Paul Destrooper, Artistic & Executive Director of Ballet Victoria at the ballet’s offices in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Don Denton photography

Paul Destrooper, Artistic & Executive Director of Ballet Victoria at the ballet’s offices in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Don Denton photography

Ballet Victoria’s Paul Destrooper Brings Dance to the People

Former dancer is now the artistic and executive director

  • Sep. 11, 2018 2:30 a.m.

It’s Sunday morning, and behind the soaring brick walls of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, up several flights of stairs and into the studios of Ballet Victoria, the resonant tones of the church’s organ come drifting through the walls, filling the space with music.

“It’s like living with the phantom of the opera,” laughs Paul Destrooper as he pulls out a chair for me in his office. The music fades as the service next door gets underway, and I ask him about his time with Ballet Victoria.

Paul has been executive and artistic director for the last 11 of the company’s 16 years, joining the ranks in 2007 when he was offered the position while dancing with Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland. An award-winning graduate of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Paul was born in Montreal and grew up in Switzerland, but always had a soft spot for Victoria. He actually completed his BA in literature at UVic when he was younger before dance “distracted” him.

After providing those few details about himself, he enthusiastically moves the direction of the conversation, spotlighting instead the community initiatives the company has undertaken since he took the reins.

“We do a lot for the community,” he says. “We’re a not-for-profit and we’re also a charitable organization, and we try to make our art form accessible to everyone.”

Producing shows in a proper theatre skyrockets the costs, which is in part necessarily passed on into ticket prices, he says. So to help get around that and give more people the opportunity to experience ballet, Ballet Victoria runs Tea for Tutu. A free, 45-minute ballet performance at the adjacent Kirk Hall, Tea for Tutu offers seniors, parents, kids and anyone else a preview at an upcoming performance, plus the opportunity to discuss it afterwards over complimentary tea and baked goods.

“They get to talk about the performance with each other and with the dancers. We bring seniors in from different residences. It’s also open to single parents and homeschooled kids, so there’s literally three generations in there,” says Paul.

Ballet Victoria also runs several school outreach programs, with Paul and other dancers and instructors travelling to schools to share the benefits of dance with children from kindergarten all the way up to high school, offering it as an alternative to sport and a way to keep both mind and body healthy.

“Dance is being used in therapy to slow down brain diseases,” adds Paul, which makes complete sense to me. To dance, no matter the style, you need spatial awareness, coordination in your limbs, the ability to move in space around other people, the ability to memorize the music and so much more. It’s a phenomenal mental and physical workout. (I can personally attest to this. Earlier in the spring I took a beginner’s ballet class, and I’ve never felt both so graceful and uncoordinated at the same time.)

To that end, Paul is currently working with a friend in Toronto to create a class for people with Parkinson’s disease, in the hopes of using dance to help slow the progression of symptoms for participants. Hopefully, he says, it will be up and running by the next season.

One of the new and important components of Ballet Victoria is the Conservatory, which offers a variety of classes taught by the company’s most seasoned professional dancers. Talented teachers with years of performing experience generously pass on their technique, skills and passion to their students, says Paul. Unique in British Columbia, Ballet Victoria’s main stage productions still focus on classical ballet technique and pointe work, he adds, which require an enormous amount of technical skill and strength for both female and male dancers.

But it quickly becomes clear that Paul works to inject a little “21st-century flavour” into the company’s personality as well. Diving into the “artistic” portion of his direction in the upcoming October production of Frankenstein — the start of the new season — Paul has taken story strands from Mary Shelley’s masterpiece, the tragic love story ballet Giselle and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, and woven them together into a show that’s heartbreaking, satirical and beautiful, and even includes a space-opera-inspired fight scene. (I won’t spill the details here, but for anyone who was watching movies in the ‘70s, it’ll be a fun surprise.)

Ballet Victoria’s artistic director Paul Destrooper. Don Denton photography.

He also puts on Ballet Rocks, a production that pairs classical ballet with rock music, and mixes classical and modern music.

“Like Mozart and Pink Floyd. They go great together,” he says with a grin.

As much as possible (and as much as budgets allow), he strives to work with live musicians, whether it’s a full orchestra or a single musician.

“It adds dimension to the performerance,” he says. “There has to be communication between the musician and the dancers, and you can get to a level when the music and dance are symbiotic.”

“When it’s live, you have the added interpretation of the musician, and the audience gets caught in the middle of it,” he says, becoming more animated as he speaks. “Normally the orchestra is in the pit, but when we do Carmina Burana, they’re behind us on stage with the full choir, so the music, it physically comes through you. It’s incredible!”

“There’s something primeval about dance,” he says, elaborating: men would dance to prepare for war, the rhythm and grace of it going hand in hand with horseback riding or fencing. Even going back thousands of years to our Cro-Magnon ancestors, they would dance around the fire to prepare themselves for the hunt. “You warm up your body, you meet in unison, then you go out to meet the challenge.”

Today, to see a performance is to experience another person’s emotion, their soul that they’re giving to the dance. And dance as an art form has grown to include a wealth of cultures and perspectives.

“I think we move people just as deeply with our movement and expression as a poet could do, or a playwright or a musician,” says Paul. “Everything we do is beautiful, and powerful. Ballet has a traditional, stereotypical flavour, and I think people have been slow to realize that even classical ballet has evolved, and that it truly can appeal to all. I think everything we do at Ballet Victoria — thanks to the immense talent and passion of the dancers — will surprise and inspire people.”

-Story by Angela Cowan

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

ArtisticArtsBalletballet victoriaCultureDanceEntertainmentPaul DestrooperTea for tutu

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison. Photo courtesy Conservative Party of Canada.
MP Morrison hopes for economic recovery plan in upcoming federal budget

Kootenay-Columbia Conservative looking for post-pandemic recovery plan in next week’s Liberal budget

The 1977/78 British Columbia Olympics (BCO) men’s volleyball team. Recently three members were inducted into the BC Volleyball Hall of Fame, Keith Gallicano is No. 1, Jerry Story is No. 3 and John Markwart is No. 7.(Contributed)
Three more Revelstoke Volleyballers inducted to the Volleyball BC Hall of Fame

The men played for the 1977/78 British Columbia Olympics team

(Natalia Cuevas-Huaico - Kelowna Capital News)
Morning Start: Foot bones don’t harden until you’re an adult

Your morning start for Tuesday, April 13, 2021

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Interior Health announces 89 cases of COVID-19 in the region

Currently, there are 900 active cases in the region

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

A five-storey, 60-unit building has been proposed for 8709 Jubilee Rd. E., Summerland. The proposal will be the subject of a public hearing on March 22. (Image by GTA Architecture)
Zoning, OCP amendments adopted for Summerland housing development

Additional variances will be needed for controversial five-storey, 60-unit housing development

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Defence counsel for the accused entered two not guilty pleas by phone to Grand Forks Provincial Court Tuesday, Jan. 12. File photo
B.C. seafood company owner fined $25K for eating receipt, obstructing DFO inspection

Richmond company Tenshi Seafood is facing $75,000 in fines as decided March 4 by a provincial court judge

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 2, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. NDP ministers defend ‘air tax,’ latest COVID-19 business aid

Empty home tax doesn’t apply to businesses, but space above them

Sheila Derbyshire surprised her daughter, Talyn, at Len Wood Middle School in Armstrong April 12, 2021, for her 13th birthday with 13 clowns carrying 13 red balloons. (Sheila Derbyshire - Contributed)
Armstrong mom sends in the clowns

‘Halloween freak’ celebrates daughter’s 13th birthday in style

Lime e-scooters will soon be offered in Kelowna. (Photo: Kris Krug)
E-scooters now allowed on Kelowna roadways under provincial pilot program

‘Rather than a novelty, this change will enable e-scooters to be used for more utilitarian transportation purposes’

Most Read