Evelyn Hart Returns to the Stage

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.

From Kudelka's #lovesexbrahms. Photo by John Lauener, Courtesy Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie

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.

Hart with Bill Coleman in Love, Sex & Brahms. Photo by Jeremy Mimnaugh, Courtesy CLC.

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.

 

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A champion of female choreographers, Morgan has also choreographed numerous ballets for the company, including world premieres of King Arthur's Camelot and The Nutcracker. She has also helped orchestrate several company collaborations, including 2013's Frampton and Cincinnati Ballet Live and joint productions with BalletMet.

Pointe caught up with Morgan to talk about her recent announcement.

Victoria Morgan is shown from the side standing on stage right, turning to smile at a line of costumed dancers to her left during bows. She wears a patterned green dress with chunky green high heels and holds a red rose in her hand.

Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Why leave Cincinnati Ballet now?

It's been an amazing run and I have seen it all. I am not sure where I would go from here. I also feel there is a required stimulus and infusion of new ideas and energy that always needs to be a part of a growing, evolving and exciting arts organization.

What made you happiest at Cincinnati Ballet?

The people, from the devotion of patrons and donors to learning from and feeling the pride in work from the staff. It has also been so satisfying for me to choreograph on and watch so many dancers evolve in their dance careers and lives.

Were there things you wanted to do for the company that you weren't able to?

There were other collaborations I wanted us to explore and choreographers I wanted us to work with. It takes quite an investment to make those happen.

Your legacy includes actively creating opportunities for female choreographers. What motivated that?

I started realizing, in a profound way, the gender inequities in our art form. Because I was in a leadership position, I thought I could do something about this and try to get to a 50-50 balance of male and female choreographers. It took a little time to find women to step forward, but it happened. Now there are many more prominent female choreographers, including our resident choreographer Jennifer Archibald, and I am proud of that.

If you could handpick your successor, what qualities would you look for?

Somebody creative, charged up, and who can be visionary. Someone who has had a high-level experience in our art form. A leader who is demanding but also kind and supportive, and who opens doors to find new ideas while still embracing Cincinnati Ballet's philosophies.

What do you feel will be one of the biggest challenges for the new artistic director?

The important cause of DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility). Whoever steps into that position has to have awareness of the culture of today's conversation.

Do you plan to keep choreographing?

I am not being proactive about it, but if the opportunity presents itself, it would be fun.

What's next?

I feel my next calling is bringing movement to the biggest segment of our population, baby boomers. I want to be part of an initiative that makes moving and wellness enjoyable and enlivens people.

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