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By Evan McKie
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.