World Ballet Day, #4 National Ballet of Canada

Less than four months ago, Aleksander Antonijevic, a principal at the National Ballet of Canada, ditched his black tights and ballet flats to stand at the front of the studio, facing the dancers.

On World Ballet Day, Antonijevic, wore cropped camouflage-print pants and red trainers as he set the company class, corrected the dancers and encouraged with energy and style.

The company is lucky to have him as a mentor.

The class began with luxurious stretches for the dancers.

Artistic director, Karen Kain, sat in for part of the class and chatted with confidence to the host, while managing the occasional plug for the upcoming seasons of Manon and Nijinsky.

Cut to highlight of the segment: Sir Anthony Dowell, the first Des Grieux, coaching principals Guillaume Côté, and Sonia Rodriguez in the first pas de deux of Manon.

The principal artistic coach, Magdalena Popa, sat quietly by his side.

Côté’s first solo was so remarkably strong that Dowell said, sotto voce, that he wondered if he was needed at all as a coach.

But of course he did continue to direct the dancers, all the while inserting little memories of the past, such as “Sonia, use your shoulders a bit more – very Antoinette!”

Principals Greta Hodgkinson and Evan McKie were equally impressive in the Manon rehearsals.

McKie, a Canadian, was a principal at the Stuttgart Ballet until Kain coaxed him back to the National Ballet of Canada to become “a principal dancer in residence” this year.

I’m not sure if any companies other than the Hamburg Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada have John Neumeier’s Nijinsky in their repertoire. It premiered in Hamburg in 2000 and the Hamburg Ballet brought it to Australia two years ago. I was lucky to see it in Brisbane.

Based on Nijinksy’s descent into madness, and his memories of past performances, the ballet had its Canadian premiere last year. It received glowing reviews and next year, will be staged again by the company.

We saw glimpses on World Ballet Day of rehearsals for the first scene in which guests arrive to see Nijinsky dancing for the last time.

The short footage made me want to see the ballet again. I can still remember one of the most treasured moments of my dance writing life when I interviewed Neumeier in Hamburg and saw his remarkable collection of Ballets Russes art at his home.

Neumeier lives with Nijinsky in every room of his home.

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National Ballet of Canada dancers rehearsing Nijinsky, photo  © Catherine Chang

National Ballet of Canada dancers rehearsing Nijinsky, photo © Catherine Chang

Evan McKie and Greta Hodgkinson in rehearsal, National Ballet of Canada

Evan McKie and Greta Hodgkinson in rehearsal, National Ballet of Canada

Guillaume Côté and Sonia Rodriguez rehearsing Manon, National Ballet of Canada

Guillaume Côté and Sonia Rodriguez rehearsing Manon, National Ballet of Canada

Karen Kain, artistic director, National Ballet of Canada

Karen Kain, artistic director, National Ballet of Canada

Aleksandar Antonijevic, National Ballet of Canada

Aleksandar Antonijevic, National Ballet of Canada

Aleksandar Antonijevic, teaching class, National Ballet of Canada

Aleksandar Antonijevic, teaching class, National Ballet of Canada

Anthony Dowell, coaching Manon, National Ballet of Canada

Anthony Dowell, coaching Manon, National Ballet of Canada

Sonia Rodriguez in rehearsal for Manon, National Ballet of Canada

Sonia Rodriguez in rehearsal for Manon, National Ballet of Canada

Evan McKie in his dressing room backstage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, photo © Lucas Oleniuk

Evan McKie in his dressing room backstage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, photo © Lucas Oleniuk