Tradition meets technology in the mesmerizing 'Frame by Frame.' Is this the future of ballet?

Director Robert Lepage and choreographer Guillaume Côté celebrate the pioneering Canadian animator Norman McLaren.

Director Robert Lepage and choreographer Guillaume Côté celebrate pioneering Canadian animator Norman McLaren

The process of art evolving is always one which has fascinated me.- Norman McLaren, filmmaker and animator

Award-winning National Film Board animator Norman McLaren once said: "The process of art evolving is always one which has fascinated me." While a simple statement, it is deeply expressive of his own methods of creation.

Check out this video as we dig into the challenges of transporting an analog artist's life and work into the digital age — and then onto the stage:

Tradition meets technology in the National Ballet’s Frame by Frame

4 years ago
Frame by Frame pays homage to innovative filmmakers Norman McLaren 3:17

Norman McLaren grew up in an age without digital technology. Decades later his animations, from the elaborate live action animation in Neighbours (1952) to the pure design and minimalism of Lines: Horizontal (1962), are still visually striking inspirations in their meticulous attention to detail, experimentation and craft. Which is why, even for giants in the industry behind this production — including director Robert Lepage of Ex Machina, choreographer Guillaume Côté of The National Ballet of Canada and The National Film Board — it was still no easy task to translate McLaren's particular brand of magic into a ballet.

Ballet was such a huge influence in his life, it was something he fell in love with. We certainly hope that we're paying a beautiful homage to his life and his works. We're trying to awake them all again, to make sure the world doesn't forget them.- Jack Bertinshaw, dancer playing Norman McLaren

While ballet as an art form is steeped in classical traditions, Jack Bertinshaw, the dancer who plays McLaren, believes this could be a glimpse into its future. "In this ballet, we're seeing the evolution of ballet for sure. We're bringing ballet to the 21st century with how high tech it is."

Each scene is either an homage to his work or an aspect of his life.- Jack Bertinshaw

Jack Bertinshaw plays Norman McLaren in Frame by Frame. (CBC Arts)

"We certainly hope we're paying a beautiful homage to his life and his works. We're trying to awaken them all again, to really make sure that the world doesn't forget them."

The National Ballet of Canada's Frame by Frame is on June 1-10 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto.


Lucius Dechausay is a video producer at CBC Arts, as well as a freelance illustrator and filmmaker. His short films and animations have been screened at a number of festivals including The Toronto International Film Festival and Hot Docs. Most recently he directed KETTLE, which is currently streaming at CBC Short Docs.


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