This is Melanie Nightingale’s last year with En Corps Dance Collective, a company she helped found twenty years ago. One of the last founding members remaining, Nightingale says it has been interesting to see how the company has grown since its inception in 1995.
Initially, En Corps was influenced by the style of dance Nightingale and its other founding members were introduced to in Los Angeles during the 1990s.
“A lot of us used to go to Los Angeles to dance in the summertime,” Nightingale explained.”En Corps really started back in fall of ‘95, maybe spring ‘96, because a lot of us dancers – I think there were five or six of us – we wanted to bring a style of dance to Calgary that we didn’t think existed. We wanted to bring kind of that LA style and feel up to Calgary and give that opportunity to dancers.”
Nightingale adds that while there was a studio in Vancouver they could have gone to, it was important to the dancers that they stay in Calgary.
With how Calgary’s dance community has grown in the past twenty years, Nightingale says the company’s original mission is no longer as relevant as it once was. Now, En Corps is more concerned with retaining local talent.
“We first started because we thought we were bringing to Calgary something that didn’t exist…now, we don’t really see ourselves in that way anymore,” said Nightingale. “We just want to provide a dance experience to dancers in the city, so they don’t have to leave.”
It is not uncommon that dancers move to cities like Toronto or New York in order to pursue dance professionally. The reason for leaving is usually attributed to the lack of local opportunities for professional growth. To remedy this, En Corps offers dancers over the age of 18 classes and performance opportunities aimed at helping them grow and evolve as professional dancers.
For Nightingale, however, it is not enough that dancers gain solid technical training, but that they also feel a sense of belonging within the company, especially since founding members like herself are not always going to be around.
“I think I’m the last remaining founding member of En Corps, and this will be my last year because I’m going on to do different things,” said Nightingale. “We want to make people feel welcome in our group, so that they know that we want them on committees. We want them to get involved in what we’re doing and have a vested interest in En Corps to keep it going.”
And as the company prepares for its upcoming show The Escape, it is not hard to see what a significant impact the company and its commitment to fostering a friendly, professional environment has had on both new and veteran members.
The Escape tells the story of a distraught young girl who uses the power of her magic red ball to escape into a magical world of fantastic creatures. Unable to cope with reality, the young girl becomes dependent on this fantasy world to deal with her problems. Will she find the strength to return to the real world or will she become trapped in this unknown dimension?
Brittany Robertson and Jenna Powell started with the company’s drop-in classes five and nine years ago, respectively. Now, Robertson and Powell are not only dancing in The Escape, but they have also helped choreograph pieces for the show.
Powell, the artistic director of En Corps, says Nightingale’s departure signals a ‘passing on’ to the next generation who are becoming more active within the company.
“It’s slowly trickling down into my generation. We’re starting to direct more and to choreograph, ” Powell explained. “There’s also younger dancers who are part of our cast and part of [the University of Calgary’s] dance program, and they’ll eventually probably start to choreograph and become more involved.”
Odessa Johnston, a second year U of C dance student, says her first year with the company has been a valuable learning experience thanks to the diversity of dance experience she has been exposed to.
“This is quite a large range of age which is so great and so wonderful to experience because you get dancers that have been dancing for so long and have these great experiences, then dancers like me who have only been in university dancing for a few years now,” said Johnston.
Johnston, who hopes to pursue an MA in Dance, says she would like to continue dancing with the company, maybe even choreograph for them as well.
Even though there is always the challenge of fundraising and increasing costs associated with performance spaces and costumes, Nightingale believes that En Corps will be around so long as the company is willing to nurture the love of dance that its members share.
“[Twenty years] it’s a long time, especially since we’re a non-profit and we do everything ourselves,” Nightingale said. “I think it’s just because we have such a good base of dancers and we are really creating kind of, like I said, a family of dancers. We’re welcoming to people. We don’t – once people have children or they have families, we don’t say “oh, you can’t dance with us anymore.” …We’ve had pregnant ladies who’ve danced on stage…and they’re dancing because they have a passion for it. We’re open to involving people in different ways and we think there’s a lot of talent in the city that we want to bring to the company.”
Ultimately, Nightingale hopes that the company continues to thrive so that it can continue to keep dance and those who are passionate about it in Calgary.
En Corps Dance Collective’s The Escape runs Jan 30 – 31st at the Wright Theatre (Mount Royal University), 8:00pm.
Tickets can be purchased online here: https://tickets.mtroyal.ca/TheatreManager/1/tmindex.html
For more information about the company and The Escape, visit: http://www.encorpsdance.ca
This story has been edited to make the following correction: Melanie Nightingale (Malarchuk).