Archive | October, 2009

National Ballet of Canada First Soloist Tanya Howard

15 Oct

Lunch with Mary 024

Date of lunch:
Thursday, October 15, 2009

The company:
Tanya Howard is a first soloist with The National Ballet of Canada. In other words, she is a professional ballerina! I would have done anything to be a ballerina when I was a kid. If my 11 year old self could see me now, having lunch with a ballerina, I might have passed out. Tanya is originally from South Africa and joined The National Ballet of Canada in 1998 and became a first soloist in 2007. I have been hoping to have a lunch with a dancer ever since my boyfriend took me to see Romeo & Juliet earlier this year. So I just wrote to The National Ballet of Canada and asked. And here we are!


The food:
We ate in the cafeteria of the Walter Carsen Centre for The National Ballet of Canada. Les Louises catering provides the food in the cafeteria. While waiting in line to get our food, I realized that I recognized the woman behind the counter. Turns out we went to elementary and high school together in Ottawa and her and her sister started Les Louises. I had a delicious prosciutto sandwich with chevre and figs and Tanya had a chicken sandwich. We each had salad, a Limonata and cookies for dessert. The salad and sandwich were both delicious (and obviously so was the cookie), with that homemade gourmet flavour. Justine and Sara of Les Louises graciously gave us our lunch ‘on the house’. Although I can’t go eat at The National Ballet of Canada’s cafeteria on a regular day, Les Louises does sell frozen meals that anyone can order – I think I will definitely try one soon.


The lunch lesson:
Tanya explained that for Sleeping Beauty, as they are performing based on the original choreography of Rudolf Nureyev, there have been a small number of repetitors worldwide who are assigned the task of ensuring that Nureyev’s choreography maintains it integrity. This week at The National Ballet of Canada, one of the repetitors is here from New York for three days to watch rehearsals and make sure everything is up to snuff. It’s always interesting to understand how the art of choreography is preserved over time and how these classic ballets are able to amaze audiences year after year.


The lunch:
Tanya is busy rehearsing for Sleeping Beauty which will play in Toronto at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts this November. During our lunch, she had her “rehearsal tutu” with her for afternoon rehearsal. I was jealous.

Tanya recently returned from maternity leave. Her daughter Lia is usually her date for lunch at the cafeteria. Today, she was lucky enough to not have any rehearsals in the morning so was able to stay home with Lia and go to playgroup with her, so I don’t feel as bad about taking over Lia’s lunch spot.

Tanya talked quite a bit about life as a dancer. Her job depends on her fitness and keeping her body in shape. It’s important to take care of herself. The National Ballet of Canada has a physiotherapist and masseuse on staff for the dancers to use anytime. She tries to fit in extra palates classes when she can and makes sure to eat nutricious and healthy foods.

But it’s not all about discipline, it’s also a lot about variety. For some ballets, Tanya’s role is more in the group numbers while in others, she is front and centre in the spotlight. She says it’s different for each role, but for a ballet such as Swan Lake, which The National Ballet of Canada is putting on in March 2010, it doesn’t matter what your part is, everyone is dancing their butt off.

Speaking of dancing your butt off, she also talked about an upcoming short ballet she is doing called Glass Pieces. She says in this performance, the audience can really see how difficult some of their movements are. She said the beauty of ballet is that everything looks effortless and beautiful and the audience follows the story. But no one is noticing that a ballerina has been on one toe or held their leg up for five minutes. Because I did take dance when I was younger, I think I have a great appreciation for how hard ballet is – when I was watching Romeo & Juliet I was blown away by the skill and ease in which the dancers were doing the craziest things that I never in a million years could ever pull off. But Tanya is right, they make it look so easy. I definitely want to see Glass Pieces and see and appreciate a different ballet.

For the whole lunch, I couldn’t get over that Tanya dances for a living, I think it’s so amazing. As we were leaving, she took me into the rehearsal space for a quick peak as the rest of the company was preparing for the afternoon rehearsal. I left Tanya there as she had to work and I headed back to my office to work, at a chair, in front of a computer. It’s just didn’t seem the same. I think I might start dancing in my cube.


Tanya Howard, Photo by Sian Richards

Mary Ballerina

Me as a ballerina circa 1991