National Ballet School Hosts Third Assemblée Internationale Dance Program

Canada’s National Ballet School welcomes 100 dancers from 21 schools across 11 countries, in the spirit of Canada 150.

In just 58 years, Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) has become one of the world’s most respected and decorated dance schools, and in keeping with that reputation, it recently hosted 100 dancers from 21 schools across 11 countries at Assemblée Internationale 2017 (AI 17), a weeklong creative collaboration in the spirit of Canada’s 150th anniversary.

This was the third such Assemblée Internationale, begun in 2009 to mark the school’s 50th anniversary through an initiative envisioned by Mavis Staines, the National Ballet School’s Artistic Director and CEO, to bring together its network of partner schools from around the world. Participants joined in an intensive week of classes, performances, forums and professional development activities that provided a rich educational experience and further built relationships within the international dance community. It has been an ambitious project to bring together so many internationally blended casts to perform such varied works of dance, and it is a project that has only improved over time.

Shaun Amyot, teacher and choreographer at Canada’s National Ballet School

“It’s been just so incredible and amazing to see so many different approaches to the same art form,” says Shaun Amyot, who teaches Contemporary Repertoire and Improvisation Technique and co-manages the Post-Secondary and Career Planning Program at NBS. He also served as the AI 17 co-artistic director and choreographer. “You really see the quality of the training of these international schools and the priorities of the individual institutions, how traditional or modern they are. We had one school from Barcelona bring pieces from all of their dance programs, classical, contemporary and flamenco, which is just one example of how varied the week was.”

Assemblée Internationale 2017 was made up of international dancers as well as 70 Grade 10, 11 and 12 and post-secondary dancers from the National Ballet School, all collaborating on four different performance pieces choreographed by Canadian artists, either graduates or current NBS students.

“The way the students really pull together and do such an incredible job in performance was really wonderful and a highlight of AI 17 for me,” says Amyot. “And how our dancers performed has been just incredible. After some of the performances, the audience has been in tears. It’s just been really moving and touching and a very magical moment.”

It’s been just so incredible and amazing to see so many different approaches to the same art form

Bringing together these students has many other benefits that Amyot is quick to point out. “The friendships and bonds that are created at an event like this are magnified throughout the week,” says Amyot. “Many of the NBS students dream of dancing in Europe and they make so many contacts they can stay connected with through social media. AI 17 brings the dance community together but also strengthens that community.”

One of the most original pieces of performance was created and choreographed by Amyot himself. Entitled Origin8, it included every student attending AI and featured a unique partnership with York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design. With the support of Thalmic Labs’ Myo armbands, Origin8 involved motion sensors, graphics and music generated from the movement of the dancers. It measured the motion and speed of the dancers’ bodies while simultaneously projecting images on a backdrop from the data collected.

“It’s trying to find new ways to approach the art form by asking questions such as, ‘in this technological age, does it mix with ballet and should it?’ And it gives the audience examples of what that can look like,” says Amyot.

Origin8 is just one more example of the innovation the National Ballet School is known for around the world. NBS alumni work in 80 companies in Canada and abroad, and the school has always integrated elements from the best in classical ballet training methods, contemporary dance and the latest advances in science and movement.

“The training for ballet is much more intensive than people think as it is incredibly physical work,” says Amyot. “Marrying the athleticism and muscle control to accomplish the movements and positions with the humanity, artistry and emotion needed is very challenging. As a dancer, you need to bring every part of your being into the mix.”

At Assemblée Internationale 2017, every aspect of that unique physical and emotional collaboration was on display, created and celebrated like only the National Ballet School can do.

More information about the Assemblée Internationale or Canada’s National Ballet School can be found at

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