I have never been a true connoisseur of the performing arts. I have a strong appreciation for the arts, and have always been very in tune with my own creative side, but I never pursued it as a defining interest of mine. As a result, I had only been to the ballet once in my life. I was seven years old and my grandmother had taken me to see the Nutcracker. It was a truly magical experience. I remember watching the dancers float across the stage as if suspended from the ceiling and wondering how on earth they were able to create such magnificent movements. It was a night I will forever remember.
Having said all of this, when I sat down at a quaint café in Downtown Oakville with internationally-renowned ballet dancer and instructor, Amanda Paterson, to say I was intimidated would be an understatement. This is a woman who has helped shape the world of ballet both here in Canada and overseas. She is well known in the ballet world for her efficacious instructing style and her flawless technique on the stage. I was meeting with Amanda to discuss how she recently decided to dedicate both these talents to creating Oakville’s first ever professional ballet company, the Oakville Ballet.
Amanda’s appreciation and passion for ballet began at a young age. Her mother was a ballet dancer and teacher. She had done her training in England before moving to Canada in her mid-twenties where she made the transition into teaching.
“One memory of my mother that always makes me laugh is when she talks about the first class she ever taught. She walked into the studio and was startled to find a room full of 14-year-old boys waiting for their ballet class to begin,” Amanda fondly reminisced.
As soon as Amanda shared this intimate memory with me, my nerves were instantly calmed. I knew I was speaking with a kind and genuine individual with an incredible passion for ballet.
Amanda herself has been dancing since she was a very young girl. She was a very confident two year old who immediately turned her nose up at having to take ballet classes. “My mother corrected me rather quickly,” Amanda laughed, “’If you want to become a ballerina, you’re going to need training’ she said to me, and by age five I began my first lessons.”
Amanda continued to tell the history of her ballet career. She progressed through her lessons until she entered high school. It was at this time in her life that Amanda felt the obligation to explore other interests.
“During my high school years I wanted to pursue other passions of mine. It was after my graduation from Canada’s National Ballet School that I realized that ballet was something that I lived and breathed. I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life,” Amanda told me.
She then travelled to New York, which was known by many as the heart of the ballet world. She danced in the big city for the following two years, after which she returned to the Greater Toronto Area. Amanda was disappointed to find that there wasn’t nearly as much happening in the world of ballet when she got back to Toronto. She did not see as much opportunity as a dancer that she had while she was in New York. It was in this moment that Amanda knew the time had come to delve into the world of teaching.
“Teaching was something I was always intrigued by, much like my mother. I always felt I had an eye for technique and a great mind for problem solving,” Amanda explained.
She joined her mother who was the artistic director of the Oakville School of Classical Ballet at the time, and endured a great deal of training at the Royal Academy of Dance and the American Ballet Theatre to help prepare her for the transition from dancer to instructor. When her mother retired from her position nearly 20 years ago, she graciously named Amanda her successor and the new artistic director of the Oakville School of Classical Ballet.
“It was incredible to take charge of the school that I had watched my mother build over many years. I was thrilled to take on the challenging role,” Amanda said, her face beaming with the same excitement she felt years ago.
Today, in addition to being the artistic director of the school, Amanda has created and introduced the Oakville Ballet, which is Oakville’s very first professional youth ballet company. Amanda has also become a member of the Board of Examiners for the American Ballet Theatre and their National Training Curriculum, an honour she refers to as her greatest accomplishment so far.
“It was an amazing feeling to be recognized by such a prestigious organization and to be invited by Raymond Lukens and Fanco de Vita to join the Board of Examiners,” Amanda remarked.
With her newfound role and the brand new Oakville Ballet, Amanda is looking forward to developing and defining the culture of youth ballet in Oakville and surrounding areas. Having little knowledge of ballet education, I was unsure how she was hoping to achieve this, but Amanda was quick to offer a confident explanation.
“Our ultimate goal with the new Oakville Ballet is to give students the opportunity to perform full-length productions. These performances are the same as those put on by professional ballet companies with costumes, sets and a live orchestra. We want young dancers to have the opportunity to be immersed in a theatre setting, see the process from beginning to end and to perfect their art form. It is important for them to understand how these experiences can help shape their future careers,” Amanda explained.
The Oakville Ballet’s first production is set to take to the stage in September of this year, and Amanda is using this opportunity to show nearby communities how beautiful and athletic ballet truly is. The first half of the evening will be the Kingdom Of Shades act from the ballet La Bayadére. Amanda described this ballet as, “Very eye-catching and alluring. It is almost mesmerizing to watch the corps de ballet’s entrance in a simple sequence of arabesques repeated over and over, whilst descending in perfect precision down a ramp. This will truly show our audience the undeniable beauty of ballet.”
The second part of the evening will showcase the dancers in Paquita, which also comes from the same Russian choreographer, Marius Petipa. Amanda was quick to explain how difference this piece is from the first. The Paquita suite, without a storyline, focuses on the technical, athletic and artistic skills of both male and female dancers.
“Paquita feels so much more like a celebration. It is very uplifting and thrilling to experience. It is all about the dancers showing off their virtuosity in a series of solo variations. The two ballets, La Bayadére and Paquita, shown back to back, will be the perfect example of what ballet truly is: an art form that combines beauty and athleticism in a most exciting way,” Amanda told me.
For the past 30 years, Amanda Paterson and her mother Elizabeth Paterson, have staged The Nutcracker. It has become an Oakville tradition that should not be missed. It is performed every year at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts. The Oakville Ballet’s new production will also take place at the Oakville Centre for Performing Arts in September of this year.
For more information on the Oakville Ballet and the Oakville School of Classical Ballet, visit www.oakvilleballet.com