Ballet BC’s new Executive Director Branislav Henselmann is a dance man through and through, although it was not necessarily his first choice.
Seeing as Henselmann has since gone on to a career shaping the world of ballet and contemporary dance on a global scale, that’s a big difference, but this is a man who was dragged to his professional dance classes by a girlfriend.
“I was an early teenager experimenting with girls as well as boys, and it was one of my girlfriends who brought me to class”, he says, proving that even gay men have to be dragged to dance class by their girlfriends sometimes. In the end, it all worked out, as “she lost a boyfriend and I gained a profession”, he jokes.
In fact, Henselmann is quick to disprove the myth that the dance world is full of gay men, asserting there are just as many gay lawyers as there are dancers. As a result, he says, being a dancer didn’t have a huge impact on his experience of coming into himself and his sexuality. What it did was launch a story of dance success that was shaped in equal parts of natural talent, luck, and a great deal of hard work.
After going to university to study biology, Henselmann’s real professional dance training began when he spontaneously decided to switch tracks and started to attend The Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in London. While there he was invited to take a dance class with the New York based Merce Cunningham, a world-renowned avant-garde choreographer, and was invited to come to New York where he received a fellowship and ultimately launched his professional dance career in the cultural hub of New York City, training with Cunningham and dancing with Johannes Wieland.
Ironically, looking back at his long career it was a dance piece by Wieland that he sees as the most memorable piece he’s seen.
“I still remember it vividly to this day, it was called Yesterday, and it was one of the most mind-blowing pieces I’ve ever seen in my life,” he recalls. “I was on the edge of my seat and said ‘I want to dance with this guy’. So I did and it was the best day of my life.”
By the age of 30, although his professional dance career could have kept him going for years to come, he began looking for a change.
“I think dancing was one of the things I wanted to do with my life, but it wasn’t the only thing I wanted to do”, he says. “I realized that if I wanted to have a serious career in something else I needed to change to give myself time to build a career and learn what I needed to learn.”
Not quite ready to give up his creative work though, he enrolled at New York University (NYU) to study for both a Masters in Fine Arts and a business degree. Henselmann says that studying for both at the same time was definitely a challenge and almost did him in, but in the end well worth the effort.
While deciding what type of business to pursue as NYU, Henselmann heard that New York City Ballet was looking for an intern. So he picked up the phone and asked for an interview.
Managing to nail the interview despite showing up wearing Birkenstocks and a white undershirt, Hanselmann found himself with a job as choreographic intern with one caveat: he was forbidden to come to work in a white undershirt.
It was during his time at NYC Ballet that he first met Emily Molnar, now the artistic director of Ballet BC. While they hit it off, being two young dancers of the same generation of contemporary dance and ballet, this wasn’t the beginning of their adventure together in Vancouver. It wasn’t until Henselmann had moved back to Europe to gain new experiences in dance, including producing an art installation with The Michael Clark Company for the Tate Modern that he ran into Molnar at a reception in London, England and the two hit it off instantly.
When Molnar told Henselmann about her work at Ballet BC, he was intrigued and realized that they could really build something together. Eventually flying out for an interview, Henselmann saw his first piece by Ballet BC, Walking Bad, and was blown away.
“Ballet BC is a phenomenon,” he says simply to describe the company. “I worked on a global level in the dance world, I have seen some amazing stuff, and one of them is Ballet BC. There are two or three other companies in the world right now who can do what Ballet BC can do.”
Now his challenge is getting local audiences to realize what a treasure they have under their noses. A big part of that is raising the company’s profile on a global scale. Like most of the world, Vancouverites don’t tend to appreciate their home-grown talent until it makes it in the “big leagues” of New York or London. According to Henselmann, this is a common trait worldwide, and so he is sending the company to several international festivals this year.
Henselmann also has plans for community outreach to help cultivate local audiences by reaching out to those dance devotees who may never have given Ballet BC a chance and regular folk who don’t yet know it exists. He is confident that once people see what Ballet BC has to offer they will experience something that will change them.
His final word to Vancouverites? “People, I moved here from London for something, and that something surely was good.”
The Ballet BC 2012/2013 season gets underway with In/verse on November 22-24, 2012. Visit http://www.balletbc.com for tickets and information.
Andrea is a theatre-maker, yoga instructor, writer and ally to the LGBTQ community in Vancouver. She spends her days as the Communications Manager for Pacific Theatre, and is Co-Artistic Producer for Xua Xua Productions, a founding member of Les Petites Taquines Dance Theatre, and the marketing chair for the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards Society. She writes a weekly column for VancouverisAwesome.com and freelances as a yoga instructor and choreographer. When she has some down time she enjoys some green tea and quality time with her cat, Miss Gertie Marie.