Young dancer finds her way as apprentice

Richmond’s Emily Chessa is dancing on one of Canada’s biggest stages as an apprentice with Ballet BC.  -
Richmond’s Emily Chessa is dancing on one of Canada’s biggest stages as an apprentice with Ballet BC.
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It’s one of Canada’s largest theatres with 2,781 seats, and Emily Chessa was on stage. It was last fall’s opening of Ballet BC’s 2012-13 season at Queen Elizabeth Theatre—a stage Chessa only dreamed of being on as a youngster.

The 21-year-old Richmond woman was now dancing on it.

“It was an exhilarating experience,” she said during a break from rehearsal for Ballet BC’s latest show. “From watching Ballet BC in the audience, and thinking it would be so amazing to be on that stage with them, to being in a performance was really humbling.”

Chessa joined Ballet BC as an apprentice dancer last year, a company founded in 1986 that features 18 dancers—including Chessa and two other apprentices. She’s following up November’s performance with an appearance in the Vancouver-based company’s show Encore, which hits the stage next week. Three evening performances will feature three audience favourites from past Ballet BC seasons.

Chessa trained at Richmond’s Burke Academy of Dance for seven years with Mary and Elizabeth Burke. Her high school years at Steveston Secondary were cut short when the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School came calling. She graduated from the school in 2010, moved back home to Richmond and started dancing in the graduate program of Vancouver’s Arts Umbrella.

Her younger sister Jenny, 19, is also a dancer.

Since joining Ballet BC last year, Chessa, who appeared as part of The Richmond Review’s 30 Under 30 in 2009, has been drawing inspiration from the company’s dancers—even if she isn’t able to dance in all pieces.

“I’ve always wanted to dance here. To be an apprentice here is a really great accomplishment,” she said. “Ballet BC is a great company. It’s a great community to be in.”

In Encore, three audience favourites from past Ballet BC seasons will be featured, including William Forsythe’s Herman Schmerman, in which Chessa will be dancing Jan. 25. Set to music by Dutch composer Thom Willems and pushing dancers to the limit, Herman Schmerman was a hit with Ballet BC audiences when it premiered in 2010.

“You have to have a lot of stamina for this piece. It’s exhilarating to push the technique and take it to another level,” said Chessa.

After this show, she’ll join the company on tour in Ontario next month.

Beginning her professional dance training at Royal Winnipeg Ballet School as a teenager, Chessa recognized her love for the art and believed she could have a career in it. Now, back in Richmond and apprenticing at Ballet BC, Chessa has found a company where she can continue to grow—and give back.

Said Chessa: “I definitely want to keep going with my career and be a part of the next generation that really expresses this art form.”

Encore by Ballet BC

•Queen Elizabeth Theatre, from Jan. 24 to 26

•Featuring Herman Schmerman, 1st Flash and Petite Cérémonie

•Presented with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival

•Tickets, $22.25 to $70 at ticketmaster.ca or call 1-855-985-2787

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