Like the obscure, small-town birthplace of a sports celebrity, the National Ballet of Canada once seemed content to be the home of Karen Kain, Frank Augustyn and Veronica Tennant. It was a more-than-respectable image for an organization founded in 1951 in a country without a long-established ballet tradition. But it was not enough to convince audiences and critics abroad to take Canada’s largest dance company seriously as a whole.
The situation improved after Danish-born superstar Erik Bruhn became artistic director in 1983. Among other things, Bruhn promoted the National’s young talents— helping to consolidate the troupe’s reputation as a showcase for a number of excellent dancers—before his death in 1986. Earlier this year, New York Times critic Anna Kisselgoff described the 68-member company as “no longer awakening but awakened. ” The eight dancers profiled below are among the National Ballet’s brightest talents and range from corps members to principal dancers:
A ballerina who projects a sweet femininity, Kimberly Glasco has been hailed as the embodiment of the young heroine. When the National Ballet gave its London première performance last year of Glen Tetley’s Alice, a ballet inspired by the works of Lewis Carroll, Clement Crisp of the Financial Times praised Glasco’s “lyrical effusion.” Tetley in fact created the role of the young Alice for Glaseo, who acknowledged in a recent interview, “There is a part of me that is so childlike.” Glaseo attended the National Ballet School in Toronto on the urging of a dance instructor in her native Eugene, Ore., and joined the National Ballet in 1979. Soon after, she emerged as a major talent, winning a silver medal in the senior women’s category at the Moscow International Ballet Competition in 1981. Said Glaseo: “Our careers are very short, and I want to enjoy mine to the fullest.”
Principal dancer Gregory Osborne is a noble practitioner of classical ballet, but he also has an unprincely passion for showbiz. “When I was young, I used to want to go into television or musical comedy,” said the 30-year-old dancer.
Osborne recently demonstrated that he remains a real trouper at heart: after severely tearing ligaments in his foot two days before he was scheduled to appear in Sleeping Beauty earlier this month, he managed to go through with the performance. Born in Louisville, Ky., he entered the ballet world literally by accident: after breaking both of his legs on a toboggan run at the age of 9, he began taking dance classes as therapy. After spending eight years performing mostly modern and contemporary roles with the American Ballet Theatre, he joined the National Ballet in 1983 with the intention of honing his classical repertoire. A strong, technically assured artist blessed
with golden good looks, Osborne is also attempting to branch out into film: he portrays a choreographer in the as yet unreleased Canadian movie Shadow Dancing. It is not a surprising ambition for a man who says that he sometimes tries to project onstage the “suave,
graceful feeling” he associates with Fred Astaire.
Initially, Ronda Nychka regarded ballet as an exercise that would improve her skills in Ukrainian dancing. Born in Lamont, Alta., she studied folk dance from the age of 4 until the National Ballet School accepted her when she was 10. And when she moved into the school’s residence in Toronto, ballet soon became her passion. Joining the National Ballet’s corps in 1984, the willowy, auburn-haired Nychka moved into the limelight in 1987 when Glen Tetley choreographed La Ronde using her in
the role of The Prostitute. Nychka earned rave reviews for her dramatic, richly textured performance. Said the dancer, now 23 and a second soloist: “I know that what I’ve always wanted to do—to express my emotions—has started to become a reality.”
Rex Harrington is most often described as “Byronically handsome.” At six feet, the 26year-old dancer describes himself as “tall, dark and whatever.” But his success is based on much more than good looks. When the National Ballet performed Alice in Pasadena, Calif., in June, Los Angeles Times critic Donna Perlmutter wrote that he performed the role of author Lewis Carroll with “exultant ecstasy.” A
native of Peterborough, Ont., Harrington studied at the National Ballet School and rose quickly through the National Ballet, attaining the rank of principal dancer earlier this year. Although he describes himself as “basically a withdrawn person” offstage, in company rehearsals he sometimes plays the class clown, mimicking other dancers during breaks. A romantic, intense performer, he made a strong debut in the title role of Onegin in May opposite superstar guest artist Evelyn Hart of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Said Harrington: “Where I find my true love of dance is in going onstage and getting lost in that emotion.”
Exceptionally strong and securely in command of her technique, principal dancer Gizella Witkowsky can leap higher and spin faster than most ballerinas. Ironically, those qualities have hindered the tall, fiery performer, 31, in her quest for roles that call for vulnerability and delicacy. But Witkowsky, who has danced with the National for 13 years, is now emerging from her status as a dancer who is prized by balletomanes but little known by the public. Last spring, the dark-eyed dancer proved that she could be soft as well as strong in the role of Tatiana in Onegin. Born in Toronto to Hungarian immigrant parents, she attended the National Ballet School, where she established herself as a tireless perfectionist. “I don’t just
act,” said Witkowsky. “I really try to live through my roles.”
For most of his career, John Alleyne has been performing an impressive high-wire act: in addition to being a sought-after dancer, he is a rising choreographer. Born in Barbados and raised in Léry, Que., his first love was sport: he and his two brothers were among the town’s leading hockey players. But after Alleyne’s elementary-school music teacher noticed his disruptive penchant for dancing around the classroom, she made him take dance instruction as punishment. It was a fortuitous mea-
sure: after his exceptional talent emerged at the National Ballet School, Marcia Haydée of Germany’s renowned Stuttgart Ballet invited him to join her company. Erik Bruhn enticed him back to Toronto as a first soloist in 1984. Said National Ballet co-artistic director Valerie Wilder: “There is a terrific freedom to his dancing.” Wilder also describes him as the type of performer who “doesn’t run with the herd.” Indeed, Alleyne spurns some of the roles that most male dancers covet: The Prince in Swan Lake is, in his words, “a weak character, a bit of a poseur.” Alleyne’s bold originality is also evident in his semi-abstract choreography. The National Ballet will premiere his newest work, Have Steps Will Travel, this week. “I learn so much from working with other dancers,” said Alleyne, “that when I go onstage, there’s more growth.”
At 19, she has been with the National Ballet for only a year. But already, pale, fine-boned Jennifer Fournier, one of 34 dancers in the company’s corps, has been singled out as a unique talent. “She dances from very deep within herself and she’s also a strong technician,” said National Ballet School founding director Betty Oliphant. “I really, really believe in that kid.” Fournier began studying ballet in her native Ottawa when she was 4 and later attended the National Ballet School. “I fell in love with dancing right away,” she recalled. Despite her delicate, childlike appearance, at the bar she exudes the steely determination of someone who intends to rise quickly through the company ranks. Indeed, that is already starting to happen: in Montreal with the company last month, she made her solo debut as The Prostitute in La Ronde. This month, she will add the role of First Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty to her repertoire. Said Fournier: “I’m really glad that I’m getting things at a rate equal to my hunger for them: the more, the better.”
Sometimes during a break in rehearsal, Jeremy Ransom sits with his eyes shut and a look of intense concentration on his face. His hands twist and fly through the air in time to the sequence of steps he is rehearsing in his mind. With his technical virtuosity, musicality and exceptional acting ability, the 28-year-old first soloist is a soaring talent. Lina Fattah, writing in London’s Dance & Dancers magazine, observed that he “brings elegance and a lively imagination to all he does.” Lithe and slightly built, Ransom says that one of his first memories is of dancing to all kinds of music as a very young child in St. Catharines, Ont. The quiet, introspective Ransom delights in the technical challenge of such pared-down abstract works as Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto. Said Ransom: “I love feeling like a bow and arrow— just taut and precise. Clean.” But the dancer is also known for bringing such dramatic roles as Lensky in Onegin convincingly—and memorably—to life.
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