John Wayne: New Vision, New Directions; Barbados-Born John Alleyne Takes Vancouver's Ballet British Columbia to Thirteen U.S. Cities This Month

Article excerpt

To get from Vancouver, the headquarters of Ballet British Columbia, to Ottawa, Canada's political capital, and to Toronto, the country's economic center, you have to cross the North American continent and three time zones. Living beside the Pacific on the wrong side of the Rockies, Vancouver citizens are content to be left to their own devices and get on with things without having to worry about wearing the right aesthetic gear or making all the correct political noises. Fashion's imprimatur hasn't made much impression on this damp West Coast forest floor: you're valued for what you do. Not surprisingly, Vancouver is a city of artistic mavericks.

When John Alleyne--pronounced "Ahlane"--was offer the job of artistic director of Ballet B.C. two years ago, therefore, it seemed like a match made in heaven: a company aiming to establish a hard, glossy, nineties identity far removed from traditional notions of regional ballet and a choreographer with an audacious, iconoclastic approach to dancemaking.

For Alleyne, it was the gift an ambitious young choreographer dreams of. Nowhere else could he expect to be handed a ballet company and given carte blanche to shape its future. Nowhere else would he have such freedom to develop himself as an artist.

For the company, it promised the end to a period of jagged turmoil. Ballet B.C. had had a difficult birth and an even trickier adolescence. Launched in 1985 from the ashes of a failed Vancouver-based chamber company, it was directed initially by Annette av Paul, formerly of Montreal's Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. The British Columbia--born Reid Anderson succeeded her in 1987, after nearly two decades with Stuttgart Ballet, and when Anderson moved to Toronto in 1989 to become artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, former New York City Ballet principal Patricia Neary took over the reins.

Neary's stay in Vancouver was short but colorful--her flamboyant, top-down style of direction provoked management hostility and a company revolt--and she was succeeded in less than a year by Barry Ingham, a former Stuttgart dancer and ballet master in Frankfurt. Ingham's premature death from AIDS early in 1992 led to Alleyne's appointment that spring.

From its inception Ballet B.C. knew it had to offer something different in the world of Canadian dance. Canada already had three major ballet companies, and federal funding agencies were in no mood (or financial condition) to support another. Anderson and then Ingham developed a stripped-down, no-frills European look with a tart, contemporary directness: both men drew on their own backgrounds to build a company repertoire that now offers work by John Cranko. Jiri Kylian, and William Forsythe, among others.

Alleyne, then an emerging choreographer at the National Ballet of Canada, was an enthusiastic collaborator from the start of Anderson's reign; Alleyne was soon contributing a work a year to the Ballet B.C. repertoire. By the time he became artistic director, he was intimately linked with the company's artistic fortunes and contributing substantially to the creation of the company's image. (Jennifer Dunning, writing in the New York Times after the company's appearance at Jacob's Pillow last summer, called the company style "equal parts nerve and restrained theatricality.")

Born in Barbados, Alleyne was raised in rural Quebec from the age of four, and he began to dance when he was eight. Betty Oliphant, founder-director of Canada's National Ballet School in Toronto, took him under her wing when he was eleven (he is thirty-three now). He graduated in 1978 and joined Stuttgart Ballet.

The story of how he came to join that company is an interesting example of serendipity, but it also illuminates a crucial aspect of his personality. He arrived in Stuttgart as part of a European tour he was doing with the help of a Canada Council travel grant at the end of his student years. …