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Interview with Heather Ogden and Guillaume Coté

by Toba Singer

Published February, 2010

While attending Canada’s National Ballet School’s Assemblée Internationale, where students from 14 international ballet schools brought both existing choreography and original choreography to Toronto to be danced by blended casts from all the schools, Toba Singer was able to interview National Ballet of Canada principal dancers Heather Ogden and Guillaume Coté during the afternoon before an evening performance of  the company’s Rudolf Nureyev version of “Sleeping Beauty.”

Ms. Ogden, how do you work with the character of Aurora to bring dimension to the role?

Heather Ogden: The role of Aurora feels very natural to me. I think I am by nature a social butterfly with a perky personality that corresponds to Aurora’s…

Guillaume Coté: And ever much the princess I might add—we are a couple in our life outside the ballet… and she really is a princess—a good sort of princess! [laughter]

HO: [Ogden smiles broadly to acknowledge that what Coté has claimed is legitimate.]  I also welcomed the challenge of the Second Act to capture the dream-like quality and see how I would handle the setback that comes with the spindle prick because she is a princess and up to that moment, she has experienced no setbacks in her life.

What in your life did you bring to that setback moment? Have you had setbacks of your own that feel relevant?

HO: Yes, I have been injured, and the impact hits you as the kind of shock Princess Aurora feels in that moment. I was sidelined for the first time by my injury and experienced what it was like to be starving for the opportunity to dance as I sat and watched others in class.

How did you manage that period in your life?

HO: I looked for a way to find my balance: I found it in the company of certain individuals. I took violin lessons, learned about my body and how to work differently. I was able to learn  how to pace myself from the New York-based expert on neuromuscular reeducation and functional anatomy, Irene Dowd.

GC: It was a psychological journey for her—and me, as I was dancing and she was not, and we were a couple. Her body is her tool and her tool was out of commission. I was with her as she learned to retrain, relearn, and understand the impact of stress fractures.

You are dancing Desiré tonight—what in your life do you bring to his character?

GC: Actually, I am dancing Florimund. This is a toned-down version of Rudolf Nureyev’s 1972 Paris Opera staging and it has its definite technical challenges in the steps and solos. I have had the privilege of seeing the video of (former National Ballet of Canada principal) Veronica Tennant dancing it with Rudolf Nureyev, but we were limited to our archive and so I was lucky that Manuel Légris worked on it with me. I danced it at La Scala and have seen it danced by Tewsley and Malakov. It’s a huge part of our history as an international company.

Whose work have you most enjoyed dancing and why?

HO: I have most enjoyed dancing in Cranko’s “Romeo and Juliet.” It was staged by Reid Anderson. We also benefited from the great artistic coaching of Magdalena Popa.

GC: I’d also have to mention James Kudelka’s “Swan Lake” and “Cinderella” which I danced at ABT.

HO: And for me, Kudelka’s “Four Seasons,” particularly the Summer pas de deux, which I danced with Ryan Bourne. I also liked working with Crystal Pite in her piece “Emergence” for the humble energy that she brought to it, and which came as an easy exchange between us.

Both of you have guested with other companies. What guest experiences have you learned from most?

GC:  Working with Roland Petit at La Scala was a highlight of my career.

HO: I guested with Suzanne Farrell, something I wanted to do so much. There’s such a good work ethic in that company. She has such a good work ethic!  Working with her was very natural; we related to each other well—not a lot of talking, but we were able to communicate nonetheless. I also enjoyed dancing Dulcinea in Edinburgh’s “Don Quixote” and having the opportunity to work with dancers from other companies.

GC:  ABT’s was one of the best Cinderellas (Kudelka). I learned how to work efficiently from watching Marcelo Gómes and David Hallberg—their respectfulness. I began to aspire to be like they were in terms of dedication and commitment to the work. Kevin McKenzie was a great resource for partnering.

Looking backwards from where you are now in your careers, if you could enhance the ballet curriculum at the school, what would you add?

HO: I was lucky to have attended Richmond Hill in Vancouver, where there were performing opportunities right from the beginning and so I have never had stage fright.

GC: I think that the younger you start, the better. We have AGM (the Annual General Meeting of the NBS Board of Directors) performance and Nutcracker. I teach three groups of students here now. And I am fascinated by what I am seeing from the students from Hamburg and Australia—the styles and blends of styles. It is important to stress repetition, especially for the boys, who tend to mature later. They are not really mature until 15, 16 or 17 and you must drill them as if you were teaching a second language. Once you have mastered what you must learn, the world is a more open place. You can shop around for what is right for you. There is a right place for everyone if you have prepared yourself correctly.

What have you not yet done that you would like to be part of your future?

HO: I would like to dance Manon, Giselle and Forsythe’s work.

GC: I would like to dance Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon’s choreography, Jorma Elo’s work, and “Onegin.”

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