Evelyn Hart and Zhenya Cerneacov in James Kudelka's Four Old Legs. Photo by Jerry Mimnagh, Courtesy Murray Paterson Marketing Group

How Canadian Ballet Star Evelyn Hart Was Lured Out of Retirement

At 63, Evelyn Hart is back onstage. The former Royal Winnipeg Ballet principal rose to international prominence in 1980 when she became the first Canadian to win gold at the Varna International Ballet Competition. One of the best Giselles of her generation, Hart retired from RWB in 2005 after three decades and relocated to Toronto to work as a private ballet coach. In 2014, James Kudelka came calling to cast her in the remount of his acclaimed The Four Seasons at RWB. Since then, Hart—dancing in slippers, never pointe shoes—has appeared in a few more Kudelka works, including the 2017 premiere of Vespers. Their latest collaboration is Four Old Legs, a contemporary duet for Hart and Zhenya Cerneacov nearly two years in the making.


You've come out of retirement a few times now, lured by James Kudelka. What was the offer he made that you couldn't refuse?

It's the chance to work with a genius creative man, and be back onstage. It's as simple as that.

Describe Four Old Legs.

It is a series of vignettes that explores love over the long term. It's not meant to be a linear story but rather is more like an art exhibition. Each individual vignette captures a single day, or memory, or experience.

Evelyn Hart and Zhenya Cerneacov in James Kudelka's Four Old Legs.

Jerry Mimnagh, Courtesy Murray Paterson Marketing Group

Contemporary dance is something new for you. Did you worry you might lack the experience to pull it off?

I said to James when he first asked me about this project that I can't dance anymore. His response was that he had more thought of it as "heartfelt walking." When I heard that, I felt completely safe to come into that environment and try.

You are a celebrated Canadian ballerina with history. How do you navigate what you've done in the past in order to make it fresh?

It's more than navigating my history. I have been given a chance to continue to express who I am, and that is such a gift. What isn't fresh is the way others perceive you. Audiences, critics and other artists shouldn't come to the theater wanting to see what they've seen before. It's a battle that you fight.

James Kudelka, Zhenya Cerneacov and Evelyn Hart in rehearsal

Jerry Mimnagh, Courtesy Murray Paterson Marketing Group

Drama is one of your strong suits. How does James use it at this stage in your career?

For me, dance has always been about the dramatic elements, about living the character. Even when doing a neo­classical ballet, it's about responding to the music and the emotions that brings out. James is very much like a theater director, shaping the experiments that come out of the rehearsal process.

Is it fair to say you have become a muse to him?

His muse is his own relationship to the world; it is what inspires him to say something. I'm grateful that I'm able to express what he's seeing, and be the person to fulfill his vision for Four Old Legs. If I could change myself to be the right person for every project he does, I would.

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Brandt in Giselle. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

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Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

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Courtesy The Joyce

Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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