Career
Evan McKie with Tanya Howard rehearsing Genus. Photo by Karolina Kuras

As a kid, I often had trouble getting any words out the way I really wanted to. I developed a fantasy where I could find each character from each story I read within myself, and use them to communicate. I was always "Evan," but embodying different characters broadened the way I could connect with people. I felt that each character was like an instrument and that communicating effectively required the whole orchestra.

Then, when I was 8, I saw John Cranko's Onegin. I hadn't known that dance could develop characters in a way that would resonate so strongly. It was the first ballet that made me want to dive into this life of expressing the human condition through the body. The role of Onegin ended up following me through my career, and it taught me to rely on my humanness.

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Dancers & Companies

Cranko's masterpiece Onegin is a ballet that does not seem to age. Pushkin's story and Cranko's brilliant telling of it find new audiences every generation. Dancers crave the responsibility to take it on and grow through its roles, and audiences keep going back again to witness the passionate turmoil of one of the most touching story ballets to date.

Onegin has changed my life and continues to do so. As a young boy I saw it and instantly chose to embark on a path that would include the challenge to tell a story through dancing. This path eventually led me from Canada to Cranko's own company in Stuttgart, which, given its rich history, cannot help but specialize in this sort of story ballet. I was promoted to soloist after dancing Onegin's friend Lensky and then was appointed principal dancer while simultaneously being told I would dance the role of Onegin himself. I have had the privilege of learning from people who were the closest with John Cranko and knew his intentions.

I have always found one of Cranko's most exquisite achievements to be construction of the female lead in Onegin: Tatiana. Since being created on Marcia Haydée in 1965, Tatiana has become one of the most defining ballerina roles in history. It is not easy to strike the right balance of dancing and acting abilities or to have the emotional maturity to make Tatiana's inner conflicts come alive. I have found myself fascinated by dancing this ballet with ballerinas in Stuttgart, Tokyo, and Paris.

Watching how each approached the Tatiana role gave me insight into the minds of each extraordinary woman who has danced it. Although Onegin is the title role, I recognize that it is Tatiana who drives the story forward. She pursues Onegin and it is also she who ultimately rejects him against her heart's desire. Onegin's drastic reactions depend on how she approaches the crucial moments in the ballet.

To shed some light on what it takes to prepare for this role, I decided to ask five ballerinas from around the world to share some of their thoughts on Tatiana.

“Very rarely does an opportunity arise to portray a character that is as beautifully envisioned as Cranko's depiction of Tatiana," says American Ballet Theatre's Julie Kent. “She is a singular character because she is noble to the core." The Stuttgart's Alicia Amatriain adds, “I like to be able to play a part with as many human emotions and thoughts as this lady has. I just can't imagine my life as a ballerina without her." National Ballet of Canada's Xiao Nan Yu was chosen from the corps to play the role before rising up through the company. She states, “Tatiana hits closer to home than any other dramatic role because this story could really happen to any woman with romantic yearnings. She is strong in her convictions and not fickle, but she is also a young girl at first. When I was first chosen to dance the part I could barely look at my partner in the eyes in rehearsals because I was so shy. I later realized that this is how Tatiana might have felt when first meeting Onegin."

When I ask about the human qualities of the role, Kent mentions, “With this part a woman must be completely honest. It is important to do Tatiana justice by letting her own voice speak, and not the image you may have of yourself."

Paris Opéra Ballet's Aurélie Dupont can identify, saying, “At first I was frustrated by the restraint required to play Tatiana when Onegin hurts her badly and ignores her. As I was learning the steps I wanted to be more emotional in these initial scenes, but then I realized that this is how it is supposed to be. Only in the last pas de deux can this beautiful woman truly explode with all of her inner conflicts. I looked forward to that last 10 minutes of the ballet with such impatience!"

San Francisco Ballet's Maria Kochetkova recently danced Tatiana for the first time but grew up reading Pushkin's story in Russia. When analyzing the character, she quotes directly from the verse that describes Tatiana as a girl who doesn't have the “youthful, rosy cheeks" of her more effervescent sister, Olga, but instead is like a “doe in a clearing" who prefers to be alone with her thoughts. “I saw Onegin at the Royal Opera House years ago," she says. “It completely blew me away. I didn't know that ballet could be so powerful. That night I changed my views on how I wanted to dance."

I figured that all five women had initially prepared by reading Pushkin and listening to Tchaikovsky (which they did). But I wanted to know what happened when they got into the studio to learn the choreography, which is quite athletic and acts as the “text" in the ballet. Dupont reflects, “The lifts are almost acrobatic to show Tatiana's heightened emotions in the mirror pas de deux when she imagines Onegin there with her. At first I struggled to make it seem fluid, but when I danced the ballet again this year, I found that an organic approach with less force made the pas de deux more natural and very enjoyable." On the physicality of the ballet Yu adds, “Of course, the partnering is Cranko, so it is challenging, but it makes so much sense with what one is feeling during those duets. The way the thoughts and lifts repeat themselves and return later on in the ballet again with a different maturity is so true to the story. There is a flow to it."

When I inquire about the choreographic language Kent replies, “This ballet masterfully uses minimal ballet mime. From beginning to end, the steps clearly tell a story that is diverse in tone...from charming to starkly dramatic."

In the studio we all work on making the partnering maneuvers seem seamless. As an Onegin, I have learned a lot about this while dancing the ballet. My colleague Amatriain states, “The woman also needs a lot of upper-body strength to be able to get the most out of the pas de deux in the first and third acts. Two people have to really become one." Kochetkova can attest to that, saying, “Tatiana is completely drained by the end of this three-act ballet. I believe Cranko's duets are unique because they take equal physical strength from the man and woman…though given the difficult lifts, I'm not sure my partner would agree."

Onegin and Tatiana have a very intense relationship throughout the ballet, so naturally, I wanted to know if Julie, Xiao Nan, Aurélie, Maria, and Alicia had any desires about what they think makes the right Onegin for them. “I believe a good Onegin has had a past of some sort," says Dupont. Kochetkova stresses the need for a connection on- and offstage. Amatriain says that to her the most important thing is simply finding a partner who is “able to truly share" with her. Yu says, “I like Onegin to have a dark side and be a true intellectual. He should be an incredible partner emotionally and physically." Kent's thoughts on the relationship are those of a seasoned ballerina: “Spontaneity and honesty are key in any performance that comes to life."

Does Tatiana have sentimental value for some dancers? “Being Russian, it's a wonderful experience to be able to work on a story which is so close to my culture," says Kochetkova. “Unlike the other tragic heroines I've performed, like Lady of the Camellias, Juliet, or Manon, Tatiana doesn't die at the end," says Dupont. “Because of her deep obsession with romance I feel like one can see that she is already predisposed for heartbreak at the very beginning of the story. She starts off alone and ends alone." Kent similarly adds, “The two main characters survive and are not reunited. This is very unusual for a ballet ending." Amatriain recounts: “It feels more 'real.' This ballet really aims directly for the heart." Yu says she loves that Cranko chose to end the ballet by having Tatiana all alone onstage. “It says so much about how sometimes doing the right thing in the face of passion can make one feel so alone. The curtain going down on Tatiana is one of the most striking images in ballet."

Most Russians can reminisce about their favorite verses from Pushkin's poem, and balletgoers in the parts of the world that Cranko touched can instantly recall their best-loved passages from Cranko's ballet. “Onegin is a ballet for the soul," says Kochetkova—to which Dupont adds matter-of-factly, “This piece and this particular character can touch anybody who has ever loved."

Evan McKie (center) with Nikolay Godunov and Alicia Amatriain in Jirí Kylián's Return to a Strange Land. Photo courtesy Stuttgart.

In February the Stuttgart Ballet celebrated its 50th birthday with a three-week festival involving the whole company, its John Cranko School, guest companies, and returning alumni. We asked Dance Magazine's newest Advisory Board member, Evan McKie, to report from his vantage point as a principal dancer with the company.

Monica Mason made a good point when she asked, “What would ballet be today without Stuttgart?" The Royal Ballet's artistic director was one of the 21,000 guests at the Stuttgart Ballet's 50th Anniversary (Mega) Festival this February, just as her great predecessor, Ninette de Valois, had attended one of Stuttgart's first festivals in 1962. Neither de Valois, nor her young friend John Cranko, could have known then that Clive Barnes would one day praise the company as a “ballet miracle." Opera-ballet has been around in Stuttgart for centuries, but it was Cranko who built the company that has contributed so famously to today's ballet world.


Stuttgart, now led by Reid Anderson, offers dancers and audiences a whole lot: constant new work from fascinating artists (Mauro Bigonzetti, Wayne McGregor, Marco Goecke, and Christian Spuck all created their first large-scale works here) and a plentiful catalogue of homespun gems: Cranko's Onegin, MacMillan's Song of the Earth and Requiem, and Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias to name a few.


Many guests stayed for all 27 events, including mixed programs, full-length ballets, and even a directors' conference. In two galas, over 200 alumni and international guests gathered onstage for heartwarming curtain calls. “If these walls could talk,'' we often think to ourselves…well for this festival, they did!


I was moved when I met the humble Jirí Kylián, who had arrived and begun his choreographic journey here just before Cranko's untimely death. I danced his Return to a Strange Land, a piece that suited the wonderfully nostalgic feeling of this festival. Two great Stuttgart stars from the U.S., Richard Cragun and Ray Barra, were among my favorite guests. I didn't want these contagious personalities, who had created starring roles in Cranko ballets like Romeo, Onegin, and Taming of the Shrew, to leave.


It was refreshing to be reminded that stars of yesteryear often fumbled while creating some beautifully complex work. Marcia Haydée and Egon Madsen reminisced about mishaps while laughing uncontrollably. Haydée told us that Cranko once told her and Cragun to remember the exact intensity and picture of a particular second just before they both had a serious tumble in rehearsal and then re-created that moment in a Shrew pas de deux.


After Cranko's sudden death in 1973, the company mourned, but new generations grew up around his Stuttgart family. With Haydée as ballerina and mother figure, choreographers from Béjart to the American Glen Tetley (who briefly directed) created stunning works.


Neumeier, Kylián, and Forsythe were all part of the generation that grew from within the troupe. Their pieces at the festival were an amazing mix: Neumeier's Hamburg Ballet touched my heart in Nijinsky; Kathryn Bennetts' Royal Ballet of Flanders (she too is an alumna) blew out my retinas in Forsythe's philosophical Impressing the Czar, which contains In the middle, somewhat elevated; and the agility of Nederlands Dans Theater II in Kylián's 27'52'' and Gods and Dogs made me want to be onstage with them.


At the end of the festival we were exhausted yet jolted with the energy of friendship. A unique glimpse into Stuttgart's brilliant past was invigorating and made us so grateful for its artistically abundant soil. I can't think of a better way to dance into its fertile future.

In February the Stuttgart Ballet celebrated its 50th birthday with a three-week festival involving the whole company, its John Cranko School, guest companies, and returning alumni. We asked Dance Magazine’s newest Advisory Board member, Evan McKie, to report from his vantage point as a principal dancer with the company.

 

Monica Mason made a good point when she asked, “What would ballet be today without Stuttgart?” The Royal Ballet’s artistic director was one of the 21,000 guests at the Stuttgart Ballet’s 50th Anniversary (Mega) Festival this February, just as her great predecessor, Ninette de Valois, had attended one of Stuttgart’s first festivals in 1962. Neither de Valois, nor her young friend John Cranko, could have known then that Clive Barnes would one day praise the company as a “ballet miracle.” Opera-ballet has been around in Stuttgart for centuries, but it was Cranko who built the company that has contributed so famously to today’s ballet world


Stuttgart, now led by Reid Anderson, offers dancers and audiences a whole lot: constant new work from fascinating artists (Mauro Bigonzetti, Wayne McGregor, Marco Goecke, and Christian Spuck all created their first large-scale works here) and a plentiful catalogue of homespun gems: Cranko’s Onegin, MacMillan’s Song of the Earth and Requiem, and Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias to name a few.


Many guests stayed for all 27 events, including mixed programs, full-length ballets, and even a directors’ conference. In two galas, over 200 alumni and international guests gathered onstage for heartwarming curtain calls. “If these walls could talk,’’ we often think to ourselves…well for this festival, they did!


I was moved when I met the humble Jirí Kylián, who had arrived and begun his choreographic journey here just before Cranko’s untimely death. I danced his Return to a Strange Land, a piece that suited the wonderfully nostalgic feeling of this festival. Two great Stuttgart stars from the U.S., Richard Cragun and Ray Barra, were among my favorite guests. I didn’t want these contagious personalities, who had created starring roles in Cranko ballets like Romeo, Onegin, and Taming of the Shrew, to leave.


It was refreshing to be reminded that stars of yesteryear often fumbled while creating some beautifully complex work. Marcia Haydée and Egon Madsen reminisced about mishaps while laughing uncontrollably. Haydée told us that Cranko once told her and Cragun to remember the exact intensity and picture of a particular second just before they both had a serious tumble in rehearsal and then re-created that moment in a Shrew pas de deux.


After Cranko’s sudden death in 1973, the company mourned, but new generations grew up around his Stuttgart family. With Haydée as ballerina and mother figure, choreographers from Béjart to the American Glen Tetley (who briefly directed) created stunning works.


Neumeier, Kylián, and Forsythe were all part of the generation that grew from within the troupe. Their pieces at the festival were an amazing mix: Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet touched my heart in Nijinsky; Kathryn Bennetts’ Royal Ballet of Flanders (she too is an alumna) blew out my retinas in Forsythe’s philosophical Impressing the Czar, which contains In the middle, somewhat elevated; and the agility of Nederlands Dans Theater II in Kylián’s 27'52'' and Gods and Dogs made me want to be onstage with them.


At the end of the festival we were exhausted yet jolted with the energy of friendship. A unique glimpse into Stuttgart’s brilliant past was invigorating and made us so grateful for its artistically abundant soil. I can’t think of a better way to dance into its fertile future.

 

 

Evan McKie (center) with Nikolay Godunov and Alicia Amatriain in Jirí Kylián’s Return to a Strange Land. Photo courtesy Stuttgart.

Dancers & Companies

Earlier this year I was pushing desperately to get back into cardio-shape after a ridicu­lously long injury. After 20 minutes of gruesome lengths in the pool, I thought about how the beating in my chest and shortness of breath I felt was nothing compared to what dancers go through during the tougher choreography. I laughed to myself about certain pieces where you are quite literally on the verge of vomiting or peeing your pants due to the extreme cardiovascular demands. Most dancers I know actually love these kinds of experiences because they test your limits. Some make it, some don’t. When the new season is announced here each year, there are knowing glances and loud sighs and roars around the room when certain ballets are mentioned. Some repertoire is so aerobically difficult that just making it to the end can be rewarding for the dancers and for audiences, who often end up on the edge of their seats.

I just got finished dancing Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, which is 12 minutes of pure athleticism and adrenaline. It combines quick, concise steps with boastful wide-open movements that can catapult a dancer to the other side of the stage in the blink of an eye. To get through it, I had to think of even more strenuous works, like John Cranko’s Holberg Pas de Deux or The Taming of the Shrew (in the role of Lucentio). Both of these pieces are like dancing Vertiginous except with a complicated 10-minute pas de deux tacked onto the end. I also think of all of the Glen Tetley works that were created here. Anyone who has danced Voluntaries knows how incredibly puffy it is whether you are in a corps or solo role!

I’ve always been curious about different dance companies and their at-your-own-risk deadly cardio pieces. Part of the fun of making it through these works is trading war-stories, so I decided to call up some friends. Robert Tewsley puts Tetley’s Rite of Spring at the top of his endurance list. “It’s 30 minutes of relentless dancing where you have to push yourself to the limits of your strength to achieve what the ballet is trying to say: dancing to death and then rebirth,” says Robert, who even broke his finger and knuckle in one performance. “I got to the level of exhaustion where I had an out-of-body experience. Towards the end of the ballet when the company was circling me, everything started to go gray. The music felt like it was being played in another room and I had the feeling that I was floating in midair.”

Tewsley goes on to cite MacMillan’s Mayerling as another of the most difficult endurance ballets. The role of Crown Prince Rudolf in the three-act ballet consists of seven pas de deux with five different women and some serious character development along the way. “I don’t think there is a more challenging role for a male dancer,” he says. “You cannot run all of the pas de deux every day, so it has to be rehearsed in a carefully structured way.”

Across the Atlantic, it is another MacMillan ballet that is physically assaulting American Ballet Theatre’s David Hallberg. “The audience has no idea how tough Romeo and Juliet is,” he says. “Romeo never stops! Good thing the fatigue can be used for emotive breathing.” Like most versions of Romeo, including Cranko’s, MacMillan’s, and Nureyev’s, the first act has Romeo running off his feet with sword fights, dances with harlots, variations, moments with Juliet, and finally the famous balcony scene. “By the time this passionate scene comes, you are mostly thinking about how much you want to die,” he kids.

When I ask David more about ABT’s “cardio repertoire” he offers up Balanchine’s Theme and Variations as something that “never becomes less stressful or excruciatingly painful” as the years go on. Theme has been a staple at ABT since it was created there in 1947. Though the ballet is only 20 minutes, Baryshnikov was famously quoted saying, “If you can do a good Theme and Variations, you can do a good anything.” For the female lead the ballet is a dizzying display of hard-boiled technique; for the male there are combinations that David suggests are the most demanding feats in the classical idiom. “I am so tired by the end of the marathon that the last thing I want is to have someone sitting on my shoulder,” David says of the famous last pose when the curtain goes down. “No disrespect to any of the ladies, but I never get a ballerina down from a lift quicker than I do after Theme.”

I remember Ana Maria Lucaciu being super-tough when we were at the National Ballet School in Toronto together. Since those days she’s accumulated a diverse repertoire for herself and is only getting tougher. “From a ballet perspective I’d have to say any Swan Lake is brutal for the corps girls,” says the former Royal Danish Ballet dancer. “In the last act we had to run in a big circle. There were changing patterns. It was chaos. One girl started running in the complete opposite direction. There were 23 of us going one way and one lost swan going the other. I think she was so tired she was ready to run straight home!”

Now Lucaciu dances for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, where she declares Ohad Naharin’s notoriously challenging Decadance as her new cardio standard. Recalling a particularly grueling performance in Tel Aviv, she says, “I was more tired than usual, but I pushed and the fatigue ended up taking me to a place of utter joy. I was grounded and genuinely happy.”

Min Li of Scapino Ballet Rotterdam was raised in China and went through rigorous training that included waking up at 5 a.m. to run up and down umpteen flights of stairs. I didn’t think he would find anything tiring after his transition from Chinese folk dance to more contemporary work, but he agreed with Ana. Min says Decadance has been his biggest endurance challenge to date. “I danced it at Batsheva and I remember one part called ‘Black Milk’ very clearly,” he recalls. “It’s a 15-minute section with five boys where we put mud on our faces and dance until the sweat and mud mix and drop into our eyes. We still had to jump and run right till the end, hurry backstage, scrub off the mud, change costumes, run on and continue dancing for another 20 minutes! It was nothing like what I had done in China.”

Thiago Bordin is the kind of dancer who never appears to be tired, but he says that dancing for Hamburg Ballet means being exhausted a lot of the time. “In Neumeier’s choreography there are lots of roles where you think you won’t make it till the end,” Bordin sighs. “But I believe that John does this purposely so you can get where the role needs to take you!” When I ask about ballets that have almost killed him, Bordin cites Neumeier’s Othello and Joseph’s Legend. “Both ballets are incredibly physically and dramatically taxing,” he says, “and you can hardly walk the next day!”

But it is Pierre Lacotte’s version of La Sylphide that Bordin and Paris Opéra étoile Isabelle Ciaravola insist is one of the most punishing pieces out there. They blame the demanding French footwork and the endless allegro. “Her big skirt and his weighty tartan outfit don’t make things any easier,” Thiago states. “Pierre Lacotte is thrilling to work with, but his works (especially Sylphide and Le Papillon, for me) are notoriously difficult aerobically!” Isabelle says with a laugh. “For some of the entrances someone has to practically push you out onstage!”

All of these dancers assert that they have improved in these roles after training in an intelligent way. You must find a way to be two steps ahead while rehearsing in order to avoid unnecessary stress onstage. Tewsley does aggressive weekly cardio, and Ciaravola swears by yoga and the benefits of breathing properly when dancing. But after all of the intense physical preparation, each dancer celebrates the fact that it is the beauty of spirit and mind that ultimately makes the difference while challenging yourself. “The body can do far more than you think if you are not afraid to take it past what you think your limits are,” Tewsley explains.

Like Olympians, dancers crave Herculean moments to satisfy our curiosities and triumphantly discover new parts of our own constitutions. We go through hell burning calories and losing electrolytes during these (literally) breath-taking pieces. But it is each thrilling experience gained from this type of choreography that makes us itch for more!

 

What to think about when you’re sweating it out:

Calm yourself by taking long, deep breaths between spurts. —Ciaravola

Feel the floor. Rushing preparations never leads to good things. —Hallberg

Trust yourself; positive energy goes a long way. —Min Li

Approach like a warrior. Don’t overthink! Start swimming, biking, working out more heavily so that when you’re tired your body is ready to take it. Fatigue is the number one reason for dance injuries. —Lucaciu 

Feel the music and let it carry you through. It will help and inspire you. —McKie

Never be afraid to push harder than you think you can. —Tewsley

Avoid constant tension. It’ll exhaust you far too soon! —Bordin

 

Pictured: Evan Mckie in Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude

Training
Photo by Tadeusz Matacz, Courtesy Stuttgart.

Pyotr Pestov is one of ballet's greatest men's teachers. His illustrious alumni include dancers and artistic directors like Vladimir Malakhov, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, and Alexei Ratmansky. From 1963 until the mid-1990s, Pestov was a pillar of the faculty at Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet Academy. In 1996, he moved to Stuttgart Ballet's John Cranko School, where he teaches today. Paying tribute to Pestov at the Youth American Grand Prix gala in April, Ratmansky noted the “elegance, musicality, and solid discipline" that Pestov instills in his students. An advocate of “honesty with oneself," Pestov stresses the purest classical ballet principles while encouraging students to think freely as artists. Evan McKie, a Pestov alum recently named principal dancer at Stuttgart, sat down to chat with his charismatic mentor.

What made you want to teach?

It was accidental. I was a senior at the Perm Ballet Academy in Russia during World War II. After the war was over, many of the area's children were left without parents. These kids had developed behavioral problems, and the government's solution was to send them to ballet school to learn discipline and culture. Here they were, 9-year-old boys who wouldn't respond to authority and wreaked havoc wherever they went. They even smoked and drank! "Little bandits," they were called.

The director of the academy felt they might respond to us older boys. The first day I tried to work with them they laughed in my face—impossible to control! So I decided to take them to the theater—kicking and screaming. Incredibly, when the curtain rose, they were suddenly silent, all eyes glued to the magic of the ballet. The next day they begged me to teach them!

This was when I learned the beauty of schooling young minds. Getting through to children, anticipating what they need to grow properly, is an art in itself. In 1958, after a short career as a dancer, I entered a pedagogy program in Moscow. I have been teaching ever since.

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Dancers & Companies

Evan McKie trained at The National Ballet School of Canada, The Kirov Academy, and the John Cranko Schule in Stuttgart, Germany. At 25, he is a soloist in the Stuttgart Ballet, where he has danced since 2002. Known for his passionate lyricism in both classical and contemporary roles, he danced his first Prince Siegfried last year, and recently earned critical acclaim for his debut as Lenski in Cranko’s Onegin. He has originated roles for many choreographers including Wayne McGregor, Marco Goecke, and Nicolo Fonte.

 

Why do we do what we do? This question is usually coupled with, “What made you want to start?” I have been asked these questions a lot, especially as a guy growing up in tights. And yet the “why” is still hard to explain. Words just don’t flow freely from within me the way dance does. Perhaps this is a good thing because it helps me convey the answer better: I dance because the feeling I get when I do it is practically impossible to describe! But I can try . . . .

As a kid who was constantly in action, the possibility of a life filled with dancing appealed to me from the get-go. I was very involved in swimming and other after-school sports. But pretty soon my “after-school” time was spent working out at various dance studios around Toronto. This was after I had the revelation that dancing around the house to the beats and melodies of Sesame Street gave me a new level of personal satisfaction. I knew then as I know now that the root of why I dance is an innate love for two simple things: movement and music. The two Ms that, when combined, are my buzz of choice.

I learned that my version of moving to music was a way of interpreting stuff. Dancing became quite cathartic. As a 10-year-old I couldn’t describe this but I understood what it felt like. I began to work with great teachers in Toronto, Washington, DC, and Stuttgart on developing professional ballet technique. I also started to notice a new spiritual impact from dance. I had grown apart from childhood friends with different interests, but when I did come in contact with them, most displayed a tedium and a longing to find something significantly stimulating in life. Naturally, dancers may feel “lost” at times too, but dancing provides a spiritual rhythm that helps put life’s ups and downs into perspective and can even be a guide. After finding this rhythm, my new theory was put to the test. A boating accident left me with a severely torn knee ligament and what doctors described as “no hopes of dancing ballet.” I freaked out. But no matter how depressed I became, the rhythm never left my system. Regaining some strength in the following month, I let this simple but powerful rhythm steer my life. I came across a doctor who revealed that I might get back onstage if I found other muscles to take over where the torn ligament left off. He looked skeptical as he discussed how much mind power a feat like this would take. After weeks of frustrating work and invaluable help from Paris Opéra Ballet’s Gilbert Mayer and Stuttgart’s Pyotr Pestov (two of the worlds top boys’ teachers), I was finally ready to reconfirm my future in dance.

Life in dance has led me to marvel at the capability of the human brain as well. Recently I had a chat with a friend of mine, the utterly brilliant choreographer Wayne McGregor, about how dance affects the brain and vise-versa. He takes the issue 10 times farther in his recent work Entity, which I found awe-inspiring to watch and ridiculously thought-provoking. It’s engrossing to witness the brain being exercised through choreographic challenges. At the Kirov Academy I watched in amazement as students who once could barely stand on one leg suddenly completed full variations with ease and near-perfect line.

Whether I am satisfying a primitive instinct to move to music, discovering parts of my soul, or developing parts of my brain, I am thankful that dance affords me the chance to do it all at once. I still cannot define why I dance, though. It’s sacred. Some Eastern cultures believe that there are things in life that are not meant to be described in language but must be experienced to be understood. For me, dance is one of those personal things, and I love every minute of it.

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