There are advantages to being a Canadian. One of them, for me anyway, is being able to speak French. And while I use the term “speak French” very loosely, it has come in handy.
For example, when interviewing a talented and handsome young dancer from French Guyana, it helped to put him at ease, especially at the end of a long day of media calls. When he can speak freely in his mother langues, the exuberance of his performances and passions are far more forthcoming.
The downfall is that my vocab can only take me so far before the interview begins to sound like a remedial ESL course…
Hi. Nice to meet you.
Yannick: Nice to meet you too. Yes, I’m Yannick Lebrun.
Alors, est ce qu’on parle on Français ou anglais?*
Yannick: En Francais? Oui, oui si on peux, si c’est possible.
Yes, yes, it is possible.
Yannick: Francais c’est ma premiere langue. Je just reviens de Guadaloupe et le Guyane.
Alors, bienvenue a Toronto. The weather’s a little different.
Yannick: Oui, the weather’s very different. But it can get cold in New York City too. Donc, c’est pas grave. Bien, maintentant, encore en Francais.
En Francais? Oh no!
Yannick: Est ce que vous sentier?
Oui, un peu, mais mon vocabulaire est absolutment horrible.
Yannick: AHHHH, ok, I’m gonna do my best in English then!
We can do both?
Yannick: We can do both.
As we continue talking, and I furiously try to translate our ridiculous mix of Frenglish, I learn that he started dancing at 8 and in high school was given scholarships to study in New York. He was part of the Alvin Ailey Fellowship programme and quickly recruited to A2, the second company, before being promoted to the main stage and the first company.
How much did you know about Alvin Ailey before you joined the company?
Yannick: Honestly? I didn’t know a lot about the history. I learned more when I first got here, and then I became more serious about it. I watched the archival video clips and read up on him. But I always knew it was something huge -one of the best modern dance companies in the world. I knew that it was big, but I didn’t know all the history.
It must be so exciting to be part of something like that .
Yannick: Yes! And to be the only French dancer in this company. It’s great because it’s a repertory company, so we get to do work not only by Alvin Ailey, but every year invite different choreographers in, and really show the audience how versatile we are.
Do you want to choreograph?
Yannick: Yes, I think choreographing is part of me, it’s something that I need to do and something that I want to do. I’ve started a little bit, and I teach, but nothing huge yet.
Do you like teaching?
Yannick: Oui. It’s fun, it’s good to share what you know because at one point you were just there learning it too. In Guyana, I didn’t know about this technique or that technique, so it’s great.
Was it important to be part of a black dance company or did that not matter?
Yannick: No, it really matters. Growing up we had our history and culture, a very rich one. Now I also get to know about the African American culture and it’s good to share it with different audiences, no matter where we are on the planet.
Is the connection to what you’re dancing that much stronger because of that?
Yannick: Of course. I think when you have a better understanding of the history, the communication and the way you’re going to deliver it is going to be stronger.
Je dois pensee s’il est anything else I should ask you?
Yannick: Bien, les dance son fantastique. Tres dynamique et varie. “Relvelation” is a masterpiece. I know the audiences will be very excited.
Does the reaction and attitude of the audience make a difference to you and your performance?
Yannick: Yes, we notice it. It depends on how well educated they are in art, but in general, it depends on the ballet and we feel if they enjoy it or not.
Right, because art is subjective. L’art est subjectif.
You can catch Yannick and The Alvin Ailey company as the North American tour continues next week in Ottawa and Montreal.
Please note that there are 2 very different programmes, so if you can, catch it twice!
*Disclaimer: I said I could “speak French”, I never said I could spell it!!