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By Michael Crabb
In June 2006, Houston Ballet apprentice McGee Maddox was facing a dancer’s worst nightmare—a potentially career-ending injury. While understudying Basilio in Don Quixote, he took off in the coda at full throttle and, as he succinctly describes it, “blew my knee out.”
Jump ahead four years to a matinee performance at Toronto’s opera house, The Four Seasons Centre. The atmosphere is electric with anticipation because the title role in Cranko’s Onegin is to be danced by a first-year National Ballet of Canada member named—you already guessed—McGee Maddox.
It’s a stunningly impressive debut. Maddox perfectly captured the character’s conflicting aloofness and emotional vulnerability. When Maddox and partner Heather Ogden took their curtain call, the house erupted in a standing ovation.
Maddox, 24, was initially assigned to understudy the role. “McGee studied and read and applied himself like a real artist,” says Stuttgart Ballet artistic director Reid Anderson, who had come to NBC to set the ballet and then decided to give Maddox a performance.
Maddox can’t remember a time when he didn’t dance. Growing up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, he instinctively moved whenever his mother, a classical pianist, sat down to play. But he didn’t begin serious training until he was 9, at Ballet Spartanburg’s Dance Center. Then came summer intensives at Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy, and eventually a fulltime scholarship in 2003 before getting hired as a company apprentice.
Following an 18-month recovery from knee surgery, he made a strong impression on visiting choreographer James Kudelka, who cast him in his Little Dancer. When Maddox auditioned for NBC, it was Kudelka who helped convince artistic director Karen Kain that he would be a valuable addition. Now a second soloist, Maddox’s rapid progress through the ranks seems assured. “There’s such a power behind McGee’s dancing,” says Kain. “He also has humility and intelligence; in fact, everything required for a big career.”
Michael Crabb is dance critic of The Toronto Star.
Photo by Sian Richards, courtesy NBC