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How Canadian Ballet Star Evelyn Hart Was Lured Out of Retirement

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

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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