Ballet Edmonton's new show reflects on loss and memories of the people we love
By Cory Schachtel | October 11, 2023
When artistic director Wen Wei Wang came to Edmonton in August 2018 for Ballet Edmonton’s board of directors meeting, he had not met Orville Chubb, who was the publisher of this magazine (then Avenue Edmonton) as well as a huge proponent of the arts, and all things Edmonton.
“When I arrived, I saw something really strange — they canceled the board of directors meeting. And at first, nobody wanted to tell me anything,” Wang recalls.
Nobody wanted to tell Wang that Orville was about to die (standard journalistic practice is to use last names, but we’re making an exception in this case). After suffering an aortic dissection, Orville spent six days in the hospital, before passing away surrounded by family. The day before Orville passed, Wang went to the hospital to speak with Trudy Callaghan, Orville’s wife, Avenue’s associate publisher — and chair of Ballet Edmonton’s board. They spoke of loss, while people gathered and brought food to the hospital for a family supper.
“I went to say hello to Trudy, and talk about Orville. And in that moment, something in my heart told me: I’m going to make a piece about this.”
The piece, called “Last Words,” premiered in November 2018, as a “tribute to Orville and a gift to his family.” Five years later, the work has been re-created and renamed “Thousand Memories” to reflect “how time and distance can deepen our emotions and memories of lost loved ones.”
After five years, the way people grieve changes, even after a sudden, shocking loss. So has Wang’s piece. “I recreated it quite differently from the first time. I feel like I needed to open it up because this is not about one person’s story, it’s an experience for the audience, particularly through the pandemic, because so many have lost loved ones. And over the years, the way we remember lost loved ones changes. I don’t think of my mother in the hospital dying — I think of growing up with her, how she talked with me, how she cooked for me. I don’t want to bring [the audience] back to the moment of loss, I want to bring back the memories of their lives and time together.”
Wang says he wouldn’t use the word “celebration” for this piece, because there’s sweetness and sadness in almost all aspects of our lives, and it’s certainly not about letting go. “It’s about letting yourself say ‘I’m OK. I can remember the joyful things. I can remember the painful things. But I’m OK.'”
When the performance concludes, Wang wants the audience “to feel like they’re waking from a dream. Sometimes I go back home and talk to my mom, and she’s still alive, and when I wake up I go ‘No, I don’t want to wake up!’ because that moment is so real. But I don’t think it’s sad, it just wasn’t enough. I’m sure we all have these beautiful dreams, and I want to share this one with the audience.”