VSAA grad looks ahead, reflects on years dancing in Europe

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter

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Vancouver dancer Spenser Theberge is choreographing a new production.

His future.

It figures to involve a bit of improv. While it will be influenced by artists Theberge has admired for years, how it comes together will be up to him.

“You just always think you know” where life is taking you, Theberge said, “until you open another door and start over.”

The 2005 graduate of Vancouver School of Arts and Academics is approaching the next stage in his performing career after seven years in Europe. He spent the biggest share of that time with the Netherlands Dance Theater in The Hague, joining their junior company in 2009 following his graduation from The Juilliard School in New York City.

Theberge was promoted to their senior dance company in 2012. The gig included a side job as a cultural ambassador for the Dutch royal family

Starting in 2013, Theberge was a guest artist for two years with the Forsythe Company in Frankfurt, Germany.

“It was like school,” he said. “It was frustrating and unnerving — until it became wonderful!”

That became a springboard to a freelance dancing career in 2015. He worked on projects with other choreographers as well as his partner, Jermaine Spivey, a fellow Juilliard grad.

“I love the traveling and the touching base with people who think different things” that is part of dancing overseas. However, Theberge said, “It’s a hard sell in Europe as a freelancer.”

And he’s really looking forward to having a place in this country to call home: “On one of the edges, East Coast or West Coast,” Theberge said.

“I’ve lived in New York, and I’d like to try Los Angeles,” Theberge said last month at Columbia Dance Company, where he started his dance studies in 1999.

That actually marked an early pivot in her son’s artistic career, Sarah Theberge said.

“He was 8 when he started. He was in gymnastics. He got a gym gift certificate for his birthday. He was very good at it,” Sarah Theberge said.

And when one of the gymnastics activities included a ballet class, “He said that’s what he really wanted to do.”

“I loved the tumbling of gymnastics, but dance looked more fun,” Spenser said.

“This was where I got my foundation,” he said after a workout at Columbia Dance Company. “I knew how to appreciate dance when I got to Juilliard.

“I’d like to think I’d find this path no matter what,” he said. But it was support from Vancouver School of Arts and Academics and from Jan Hurst at Columbia Dance, he said, “that helped illuminate the path.”

After Juilliard, that path led Theberge to the Netherlands Dance Theater.

“It was a dream of mine to dance there,” he said. “It’s an influential continental dance company. It was a dream to be there, and absorb the choreography of people I’ve admired.”

Joining the senior company gave Theberge a unique opportunity to dance in Europe and Asia as a cultural ambassador.

“Former Queen Beatrix was a huge fan of the dance theater,” Theberge said. The monarch (who became Princess Beatrix in 2013 when she handed the throne to her son) enjoyed presenting artistic performances as gifts for special events.

Theberge’s performance settings included a Swedish royal wedding, a reception at the Dutch embassy in London and an event in Istanbul celebrating Dutch-Turkish diplomatic ties.

In Frankfurt, he worked with American choreographer William Forsythe.

“He’s responsible for what we call contemporary ballet,” Theberge said. “I learned so much, sharing the stage with people I saw when I was 17.”

During those seven years in Europe, Sarah Theberge mostly had to follow her son’s career from a distance.

“When I see him dance, it’s a thumbnail on a computer screen,” she said. “In an ensemble, I don’t even know which one is him. I haven’t been able to come to terms with the distance.”

Relocation isn’t the only transition Theberge is facing. He looks ahead to making choices as a dancer, as a teacher, as a creator.

“I can imagine stopping performing in other people’s work.

“I’d like to understand better the works I’d like to make and teach other people. It’s a great challenge, to ask other people to have your instincts or your sensibilities.”

And as an artist, “I’m experimenting with interdisciplinary work. I like to write.”

There are other transitions that everybody shares. Theberge’s next birthday will be his 30th, which is a milestone even for people who don’t dance for a living.

“There’s something you gain by growing older as a performer. The Forsythe Company fluctuated from 16 to 20 dancers, and half — at least — were in their 40s. Some were in their 50s. To glean experience from them was incredible,” he said.

There will come a time when “I can’t land on my knees or do a huge split,” he said, but, “I will accommodate my body when that happens.”

Ultimately, to adapt is to “understand what’s in your control. It’s important to realize what’s part of the deal, and what I can play with.” For example, “I can choose where to live.”

And when the time seems right for that next stage?

“You might as well do it. Let go of the desire to be perfect instantly,” Theberge said. “Success is a process.”