New Company, New Country
Principal dancers Bridgett Zehr and Zdenek Konvalina are straddling two continents.
The offstage couple and occasional onstage partners left the National Ballet of Canada last summer after five years to join English National Ballet in London, but as scheduling allows, they will continue to appear as guest artists with the Toronto-based company.
Last fall, Konvalina was back for NBC’s Western Canada tour. The couple will join the company in March for Sleeping Beauty and Konvalina will return for Béjart’s Song of a Wayfarer in June.
Meanwhile, ENB is keeping them busy with its intense schedule of London performances and touring around the UK and abroad. “It seems we’re always in a theater,” says Zehr. “It’s such a treat.”
Czech-born Konvalina, 33, and American-born Zehr, 27, are no strangers to ENB. Konvalina has guested there several times since 2008. Zehr took class with the troupe in 2006 and was offered a job but then opted for Toronto because Konvalina, with whom she’d previously danced at Houston Ballet, was joining NBC—the company where their romance blossomed (see cover story, June 2010).
“Still, it’s different when you’re no longer a guest artist,” says Konvalina. “Suddenly people really want to get to know you.”
Adds Zehr: “The six-week tour we did last fall really helped with that. This is a tight-knit company and it’s been very welcoming.”
But there have also been adjustments. ENB dancers routinely work six days a week. Unlike NBC, class is mandatory. “We work between and sometimes even after performances,” Konvalina explains. “They’d rather pay the overtime and have a good show.”
So far the couple have not been paired together but relish the chance to work with different partners. “It’s always a good experience,” says Konvalina.
Domestically they’re well settled, in a flat within walking distance of ENB headquarters. And, after a brief November trip to Toronto to collect their cat, Phantom, Zehr says London truly feels like home. —Michael Crabb
Konvalina and Zehr. Photo by Matthew Karas.
Donya Feuer (1934–2011)
As a dancer, Donya Feuer radiated impulsive energy, poetic detail, and integrity. She was also a choreographer, teacher, theater director, and filmmaker who strongly influenced those with whom she collaborated: Paul Sanasardo, Pina Bausch, and Ingmar Bergman, among others. She received her early dance training from Nadia Chilkovski, studied at Juilliard, and danced with the Martha Graham and Paul Taylor Dance Companies. She founded Studio for Dance with Paul Sanasardo in 1957, collaborating with him on four evening-length works. A young Pina Bausch danced with them between 1959 and 1960 and had spoken of their influence on her own work. Sanasardo-Feuer concerts incorporated elements of ballet into modern dance in the late 1950s, at a time when they were considered polar disciplines. The choreographers trained a serious children’s company to support their artistic vision.
In 1963 Feuer moved to Sweden, where she introduced American modern dance to Stockholm, taught a teenaged Mats Ek, and mounted works for her own company. She was named a choreographer and director at the Royal Dramatic Theatre and worked closely with Ingmar Bergman, whose stage productions she brought to Brooklyn Academy of Music to great acclaim. Feuer created dance films with the Royal Swedish Ballet School (The Dancer) and the Hamburg Ballet (The Working of Utopia), along with many other experimental dance films. She inspired Ted Hughes, the late poet laureate of England, to write Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, and she collaborated with Hughes on productions based on his selections of Shakespeare’s verse. Feuer’s intense, intellectual brilliance deeply affected the lives of those who worked with her. —Mark Franko
Feuer with Sanasardo in 1962. Photo by Zachary Freyman, DM Archives.