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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On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.