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A New Canadian Classic: Guillaume Côté's Le Petite Prince

Photo by Aaron Vincent Elkaim, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

National Ballet of Canada principal dancer and choreographic associate Guillaume Côté has created several one-act ballets for the company, including 2015's Being and Nothingness. But the June 4 premiere of Le Petit Prince, adapted from the novella by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, marks his first attempt at evening-length storytelling.

The dreamy, unusual story—which features a pilot who has crash-landed in the Sahara Desert and a boy who has fallen from an asteroid—might not seem like perfect choreographic fodder. "I was nervous to try and tell this story in a straightforward, linear way," Côté says. But he credits his team, including set and costume designer Michael Levine, and the ballet's three-year development process, with boosting his confidence. "The ideas have evolved in a very honest and organic way. I've taken my time to find the right movement vocabulary, and to gain experience telling stories clearly through dance."



Côté with artists of the ballet in rehearsal for "Le Petite Prince." Photo by Aaron Vincent Elkaim, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

Though his shorter works have veered toward contemporary ballet, Côté returned to his classical roots during the creation of Le Petit Prince. "Trying to reinvent and remix the classical form, while keeping structure and virtuosity, is liberating," he says. The ballet, with a cast of 27 dancers, has many distinct characters. "I've created different ways of moving for each one," Côté says, "while making sure the overall production is coherent."

Côté and Levine worked closely to decide how to use the multimedia technology available to them, but were careful not to get carried away. "It was important to seamlessly blend the elements of costume, set and projection," Côté says. "We let the choreographic ideas inspire the design. This tricky story can be told through dance alone."

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

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