A group of seniors waits for the Tea for Tutu production of Alice in Wonderland to begin on May 7. They’re getting a sneak peak of the final production which will be performed on May 17 and 18. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

Tea for Tutu: How Ballet Victoria is giving back

Dancers stage an early performance aimed at seniors for free

As a way of giving back to the community and breaking down the barriers of what has been called an ‘elitist’ sport for years, Ballet Victoria stages an early free production of their performance for seniors called Tea for Tutu.

Taking place usually a week before the actual production, the shortened show offers those who may not have a chance to enjoy the ballet regularly, a sneak peak at the show.

Paul Destropper, Ballet Victoria’s artistic director, sees this as a way for his dancers to give back and involve the community while also allowing them another chance to practise performing — which he says they can’t get enough of.

“Victoria has a large population of seniors, and at first we would go and visit them but their venue usually had low ceilings, tiny space and I didn’t want to do that,” he says. “I wanted them to see the ballet in its full form.”

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Encountering some problems when the program first started, Ballet Victoria ended up building their own stage — that is wheelchair accessible with extra space for walkers — and buying their own bus to help transport seniors to and from the performance.

“We have a better sound system so people can hear the music clearly without interfering with their hearing aids. We have better lights so they can see everything and they get to actually enjoy a full performance that is shortened — we just do one act — that way they get to enjoy beautiful dancing and meet the dancers and interact.”

The Tea for Tutu performance has been going on for years but Destropper is still hesitant about advertising the event, he wants to make sure the audience is never talked down to and preserves their dignity.

“Sometimes it’s kind of funny because they want to give you something and you do take it if they make a small donation because they feel like they’re contributing something,” he says. “For some people giving $5 is the same as you giving $100 and you have to understand that. If you say oh it’s just $5 then you’re missing the point.”

This is something Destropper believes in deeply, even writing thank you cards to every person who has donated to the ballet once a year.

“Some people think you should only do that to the people who give you more than $10,000 but sometime a nice word is a nice word,” he says. “It’s not at the point where I’m going to run out of ink or out of time, it takes a little bit of effort and it’s worth it.”

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The program has received some funding through the City of Victoria but has absorbed most of the cost themselves, but Destropper says this is the least they can do to give back to the community.

“We do get a bit of government funding which is from everyone’s taxes, and those seniors have paid taxes for decades, the least we can do is recognize that by giving them something back.”

Working on adding a new component to the event, Destropper is starting to aim the Tea for Tutu event at Canada’s newcomers. He says one of the best ways to welcome immigrants to Canada is by sharing culture.

“It’s non-verbal communication and language is not an issue. They mix with local people and share an interest in the art form,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if they’re just smiling and enjoying it — you’ve created a bond that will speak every language.”

According to Destropper, the added performance helps challenge his dancers to dissolve some of their own preconceived ideas.

“I’ve had a few guys that are just so stern and opinionated and you slowly break that down because they have to do different things with different people of different ages, different ethnic groups, and they become better because of that,” he says. “They become more open and their dancing becomes better on top of it.”

Ballet Victoria’s latest production Alice in Wonderland hits the Royal Theatre stage on May 17 and 18. For more information or to buy tickets visit balletvictoria.ca.



kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

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