When ballerina Evelyn Hart retired in 2006 after a legendary 30-year career, it marked the end of an era. The longtime star of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet relocated to Toronto and has been busy teaching and coaching since. (She even started her own summer intensive last year). But thanks to a growing creative relationship with Canadian choreographer James Kudelka, Hart, 60, has been gradually returning to the stage. On March 16, she joins Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie for the world premiere of Kudelka’s Love, Sex & Brahms in Toronto. Set to Johannes Brahm’s Intermezzi for solo piano, the work is an expanded version of 2015’s award-winning #lovesexbrahms, in which Hart also starred. In the following edited interview, Pointe spoke with her about how it feels to return to performing.
Tell me about your upcoming project, Love, Sex & Brahms.
Brahms created each intermezzo with a different relationship in mind. There’s a cast of 10, and each couple has a different relationship, a different problem, a different past. Of course, my partner and I have the longest past because we’re more senior. There isn’t a linear story, per se, but you see the same characters come back. It’s like when you look at an old master’s painting—it depicts the scene, but you know there was something before and after. There’s also a puppet named Sarkis, who plays a different part in each of these relationships—sometimes he’s part of the group, sometimes he’s an idea, sometimes he’s an actual person, so it’s quite interesting.
My main pas de deux is very dramatic. It’s full of movement, but it’s not dancing in the sense of “chassé pas de bourrée.” James likes to call it “heartfelt walking.” But at this point in my life, it couldn’t be a more joyous experience. Just being able to be inside the music—that’s what I miss most about performing.
Had you worked with James Kudelka much in the past?
During my career I didn’t have many chances to work with him, surprisingly! But in 2014, James was setting his Four Seasons on Royal Winnipeg Ballet and he thought it would be lovely to cast a mature artist as the Winter Woman, so he asked the company if I could come back to perform it. That’s sort of how this project got started—afterwards we started working together and did the first #lovesexbrahms in April 2015. He’s also just created a role for me in Vespers, a new ballet at RWB, which I’ll perform in May.
How different does performing feel at this stage in your career?
I was always very nervous performing. Onstage, there’s always tension, the lights, the unknown—and that’s still there. Of course, it feels physically different now. But performing allows you to commune with your own soul. I feel like I’m in this shaft of energy—it’s like a completely different dimension, a divine dimension. The only difference now is that I have this sense of gratitude. I think the perspective of being away from the stage and coming back makes it more cherished.
You're now a sought-after coach. Do you find that coaching helps inform your own performances?
When I was dancing, I vowed I’d never teach. I didn’t want to go to that place. But life has funny ways of putting you in places you never expected. Coaching is difficult because it’s 50 percent coaching, 50 percent psychology! It’s all about the dancers and how to get them to their maximum potential—how can I physically help them and also how can I spiritually support them to go to that new place? It’s like a scientist working on an equation: You pare away and pare away and eventually it all leads down to a solution. And that is incredibly exciting to discover. Whether it informs my performing at this point, I don’t know. What’s different is that I don’t have a need to be in control of what I do as much. It isn’t about me, it’s about something bigger, and there's great freedom in that.
What do you try to pass on to younger generations?
First, to not be afraid of the work. I think a lot of dancers are fearful of working really, really hard and committing to it. If you stop fighting it and embrace it, then you’re focused on doing what you love. We all get bogged down by politics, or something hurting, but mostly it’s fear. And the antidote to that is to work.
The second thing is that there will be a lot of people around you who’ll say, “That’s good enough.” And what I try to get across to my students is to not let anyone tell you what’s good enough. You decide what level you want to achieve, and in that sense, you will always be striving for more.
Catch Hart with Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie in Love, Sex & Brahms March 16–19 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre in Toronto.