstein, a U2 Psychology major and Russian studies minor, met at McGill through their passion for dance. Chen first got involved with dance when she was 12 years old after a ballet studio opened up near her house in Toronto. Goldstein, a rhythmic gymnast since the age of seven, transitioned to dance when she was 14 years old.
“My favourite part of dancing is something that you feel in your body when you’re in the middle of a dance,” Goldstein said. “It’s a nonverbal high [that] gives you deep satisfaction and you feel it hours after. Dance is really emotional [when] you feel like you merge with the song.”
Alegria creates a space for dancers to express themselves as it brings together some of the best sides of dancing, performing and choreography. While dance can be seen as something personal, the real enjoyment comes from the collective experience and by presenting it to others.
“It is such a rewarding experience to express [your feelings] to others,” Chen elaborated. “It’s so fulfilling knowing that we’ve created a space where other people can come and share their passion and dance.”
This year there are 15 dancers participating in Alegria. Each was picked according to their technique, performance quality, stage presence, dance style, and how they express emotion on stage. For each showcase, there is one structured improv piece, and one large ensemble piece. The dancers improv without any previous choreography to music. The group dances take a lot of work so the dancers begin preparing for the showcase right away.
A highlight from last year for Chen and Goldstein was the year-end show in March held at La Chapelle where each dancer had the opportunity to choreograph a piece.
“Each dancer had full creative control over their dance,” Goldstein said. “They got to pick the costumes and dances they wanted.”
Chen noted that this was an amazing experience.
“That’s when it all came through,” she said. “It was our first year and we were very happy with the results. We had two shows that were completely sold out!”
Each dancer has a different approach to choreography—it’s a very personal experience. Chen stated she generally stumbles upon a song she really likes by chance and is always on the lookout for a potential song, whereas Goldstein describes herself as more of a planner and says it helps to listen to music, watch other dance videos for inspiration, and imagining possible steps. Once they pick a song, they improv to the piece, come up with the steps and then teach it to the dancers.
The upcoming Winter showcase features a variety of songs ranging from more serious to upbeat, including songs by James Vincent McMorrow, Nina Simone, Lorde, and Queen. This year Chen and Goldstein are adding some new creative elements to the show, including an improv piece featuring a select number of dancers who do not know what the song will be.
“[The performance will be a] first time experience for both the dancers and the audience [because] everyone will be hearing the song for the first time,” Chen said.
Chen and Goldstein encourage the audience to feel and engage with the performance.
“I really love it when people who don’t know anything about dance come and it’s very exciting for them,” Goldstein said.
Essentially, what makes dance so special is power it has to communicate emotion with an audience through movement.
Alegria’s Winter Showcase will be held on Tuesday, December 1 at 7pm at the McGill Gymnasium (475 Avenue des Pins) in the Mind and Body Room. Tickets cost $5.