Legendary ballerina returns to RWB stage

World première of Vespers has Hart looking back at her Winnipeg career

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When legendary ballerina Evelyn Hart takes the stage next week during the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s world première of James Kudelka’s Vespers, the former principal dancer will be home. And Hart has never felt freer, with her deeply expressive artistry honed over decades of experience still burning as brightly as ever.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/05/2017 (2044 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When legendary ballerina Evelyn Hart takes the stage next week during the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s world première of James Kudelka’s Vespers, the former principal dancer will be home. And Hart has never felt freer, with her deeply expressive artistry honed over decades of experience still burning as brightly as ever.

“There no need anymore to prove anything,” the dancer, 61, says during an interview at the RWB studios. “Of course, there’s a desire to do well, but I don’t feel that same kind of pressure that I did before. I’m really going onstage because I want to feel that conduit, and be that conduit for artistic expression. And to be given that opportunity is huge. It’s a soul gift.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Evelyn Hart, the former principal dancer of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, teams up with Liam Caines, who plays Horse in Vespers, which opens Wednesday

Hart, who retired from the RWB in 2005 and has since nurtured an independent dance career from her new home in Toronto, last appeared with the RWB as a guest artist in the 2015 production of Giselle. She also performed as Winter Woman during the company’s 2014 staging of Kudelka’s 1997 masterpiece, The Four Seasons.

This time around, Hart, who officially hung up her pointe shoes in August 2006, and will be wearing soft ballet slippers for the five-show Vespers run, is notably stepping into a brand-new role created especially for her — portraying an all-knowing “everywoman” able to communicate with the mythological-infused ballet’s animals portrayed by 10 company members, with its five-week creative process having begun in earnest last August.

“It’s truly a gift for our dancers to be able to work with her,” says RWB artistic director André Lewis, who originally commissioned Kudelka, the former artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, to create the full-length work after the success of The Four Seasons.

Lewis also partnered with Hart himself as a principal dancer for more than 10 years.

“Evelyn commands an audience, and always has, with her talent combined with a beautiful instrument, great musicality, technique and an expressive artistry. Having her in our midst has been tremendous, as she brings a richness and a depth of understanding of the art form that has absolutely inspired our dancers.”

One of those is corps de ballet member Liam Caines, who performs as the proud Horse in the ballet set to Monteverdi’s Vespers, where humans happily co-exist in nature with animals, until the Fall, in which they lose their innate connection with each other. During one scene in the second act, Caines, wearing an imaginative animal mask designed by Karen Rodd, lifts the willowy dancer while standing atop a large banquet table. One might assume that Caines, who also performed the lead role as the Man in The Four Seasons, has experienced more than few jitters partnering one of the greatest ballet dancers ever produced in this country.

“Working with Evelyn is indeed an honour,” the New Brunswick-born artist says, adding that his first year at the RWB School was Hart’s final one with the company.

“I used to hear all these wonderful stories about this amazing woman, and what she had done for the company, and how much recognition she had brought to it. Working beside her has been awe-inspiring,” he states. “She has also been very kind to work with, and very quick to share her wealth of knowledge from her very successful career.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Caines, Dmitri Dovgosolets and Hart rehearse a scene

Hart immediately joined the RWB after graduating from its School Professional Division in 1976, and was promoted to soloist in 1978, and then to principal dancer in 1979. She received critical acclaim for her willowy physique, dramatic intensity and sublimely lyrical sensibility, mentored by the RWB’s artistic director Arnold Spohr, who cast her in lead roles in such classical story ballets as: Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet, as well as more contemporary fare, including Jirí Kylián’s Nuages.

She notably became the first Canadian to win a prestigious gold medal at the Varna International Ballet Competition in 1980 — the Bulgarian competition is hailed as the Olympics of ballet — for her searing performance of Norbert Vesak’s Belong with David Peregrine, which skyrocketed her to worldwide fame and put the “Prairie fresh” ballet troupe squarely on the international map. Hart still speaks with love and devotion for Spohr, who died in 2010, and credits him for the pivotal role he played in nurturing her career.

“Who I am as an artist is completely attributed to Arnold,” Hart says. “He saw my soul, because I think there was deeply spiritual side about him, and his belief in the art form was such that the power of dance was worth everything,” she adds. “And that was also my belief. That’s why you work to do everything you can, because it’s not about you in the end, it’s about what you give to others.”

She muses about returning once more to the company where she first found her footing as an internationally acclaimed prima ballerina, which also led to her being designated an Office of the Order of Canada in 1983, and a Companion in 1994. She’s eager to perform for her legions of fans, including her 90-year mother travelling from Stratford, Ont., for her opening-night performance.

“I’m so happy. I’ve never been happier,” Hart says, her enthusiasm palpable.

“Being here is like being in a little womb. The dancers have been incredibly hard-working, respectful, open-minded and have made me feel such a part of everything. I couldn’t ask for anything more wonderful than to be immersed in an experience with beautiful people, and humble people, and people that are open and joyful. The essence and the heart of the company that I first joined in 1976 is still here, and it always feels like coming home.”

holly.harris@shaw.ca

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