3 min

The ability to unlock youths

NAC commissions Matjash Mrozewski for special presentation

Credit: Neil Hodge

The National Arts Centre (NAC) wants young minds to walk in, check out and turn onto contemporary dance. In late November, Matjash Mrozewski, the 27-year-old choreographer-dancer based in Toronto will try to reach a new audience.

“This one has a very specific purpose,” Mrozewski says of his upcoming dance performance, entitled Break Open Play. “The NAC is hoping to excite and introduce teenagers to modern dance.”

Break Open Play is going through the final touches of the creative process and, while it is aimed at young minds, Mrozewski explains that there is a catch.

“What I’m think I’m delivering, it might not be what they think they’re receiving,” says Mrozewski, before laughing. “I don’t quite know what it’s going to trigger in people.”

The performance involves an art classroom setting, as Mrozewski remembers it from school, complete with papers and scissors on stage. As he completes the project, the meaning of the piece is changing.

“I wanted to do a piece about creating art,” Mrozewski says. “These elements end up revealing more of the artist to people. It’s actually about discovering yourself through play and exploring.”

Mrozewski knows what he’s talking about. His credits include projects for the National Ballet of Canada, Toronto Dance Theatre, film, and dance companies in the United States and Europe. Mrozewski started training in dance at age 10. At 17, he joined the National Ballet of Canada and danced professionally until last year, when he was 25. In early 2002, he left the National Ballet and a career as a soloist to go into freelance choreography.

This was good news for Cathy Levy, NAC’s producer of dance programming. She knew Mrozewski from previous projects and was seeking new blood for the NAC Youth Commission for Dance. This is a three-year collaboration between the Canada Council for the Arts and NAC to aim dance programs at teenage audiences. After they met, Mrozewski wound up doing the first event.

“I’m incredibly lucky to have been the first choreographer chosen for this project,” says Mrozewski.

“Cathy Levy had me in mind for this project – which a lot of choreographers could only dream of having,” says Mrozewski. “She’s got some really great ideas. She was talking about people she’d like to bring to the NAC. She’s got that drive. And this is her life. When you’re creating work for somebody like that, it’s very exciting because they care about it as much as you do. You have the support of someone who believes in it.”

Mrozewski has believed in dancing as a form of expression since age 10. Having tried his hand at writing and drawing, he preferred dancing.

His current schedule includes having five dancers rehearsing six hours a day. For the rest of October, Mrozewski will rehearse his premiere for the National Ballet of Canada, entitled Monument. After its completion, he will return for a week of rehearsals beforethe opening of Break Open Play. It’s a busy life for the dancers and the starving artist cliché sometimes applies.

“Some of my dancers are holding down Joe jobs after all this dancing,” Mrozewski says. “When I was at the Ballet, that didn’t happen because you were working full-time. The kids I’m working with are waitressing, working in libraries, serving coffee. They’re trying to stay in shape, pay for classes and work. It’s tough.”

The market for the dancebusiness sounds lean, but Mrozewski qualifies this statement. The opinion of the 17-year-old dancer and 27-year-old choreographer are different.

“There are fewer jobs,” says Mrozewski. “The bar’s higher. There are a lot of talented dancers out there. Generally, it’s more competitive. Dancers need to be versatile, explore and find the right place for them. I don’t think it’s too bad.”

While money is the biggest challenge for dancers and choreographers, it’s not what drives artists. “No matter how tough it gets,” Mrozewski says, “you’re getting paid to do what you love. Sometimes you can see the world. I’ve seen the world on tours.”

As a parting note, Mrozewski describes the ideal reaction of audiences to Break Open Play.

“Ideally, people will realize that going to the theatre, seeing dance or seeing any work of art does have the ability to unlock – within an audience member or a creator – parts of yourself that you didn’t know about.”


Fri, Nov 28, 2003 .

Matinees open to school groups only.

Sat, Nov 29, 2003 – 20:30 Theatre.

947-7000, Ext. 280.