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Evan McKie, Principal Dancer of the Stuttgart Ballet

original english version  Version française

December 14th. 2011 : Evan McKie, Principal Dancer of the Stuttgart Ballet

Evan McKie was born in Toronto, Canada, on April 7th, 1983. After beeing first educated at the National Ballet School of Canada, he went to the Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington D.C., in the United States, where he was trained in compliance with the principles of the famed Vaganova method. He then left North America to go to Stuttgart, where he was invited by the celebrated teacher Pyotr Pestov (Pestov died in 2011 aged 82 ans, and taught, among others, Vladimir Malakhov, Nikolaï Tsiskaridzé and Alexeï Ratmansky). He attended the John Cranko Schule and joined the Stuttgart Ballet in 2001. On the occasion of his unexpected travel to Paris, where he was called to replace the Paris Opera Ballet Etoile Nicolas Le Riche, injured, as Onegin
Evan McKie kindly accepted to answers the questions of Dansomanie.

Did the fact that Suttgart is a somewhat “americanized” city, because of the presence, since the end of WWII, of US and canadian soldiers and their families, make it more easy to adapt yourself to european lifestyle? Did you learn speaking German?

I don't find Stuttgart very Americanized. Since I arrived in Europe, I felt more at home than in  North America. Actually I feel the most at home in Paris and I always have. I come here a few times every year. My friends think that I'm strange, they prefer New York or London but I am a Paris boy in my heart. Of course, dancing in Stuttgart I learned to speak German and I understand Russian because my great teacher Pyotr Pestov taught me. I love languages and become obsessed with how they sound and doing accents. At work I speak in accents with my friends all the time which always leads to hysterical laughter.

Before joining the Stuttgart Ballet did you already had any special interest in choreographies by John Cranko, or, at least, in dramatic – theatrical ballets?

My whole family is artistic. My Grandmother was a play director and Grandfather was a lighting designer. My mother is a makeup artist and father a musician. I went to many plays as a young child. I love plays. One of my favourite plays is Le Dieu du Carnage (God of Carnage). But the very first ballet I ever saw was actually Onegin (in Toronto) so that's why I decided to try to act through dance.

In Stuttgart, how are the Cranko ballets being taught to the dancers?

With love, care and attention to detail. People like Reid Anderson, Marcia Haydee or Georgette Tsinguirides who all can tell you exactly what Cranko's intentions were because they knew him so well. Cranko's Pas de Deux are usually difficult but I never think about that because Cranko is all about the 'essence' of a moment.

Which were your first roles in Cranko ballets? Is there anyone you prefer to others? And is there a role that you haven’t danced until now and that you’d like to dance?

I danced the old men in Onegin when I was 18! This was my first challenge to 'make a moment' onstage. Not to over-do it and make it look stupid or under-do it and make it boring. I actually imagined myself as an old man at a party in Russia. What would I do? Who would I want to talk to? How would I move? I was surprised because I received a lot of compliments about that tiny role. But that proved to me that if you do something really well (even the smallest part) then you can take the performance to a much higher level for the audience. I have danced many big Cranko roles like Romeo and most parts in Taming of the Shrew but my favorites are Onegin, Lenski and the third movement in Initials R.B.M.E which has a very melancholic solo followed by one of the most beautiful pas de deux I have ever seen or danced. The music is by Brahms and I get a very special feeling dancing it. The connection with the ballerina has to be very strong and then it can be magical. 

evan mckie

Do you see an – even tiny – evolution in the interpretation of the choreographies by Cranko, in Stuttgart or elsewhere? Does the dancers of the Stuttgart Ballet still have contacts with eldery dancers or balletmasters who knew Cranko personnaly, and which are able to transmit the repertory to the present generation of artists?

Sometimes I think the Cranko magic gets lost a bit with certain dancers because they don't trust themselves enough to reveal the human qualities that make audiences feel so connected to the works. Reid Anderson and his Stuttgart team are so good about helping young artists discover the theatricality of these ballets which leads to sometimes wonderfully strong individual interpretations. But I believe if you haven't learned to accept exactly who you are as a person then you cannot ever be truly successful in a Cranko piece. You might be able to do Don Quixote but not Cranko.

How are the casts made up? Do the leading soloists specialize in some specific roles matching their technical and physical capabilities, or are they allowed to dance almost any role?

This is a question for my director. But Reid Anderson is very good at casting the right person for the right role. It's one of his special talents. Sometimes he will take the last girl in the corps de ballet and make her a star because she is the 'one' for a certain role. In my mind Mr. Anderson is very  successful  in his casting instinct. He knows how to create buzz when the role is a perfect fit and he also has a good feeling for exactly what makes the audience get excited. The look has to be right from head to toe. But he also takes risks.

Which are, according to you, the abilities required to dance the Cranko ballets properly?

Know yourself, trust yourself, be an excellent partner physically and emotionally. Cranko ballets are about real people. This is my personal feeling.

Is there “a life besides Cranko” in Stuttgart? Is there some room left for performing romantic and modern ballets which are not belonging to the Cranko heritage?

Don't forget that Neumeier, Kylián, Forsythe, Scholz, Spuck all come from Stuttgart Ballet and created numerous works for the company. Also Cranko was the mentor to MacMillan and supported his choreographic growth tremendously. Song of the Earth is one of MacMillan's best ballets and was created in Stuttgart. Wayne McGregor and Mauro Bigonzetti both had their first big ballet commissions for a major ballet company from Stuttgart. (I have worked with Mr. McGregor on three different ballets in the last 8 years). We also have choreographers like Douglas Lee, Marco Gœcke, Demis Volpi who are in demand all over. Actually Stuttgart Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet are very similar because in the whole world of ballet, these are the two companies that offer the largest variety of different choreography to audiences and dancers at the highest level. 

evan mckie

How were you told that you had to come to Paris so to “save” the performances of Onegin after the injury of Nicolas Le Riche?

I was at the barre and someone rushed in and said that Brigitte Lefevre had invited me and that I had to be on a train in 45 mins. I only had a suitcase with an Onegin costume and the clothes I was wearing that day! I felt uncomfortable about people saying I was 'replacing' Nicolas Le Riche…True individual dancers cannot 'replace' each other and I love Nicolas. I knew that Aurélie and I would be putting on a whole different kind of show so I was confident that the audience in Paris would get to see something new and unique and in the back of my mind I was excited to see if they would like it or not. The time Aurélie and I had to rehearse was so short that during the opening night it was almost improvisation! This makes the emotional connection even more real and that's what this ballet is all about. I was surprised that Madame Lefèvre didn't change the dates so that one of the other casts would do the premiere. She saw us rehearse and right away, asked Mr. Anderson if we could do opening night and continue with the scheduled four following shows.

Is it the fist time that you are dancing at the Paris Opera? Did you took part in the Tour of the Stuttgart Ballet in Paris in January 2007?

I danced in the Stuttgart tour of Garnier in '07 yes but of course, this is my first time with the actual Paris Opera Ballet itself. I know that international guests are not common here.

Did you already had contacts with dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet, or even dance with some of them in galas abroad?

Manuel Legris has always been very supportive of me and I really like him. Also, I just met Isabelle and Matthieu in Ukraine and we spoke a lot about how much I love Paris and that I wondered what it was like to live in my favorite city. We also spoke about Onegin a lot after because Matthieu was given the chance to learn it and I told him that he can always call me if he has a question about the ballet. They made me feel so comfortable when it was decided that I would be the invited artist. I am going to try to come back to Paris to see their Onegin premiere together! The whole cast has been so generous with me. Karl, Joshua and especially Myriam who is so cute!

How did you manage to adapt yourself to Aurélie Dupont as partner in such a short time?

We didn't think about it. I could see immediately that her dancing is all from her heart. She is so natural in her motivation for each step. So many ballerinas offer a partner beautiful icing on the cake but when you look closer there is only icing and no cake. With Aurelie it's the opposite. There is so much substance to her as an artist that she doesn't need anything extra! That is very rare and pure.

Did you fear the parisian audience, and possible “nationalistic” reactions from people disappointed not to see their local “Etoiles”?

Honestly, yes I did.

Have you been in touch with Nicolas Le Riche? Did he give you some advice how to take over his role, and how to cope with the specificities of the Paris Opera Ballet?

It is bittersweet that his injury created such a coveted opportunity for me to get to know the Paris audience but perhaps one day I will be in a position to pay him back. The universe works in mysterious ways.

Would you like to dance here again?

I am from a completely different background than the dancers here. My classical training is extremely Russian and my theatre training and etiquette is very English, so if I came here for another ballet I would love to work very hard with the great etoiles of the past who now coach so I can enjoy the special French details too. The dancers in the company already treat me like I belong here which I'm very touched and surprised by. Mostly, I would love to come back and dance with them again because I really love them. In my wild fantasies, I would dance something Noureev. Maybe your readers have some ideas?...

Evan McKie - Interview by R. Feist

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evan mckie

Interview made in English on December 14th. 2011 - Evan McKie © 2011, Dansomanie
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