Burnaby dancer on the rise

Kanae Akatsuka has travelled around the globe in pursuit of her love of dance.

This fall, she landed in Burnaby to take a step towards her goal of a professional ballet career: dancing with the new Coastal City Ballet company.

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Artistic director Li Yaming founded the company to offer training and performance opportunities for dancers in the pre-professional stage of their careers: out of school and on their way to professional careers.

"There is a lot of talented dancers in Vancouver," Yaming says. "We want to provide opportunities for dancers to have professional jobs."

He notes that, while the company is set up just like a real professional company, with a rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule, it has the added mission of helping its dancers prepare for other opportunities - in effect, to help them leave.

"The company's aim is to help them move on," he explains.

To find just the right dancers, Yaming advertised for dancers all over the world - via Facebook and other online sites - and received more than 100 applications, from which he chose a core of 12 female and four male dancers (which, thanks to other opportunities arising for dancers, has since been whittled down to 11 female and three male dancers).

Akatsuka started dancing at age seven in her native Japan, but she was actually living in Europe when she found out about the company. She trained at a ballet school in Germany for three years, then followed that with a year of study in Lisbon, Portugal.

From there, she moved to Burnaby to take up the Coastal City opportunity - which the 22-year-old dancer is quick to say she greatly enjoys. She spends her days in the company of other young dancers from Canada, Brazil and China.

"For me, they are like family," Akatsuka says. "They are really, really nice. I'm really happy to be working here."

And work they do - every day, with a typical day involving a 10:30 a.m. start, class for an hour-and-a-half, then rehearsal until 4 p.m., with an extra half-day Sunday to prepare for performance.

Right now, Akatsuka is working with the rest of the company on their inaugural performance: Paquita and Mixed Repertoire, being staged Nov. 18 at the ACT in Maple Ridge and Nov. 25 at the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver.

Yaming has put together a performance that includes selections from Petipa's Paquita, staged by Joy Munk, along with Three Preludes, choreographed to the music of Rachmaninov by Ben Stevenson, the current artistic director of Texas Ballet Theatre.

Also on the bill is a new work from Charlene Hart, who was a finalist in season 3 of So You Think You Can Dance Canada, plus work by Farley Johansson, the co-artistic director of the Vancouver contemporary dance company Science Friction.

"We want to spice up a bit the dancing, show many different genres," Yaming explains. "We're not just a ballet company."

Yaming is hoping that the eclectic mix of repertoire will appeal to both dance aficionados and those who may know less about ballet.

And he's sincerely hoping the company can find a large and appreciative audience in the Lower Mainland - because, he notes, it's a tough time to be running a ballet company.

"We need more government support available to boost the arts, but right now, nobody is talking about the arts, everybody is talking about the recession," he points out.

That having been said, he's happy with his decision to set up the new company, noting it's providing an opportunity that didn't otherwise exist for dancers.

"We are genuinely doing this for the dancers, as well as for the community," he said.

Paquita and Mixed Repertoire is onstage Friday, Nov. 18 at the ACT in Maple Ridge at 8 p.m., and again at the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver on Friday, Nov. 25, also at 8 p.m.

For full performance details and more about the company, see www.coastalcityballet.com.

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