“Bengt took me under his wing as a dancer and a choreographer. I would not be where I am today without his support as an artist.”
Kathleen Rea is celebrating her thirtieth anniversary with CBJ and twentieth anniversary with GBD. In recognition of her outstanding work and instruction, Kathleen received GBD’s first Faculty Appreciation Award at the program’s graduation ceremony in April.
Kathleen is the Director of REAson d’etre dance productions, a choreographer of over 40 works, and a five-time DORA award nominee. She teaches at GBD with a speciality in Contact Dance Improvisation. This year, GBD P101 graduate Devonshire Crewe was the recipient of Kathleen’s Contact Dance Award, which includes free classes with Kathleen for a full year. “I have learned a tremendous amount from Kathleen,” shares Devon. “I had never even heard of Contact Dance before her, and she has truly inspired me to learn and understand as much as I could with the time we had together. I cannot wait for my next opportunity to work with her.” Kathleen’s dedication to her artform and students continues to influence and inspire the CBJ and GBD community. In this interview, Kathleen reflects on Bengt Jörgen’s impact on her career, highlights from the past thirty years, and teaching plans for the years ahead.
How did you become involved with Canada’s Ballet Jörgen?
Bengt was choreographing a piece using dancers from the National Ballet of Canada. The dancers had to go on tour for several weeks, but Bengt wanted to continue choreographing his work while they were gone. He called the National Ballet School and asked if there were any recent graduates who may be interested in filling in for the dancers while they were on tour. Bengt came to watch a class, and I was one of the dancers he chose. I filled in for Martine Lamy’s role so that he could finish creating the piece. When Martine returned from tour, I taught her the steps. From then on, I worked for Bengt and eventually got a real role in one of his creations. In the year after I graduated, I had a really hard time recovering from an eating disorder. Bengt took me under his wing as a dancer and a choreographer. I would not be where I am today without his support as an artist.
“You can never quit. You’re like me; dance lives in your cells. It’s not a choice. It’s something we are.”
How did you begin your work as a choreographer?
After four years of dancing with CBJ, I left to dance with the National Ballet of Canada. Shortly thereafter, there was a big anniversary performance that CBJ was doing, and Bengt invited me to be in it. He was generously inviting me back after I had left. A choreographer was going to make a solo for me but had to cancel due to health reasons. It was really important to me to be part of the CBJ anniversary performance, so I went into the studio and created my own solo, not because I wanted to be a choreographer but because I wanted to be part of the show. I showed Bengt my solo and he said, ‘I’m not putting that on stage, but I see that you have talent as a choreographer. If we foster that talent, I think you could create something that I would love to put on stage one day.’ He then invited me to take part as a creator in CBJ’s next choreographic workshop. Something inside me lit up at that workshop, and I have been a choreographer ever since. Bengt has been supporting female creators before it was popular to do so. This is something important to me because there was so little opportunity for me and my fellow female creators in all the other places that I’ve worked in the dance world. I needed to create work to get better at it, and Bengt gave me those chances to hone my craft. For Bengt, supporting female creators was just a normal thing to do. He did not need to be told to do it; he just did it. I am truly grateful for that.
What have been some highlights of your career so far with CBJ/GBD?
Returning to CBJ after the National Ballet Company of Canada let me go was a big moment. I walked into Bengt’s office and he said ‘yes’ before I had even opened my mouth. I was part of the team on which Bengt created The Nutcracker. This was his first full-length ballet. The year it was made, we toured it for two months. That was a crazy ride! I got to be the Sugar Plum Fairy, which fulfilled a dream I had as a young girl of being a princess. Touring was so much work but also so much fun. The company had such a sense of humor and camaraderie.
After we did The Nutcracker, I was still wrestling with my eating disorder demons. I needed time away from ballet in order to heal. I had convinced myself that I was quitting dance and would never return. Bengt and I went out for coffee and I told him I was quitting. He responded, ‘You can never quit. You’re like me; dance lives in your cells. It’s not a choice. It’s something we are.’ I was so mad because I really had convinced myself I was done, and I did not want to be told what to do. But looking back, he was absolutely right! After getting some good therapy, I was back dancing within a year. This story helped me realize that Bengt and I share a sort of kindred spirit as artists.
“…those years have been rich, and I feel like I’m just entering the top of my game now.”
Choreographing “The Velveteen Rabbit,” my favorite childhood story, definitely was another highlight. Also, being invited to teach at GBD twenty years ago was another life-changing opportunity that shaped my career. Through teaching, GBD has been the place where I have honed my practice and understanding of my artistic voice.
What does it mean to you to reach these milestones with the company and school?
Well, it means I am getting older! But those years have been rich, and I feel like I’m just entering the top of my game now. All I can say is that this is my home. I would not be the teacher and choreographer I am today without such a home.
What are you looking forward to as you continue your work with CBJ and GBD?
I love teaching and I want to keep teaching. Next year, I will graduate as an Axis Syllabus teacher. This is a functional movement approach I hope to continue to bring to GBD students, which I feel can help prevent injury and increase career length.
Congratulations to Kathleen on reaching these milestones with CBJ and GBD. Learn more about Kathleen Rea by visiting her faculty profile.
Written by Victoria Campbell Windle, CBJ Communications Contributor.
Follow us on Facebook @balletjorgencanada to stay current on news, events and performances.