'This is about a mission,' says incoming artistic director of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens

From Bolzano to the Bolshoi and then to Montreal - Ivan Cavallari on the journey that took him to the artistic directorship of Les Grands Ballets.

First season promises spiritual side of dance along with creative surprises

Ivan Cavallari was announced as the new artistic director for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens last April. He will assume the role in June. (Les Grands Ballets Canadiens)

The new artistic director of the Les Grands Ballets Canadiens says that he doesn't expect perfection in his work because perfection doesn't exist — but creativity is always accessible.

Ivan Cavallari was announced as the incoming artistic director last April, and has since been finding his feet in Montreal and Les Grands Ballets with the help of outgoing artistic director Gradimir Pankov.

Pankov has been at the helm of the company for the past 18 years.

Cavallari was attracted to his new role because of the artistic freedom it offered.

His last role was in Strasbourg, France, where he was the artistic director at the Ballet de l'Opéra National du Rhin.

He said that in Europe, opera houses tend to dictate the creative direction of their resident ballet companies. 

"I was working with an institution that principally served the opera," Cavallari told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

He added, "I came from frustration, here I found freedom."
Italian-born Cavallari started his dancing career in Milan when he was 14 years old. (Les Grands Ballets Canadiens)

Cavallari has spent years globetrotting as a ballet dancer and artistic director.

Born in Bolzano, Italy, near the German border, he began his ballet studies in Milan before earning a scholarship to one of the most prestigious ballet schools in the world, The Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow.

From there he performed in Germany at the Stuttgart Ballet, first as a soloist then principal dancer.

In that time, he rarely felt that he got a performance completely right.

"Obviously in a career of 14 years as a principal dancer, you have three, four, five performances that you take with you. But the rest is just building towards those performances," he said.

He doesn't think anything can ever really be perfect because perfection is too much of a moving target.

"We keep changing, keep moving, we keep adding to ourselves. One can't be perfect, but one can be creative," Cavallari said.

In the months that he's been in Montreal, he said he has yet to find any local haunts to settle into because all his time and focus is taken up with the ballet.

A home in dance

Since he was 14 years old, ballet has taken Cavallari to different cities in pursuit of creative opportunities.

He said the idea of "home" doesn't take on the same meaning for him as it does for other people.

"This is about a mission, not thinking, 'I'm here, I'm going to be here forever,'" he said.

He admits that at times life on a mission can be a hard one.

He said that despite some challenges settling into a new city, he is looking forward to June, when he will take on his role as artistic director.

The double bill opening Les Grands Ballets's 2017/2018 season includes Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 — a piece of music which lends itself perfectly to dance and offers something extra.
Stabat MATER is part of the double-bill launching the new season Oct. 11, 2017. (Les Grands Ballets Canadiens)

"There's a mystical side, spiritual side, of dancing that can bring a lot to society. This is why I chose Symphony No. 7. Beethoven could not hear it and was completely deaf when he composed it," Cavallari said.

The season ends with a tribute to Leonard Cohen called Soirée des étoiles, even though the company has been known for shying away from contemporary music in the past.

"I'm new and want to bring my own way of looking at things," Cavallari said.

with files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak