For JBA’s artistic director Alain Honorez, ’five’ may very well be the deciding number in his trajectory: as he turns 45, and his young company reaches a milestone (about to celebrate with a special anniversary performance entitled 5!), Alain is casting his eye back on the first five years since the launch of Junior Ballet Antwerp, something which even he finds hard to believe.
Talking to Judith Delmé on the eve of his birthday, Alain looks back- and forwards, to the future.
AH. “Back then, people had come to realize that young dancers often needed more time, guidance and opportunities if they wished to further their careers. So this was to be our main goal: to create a platform where young people, wherever they came from, would have the chance to gain experience.
Starting out you have to have a vision as where you’d like to go; but we had no idea then – in fact never thought it possible – at how much we could, and did achieve in such a short period of time, all the while overcoming multiple obstacles (Covid/ financial crisis…).
Our first objective were to get a trustworthy team of people together, apart from the dancers, who could work with us and who believed in our vision.
Secondly it was to create a repertoire, one which was attractive to the public and at the same time, would help our dancers grow.
Our very first program, SEASONS 4.0, was an eclectic mix – 4 differing styles from 4 different choreographers. I believe that performance really set the tone for all that was coming.”
AH. “Yes definitely, JBA would not be what it is today without the support of our core team: Irma and Altea as well as many choreographers and teachers (whom we had worked with during our dancing days) who helped us because as they said, Altea and I had been so generous as dancers, it was only natural for them to help us in return.
I have to stress how fortunate we were (are) to have choreographer David Dawson backing us, and giving us the wonderful gift of his ballet METAMORPHOSIS. David always puts the bar really high, dancing his work makes you reach further and beyond both physically and technically which ultimately unleashes something within you artistically.”
AH. “People sometimes question us on demanding such perfection. Altea and I have that in our characters, we challenge ourselves all the time and work toward the highest level possible. We both believe that the young generation needs to understand how necessary it is to challenge themselves daily as they may have chosen the path of one of the hardest (but most beautiful) professions out there. It is all about learning in order to grow.
We (Altea and I) learn every day and we also learn from our dancers. In order to help them take their next steps we have to find out what is right for each one and need to understand their weaknesses and strengths. That is a process which takes time as we have to deal with every dancer’s individual needs. We generally notice that those who aren’t afraid to make mistakes and dare to get out of their comfort zone are the ones who have a higher chance in succeeding.”
AH. “We’ve experienced both of course! When going though a rough moment I tell myself the ‘low’ is important to afterwards fully enjoy the ‘high’.
Life is all about ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ and as long as we can keep finding the means and the strength to carry on, we are not afraid to jump and to take on some challenges! Altea and I are very modest people. Deep down we know we are doing a positive thing with JBA but we also always question ourselves. Are we on the right track? Are we helping our dancers in the best ways? What could we do differently? … Luckily we have each other and we can support each others’ choices.”
AH. “Oh we’ve had many, many struggles – however the good thing is that these have taught us to be creative, to turn the difficulty around and create something positive out of it.
Of course corona came at the worst time, so soon after the JBA start-up which meant we had no previous season, nothing to fall back on. But because we had to battle so hard, everything we did at that time remains very special… the small films we created, the MINIATURE performances we organized in the studio… it brought us all so closely together.
A few months back we faced financial strain and had to work even harder – contacting sponsors, selling performances, announcing open classes, dance courses and other events… We’ve literally shifted gear and we feel a positive response coming out of this!”
AH. “We have two (maxims) that we stick to: The first is that it is very important to always go by our gut feelings – I almost always follow my instinct! Secondly, we try not to repeat ourselves…. After a technically very demanding piece like METAMORPHOSIS comes a classic with live music (CINDERELLA) and then we move on to a multi-art project like JAMES this year. We also try not to be influenced by what is going on in the world. Things change so fast and it’s so easy to lose touch with the art (of ballet) just by seeking sensation. I’m not one to go by the trends of the moment – there is a hollowness, a superficiality about going along that path.”
AH. “We lost 2 entire years because of Covid but since then, we have achieved a great deal.
What we are working towards now is for steady structural certainty, not having to depend on dancers’ ‘in-bring’ financially.
Secondly to get rid of what I call ‘the grey zone’ – that we are obliged to be either a ‘school’ or a company!
I believe it should not matter, as long as our mission is clear and the result is there. Today everything is about ‘inclusion’ so why is it so hard for us to be accepted as we are!
Altea and I have never achieved things in our lives, or careers because we have had the overriding ambition to do so. It is the love for the art form and the passion for our profession that brought us here. What I do have is A BELIEF that they will come about. I do secretly wish I had a glass bowl to tell me what lies ahead (Alain chuckles) but there is no other way than to go forward with belief, knowing that somehow, sometime, things will turn out the way they should. Cheers to the next 5!”
© Nicha Rodboon & Filip Van Roe