Livona Ellis

When you ask most people about Spin class, they throw out words like: intense, energizing, grueling, medieval chain gang madness. It is wheels whipping, legs cramping, sweat flying. 4, 3, 2, 1. Out of the saddle.

When you ask Livona Ellis about Spin class, she settles into a tranquil sigh. “I like it. It’s relaxing. It’s good music in a dark room.”

When her legs are not sailing through Spin, Ellis is dancing through her 6th season with the acclaimed Ballet BC, under the direction of Emily Molnar. “We are a creation-based company,” says Ellis. “We spend much of our time in the studio, collaborating with choreographers from around the world. We’re really fortunate, because a lot of companies don’t get to do that. You feel ownership over the movements that you are creating.”


For one of the pieces in their last show, the Ballet BC dancers were working with choreographer Crystal Pite on the Canadian Premiere of Solo Echo. “I’ve wanted to work with her since I was a kid,” says Ellis. “Being in the studio with her was incredible; her work is so intelligent. I was able to figure out things in my body that I’ve been working on for years. She emphasized that you don’t have to look like the person beside you.”

And the music for Solo Echo? Beautiful. “It’s two Sonatas for piano and cello by Brahms. Your heart just drops. It’s gorgeous.”

By the time she was 13, Ellis knew that she would become a dancer. She joined the Professional Training Program at Arts Umbrella, under the leadership of the beloved Artemis Gordon. “Before that, I had taken recreational dancing. I was also into martial arts, gymnastics, lots of other things.”

Along with all of the professional choreographers that Gordon brought into the program, Livona was lucky to get some early experience working with the talented Emily Molnar, who was then serving as the Director of the Junior Company at Arts Umbrella. “The great thing about Arts Umbrella was that they treated us like we were in a professional company.”


After working her way up through the Arts Umbrella high school and grad programs, Ellis was offered a position as an Apprentice at Ballet BC. “I couldn’t believe it! It was incredible. I couldn’t believe that I would be dancing under Emily.”

In that Apprentice year, Ellis worked and worked to make sure that she could hold her own alongside full-time company members and internationally renowned choreographers. Ellis also knew that, come January, Molnar would be scheduling The Meeting with each of the apprentices. “That’s when she tells the apprentices if they will hire you. She told me: ‘I love working with you. I love your dancing. I want to hire you, but I don’t think I can. I’m concerned that your body won’t be able to handle the pointe work.”

Ellis wasn’t surprised to hear that – pointe work had always been challenging for her- but she was not about to give up. “I told her: ‘I’m going to work my ass off, so it’s not a problem.”

For the next three months, Ellis lived in her pointe shoes. She could feel herself getting stronger and was delighted when Visiting Choreographer, Medhi Walerski, chose to use her in a piece, not a given for apprentices. “The next day, he choreographed a solo for me. I got to go out and really show who I was.”

After that show, Molnar called another meeting with Ellis. “She said: ‘you’ve worked so hard. I can’t believe the change.” Then, she offered Ellis a company job with Ballet BC. “I ran down the hallway screaming!”


These days, Ellis is inspired by new apprentices. “They come in with such a hunger and drive. With so much energy and a fresh look. They are a reminder that what we get to do is so rare and we shouldn’t waste time.”

From student through apprentice and company member, Ellis has always felt supported by her family. Her mother – a body builder and personal trainer – says: “do what you want to do, just be great at it.”

Ellis now has a second family in the Ballet BC company. “We spend all day, every day together. You’re close; you piss each other off. We love each other; we support and trust each other. We also know when to give each other space.” After visiting companies where the competition is anything but healthy, Ellis feels grateful to be in an environment where “something is clearly working.”

The Ballet BC 2015/16 Season will include 9 local performances, along with touring. “We were just in Nanaimo and Victoria,” says Ellis, “and we’re going to Portland and Banff next week. The energy and feedback are incredible. Wow. It’s nice to feel that in and outside of our home town.”

If her menisci cooperate, Ellis would love to keep dancing until she is in her forties. “There are so many dancers today who are in their forties and phenomenal.” Ellis has already started doing some choreography for competition solos and teaching for Spotlight Dance in Burnaby and Arts Umbrella.

But, each night, before she takes the stage, you’ll find Ellis preparing in her usual spot: Stage Right, Second Wing. “I always go there.”


Written by Elizabeth Newton

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