Katlyn Addison’s New Work for Ballet Jörgen Is Inspired by Hercules

May 24, 2023

Watching Ballet West principal Katlyn Addison dance, it’s clear that music moves her. She has the ability to fill out each note, perfectly attuning herself to the cadences of the orchestra and using her steps to reveal smaller nuances in the score. But her dancing, it seems, isn’t her only creative pursuit that is deeply tied to music. She is also an emerging choreographer, and her creations have similar musical connections and inspirations.

Addison, who is a native of Ontario, Canada, is set to premiere a new work, There Were TWO, at Ballet Jörgen’s Celebration of Black Canadian Choreographers in Toronto, May 25–27. The program also features premieres by Cuban Danza Corpus artistic director José Angel Carret and Mafa Dance Village artistic director Mafa Makhubalo, who specializes in contemporary African dance.

In a large, bright studio, a male dancer in a black shirt, dark shorts, and black socks lifts a female dancer by the waist as she pikes forward, arms parallel to her legs and the floor. She wears a blue leotard and black shorts, her red hair up in a ponytail.
Hannah Mae Cruddas and Daniel Da Silva in rehearsal for Katlyn Addison’s There Were TWO. Photo courtesy Ballet Jörgen.

There Were TWO, Addison says, is deeply tied to its music: an original score by composer Jonathan Sanford that was inspired by Hercules, the Greek demigod known for his superhuman strength and complex relationships. Addison hones in on the latter in her choreography—albeit in a more allegorical sense—in hopes that her audience will see a bit of themselves reflected in the work.

Pointe spoke with Addison about There Were TWO, how dancing and choreographing are intertwined, and more.

How did you get connected with Ballet Jörgen?

My former ballet teacher with Quinte Ballet School of Canada—she was actually the director there—Mercedez Bernardez, and her husband, Jose, ran an online summer program two summers ago called TEADE for Danza Corpus Canada. She brought on a bunch of teachers to lead some dancers in online ballet classes. Bengt Jörgen, the artistic director of Ballet Jörgen, participated, as well as myself. Bengt was looking for a choreographer to choreograph on his dancers, and I just so happened to also share an interest in creating something in Canada.

Katlyn Addison does a piqué arabesque onstage, hands on hips with her chin lifted confidently. She wears a long, flowing yellow–red watercolor dress and pointe shoes.
Katlyn Addison in Val Caniparoli’s Lamarena. Photo by Beau Pearson, courtesy Ballet West.

Tell us about the concept behind There Were TWO. How does the choreography convey the theme visually?

When Jonathan told me that his inspiration was the story of Hercules, I didn’t want to make it really literal. I feel like my main vision was wanting the audience to have an emotional response, and that they could be carried through the journey with me. In the beginning, when I started piecing together this ballet, I thought I would have Hercules as a principal character, and then I would also have his mother. But then, as I started piecing it together, I thought, Wait a minute, Hercules had many relationships before he got where he was supposed to be, and I tried to portray that with this piece. So that’s how it’s evolved. The first section is a mortal relationship, as if it’s contemporary people. And then the music shifts. There are Hercules and a goddess character in the second half, and it makes you feel like you’re in another world—you’re not here on Earth. The third featured couple that appears represents a passing relationship, almost like the leaves falling.

In addition to working with composer Jonathan Sanford on There Were TWO, you also joined forces for Poems, a new work for Bayou City Ballet that debuted on May 19. What has it been like to collaborate with Sanford?

This is my second time working with him. I’ve really enjoyed working with a younger composer. Collaborating with me was his first time creating for a ballet choreographer, so it’s been a great collaboration with the two of us since I’m still trying to find my voice. He’s also been really willing to send me little mock-ups and demos, and then the two of us will expand on whatever sound and noise we feel we would like to work with. 

A male and a female dancer rehearse a pas de deux in a mirrored studio as three people watch at the front of the room, including Katlyn Addison (far left). The female dancer, on pointe, extends her right leg devant and holds hands with her partner, who reaches to her in a deep lunge.
Momoka Matsui and Márcio Teixeira. Photo by Motoki Kohiruimak, courtesy Ballet Jörgen.

Tell us about the rehearsal process so far. Anything you’ve learned?

The rehearsal process was amazing. It was my second time ever going to a company and not knowing the dancers at all. The dancers were really lovely. They were so easy and eager to work with and collaborate with me. I was there for two or three weeks—and they were actually on tour performing Cinderella. So they were on with me for three days, on tour one day, then back with me one day, and then on tour another two days. It was cool to see how quick these dancers were and how they were able to be so in the moment.

In addition to preparing for the premiere of There Were TWO, you also just wrapped up Ballet West’s 2022–23 season. Has choreographing given you any new insights into dancing, or have any of the roles you’ve performed provided inspiration for your choreography?

Yes, it definitely all intertwines: dancing, choreographing, and teaching. I find that choreographing has allowed me to realize that being vulnerable as you’re dancing is so important. As a choreographer, having a dancer who is unafraid to completely give herself, himself, or themself to the movement is amazing because then I feel like I can really create with them, and I feel like they’re completely invested. I’ve realized that I can continue to try to do that as a dancer, as well, so that I am allowing myself to be completely vulnerable within the role. When I do that, it feels good, and it allows me to be innovative within the steps.