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Playing a Ballet Prince Takes More Than Just Tights

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This season, The National Ballet of Canada welcomes back Toronto-born Principal Guest Artist Evan McKie. A Principal Dancer with Stuttgart Ballet, Evan made his debut with the company in 2011, which marked the first time he danced in Canada since he was a child. This season, he makes his company debuts as Siegfried in Swan Lake and Lensky in Onegin, roles for which he has earned critical acclaim.

I once heard a male ballet dancer say they were tired of playing "just" the Prince roles. OK, granted a male dancer needs the acting challenges that a female dancer is accustomed to, but is a ballet Prince really an easy part to fit into? And why do so many audiences feel that only few gents are convincing while donning the tights and bodice required to stand behind a ballerina?

At first glance, classical ballet's typical leading man, with cookie cutter long proportions and an air of 'Disney-nobility', might be viewed as a guy who is a just a cavalier for a Princess Aurora, a Swan Queen or maybe a wooden nutcracker coming to life just to appease Clara's fantasies. Some guys often feel like these roles consist of nothing but posing and partnering with a few high wattage smiles and a couple of jumps, but isn't it actually the Prince that can make or break the most traditional ballets by acting as the central figure? Isn't it the Prince that's onstage for almost the entirety of each ballet? (Ask any Prince and their calves will answer for them...)

No ballet Prince is the same. I have never found portraying these roles simple or dull. In fact, around the world, each version of a ballet like Swan Lake requires a different thought process from the Prince for the choreography to mean anything at all. In some versions, the Royal Prince Siegfried falls in love with a swan that turns into a woman at night and in others, like James Kudelka's interpretation for The National Ballet of Canada, he is actually smitten with the animal itself!

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But what leads to this man in tights to wander around by a misty lake in the first place? And what would psychologically drive him so far that he might find himself smitten with a swan's delicate charms? Does he have a domineering Queen as a mother? Is he under pressure to marry one of a bundle of foreign princesses before he is ready to even admit he's a full grown man? Or maybe he sees more femininity in the other-worldly bird than he has ever encountered? The audience must understand all of this and it is up to the Prince to physically realize the story and set the stage for all of the drama that is guaranteed to ensue, regardless of which choreographer's vision it is.

Whether you are seeing Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker or the great Swan Lake for the first or 100th time, it is imperative that the dancer portraying the prince understands that the role is a central figure that can, and should, make the whole story that much more vivid. A ballerina should never be expected to support a whole ballet on her shoulders alone. Male dancers of this era, myself included, might look to our great dance-ancestors to go beyond simply carrying a ballerina and start carrying a whole story!