“Being in rehearsals with the company taught me a lot and gave me so much confidence even in regular class.”
Estelle Tang graduated from George Brown Dance in August 2021. She has since taken every opportunity within George Brown Dance and Ballet Jörgen that is available to her as a grad. From continuing to train, to performing with Ballet Jörgen, and returning as an alumni to choreograph for Ensemble, Estelle is forging a path both on and off the stage.
Estelle is one of Ballet Jörgen’s Mentorship students for the 2021-2022 season. This one-year, post-diploma program open Dance Performance graduates, functions as a bridge between training and working professionally as a dancer. Mentorship students are immersed in a company atmosphere, rehearse with the company learning repertoire, and tour and perform.
Was your goal always to join mentorship following the P105? How did you know the program was the right fit for you?
Mentorship wasn’t always the goal simply because I was a little unclear on the paths available to me. Coming back to second year after the lockdowns was stressful. I was out of shape and injuries popped up, not to mention the face shields and masks. It was discouraging, but I knew I was most invested in ballet so I expressed my interest in the mentorship. While the others had reading week, we had rehearsals to learn CBJ repertoire. I think that was the turning point when I realised I needed it, because through those rehearsals I discovered many things I was lacking as a ballet dancer that mentorship could give me.
Ballet Jörgen toured through British Columbia and Saskatchewan in February with Romeo and Juliet. Estelle joined the tour, dancing the role of Nurse, and helped teach master classes in Saskatchewan.
You picked up the Nurse role in R&J quickly and got to perform on the WC tour. What was that experience like? What did you take away from it?
Nurse was a difficult role for me to pick up. It’s just tough to imagine being a character that you don’t have a real-life reference for. Many people said to imagine my grandma, but I didn’t get to know my grandmas. I would take notes on every story detail involving the nurse. But once I became more comfortable with the steps, I was able to play with it.
I feel super fortunate to be able to play this part. I feel like I support the principals and help carry the story. And even though I don’t dance much, there’s a tough lift that I’m grateful to have the opportunity to work on. Being in rehearsals with the company taught me a lot and gave me so much confidence even in regular class.
Was this your first longer touring experience? What was it like?
This was not only my first long tour but also my first time visiting those provinces! It was so fun to perform on all the different stages. I was so excited I didn’t even know what to pack. It was almost magical. On the first day, at the first pitstop on our way to BC from Calgary, I was just in awe of the huge snowy mountains. Everywhere we went drew out the same childlike feeling, even in the prairies that was just flat and white for miles.
While on tour, the Company delivered master classes in some communities. Can you share a little about the master classes you helped teach?
Esther and I taught Masterclass Level 1 at The Swift Current Dance Studio. You could sense how excited they all were to learn from someone new. The steps may be the same techniques, but each teacher brings different perspectives and visualization tools.
“The piece was inspired by thoughts of social connection and isolation. I’ve always had awful social anxiety and since I’ve often used dance as an outlet for those feelings, I’ve always wanted to choreograph on the subject.”
Offstage, Estelle has taken has also taken on the role of choreographer. Each Fall, George Brown Dance invites alumni to choreograph new work on current students through the Ensemble program. Estelle created a new piece entitled Long Haul.
What is your piece about?
The piece was inspired by thoughts of social connection and isolation. I’ve always had awful social anxiety and since I’ve often used dance as an outlet for those feelings, I’ve always wanted to choreograph on the subject. During the pandemic, I realized many people had now experienced significant isolation from friends and family causing anxiety. I’m sure that like me, many also felt like they had to relearn how to socialize in-person, since we spent so long communicating virtually. I took the opportunity to explore these experiences that were so similar to my social anxiety.
Can you share what your Ensemble process was like?
We met once a week through Zoom. First, I explained my thoughts and had them improv to get an idea of what I could create on them. Once I had the main themes, I came up with separate activities. First, I asked them to make a short list of words on the topic of social connection, then associate movement with each and string it together. Second, I gave them a sequence of upper body parts to move in order and asked them to film while sitting at a desk. Finally, I taught some of my own choreography inspired by what they’d given me. I also asked for non-dance videos, e.g. staring into the camera conveying strong emotion.
What skills did you gain and what did you learn from the experience?
I’ve definitely honed my video and music editing skills, but most importantly communication and time management. Leading through Zoom is quite a lot more difficult than in-person, speaking as a choreographer as well as a previous participant. I tried to give as many encouraging comments as possible while also reminding them of deadlines. It was also challenging to juggle Ensemble work with Mentorship. I was editing in the days between Nutcracker shows! My hope was to give them something to think about with regards to their artistry and prospective journeys. Choreography is always a work in progress. Ultimately, I was happy with the outcome.