“Theatre has been a savior for me”
Evan McKie about his move from Stuttgart to Canada and the difficulties to leave loving past behind
How has life been for you since our last interview?
Well, only intense highs and lows have pushed me forward from our last talk a few years ago.
I have been very lucky to have come in contact with some extraordinary roles, artists and audiences. Dancing John Neumeier’s Iago in ‘’Othello’’ in Stuttgart and his Diaghilev in ‘’Nijinsky’’ in Canada were both extraordinary characters and gave me chances to keep pushing myself in different directions. Also dancing more of the Cranko repertoire in Stuttgart was incredible. I can never pick a favorite between Onegin, Initials, Lady and the Fool, Romeo…
They are all so pure in style. Working with William Forsythe in Stuttgart was also something that felt so exciting and necessary for all the physical expression that builds up in our bodies and needs an outlet! He and his team helped us look for new questions and answers in our physicality and his energy is so motivational! Working with both Forsythe and Neumeier came at a very valuable time for me when I was starting to become sure that I was going to have to make an impending personal-life transition. I won’t get into the whole story here because it is too painful and I try to move past it. Essentially there were some personal complications that needed both resolution and also some active movement forwards… I wanted to work on myself as a person and a big part of that meant I didn’t want to try to force anyone to love me anymore. At a certain point, even when you love a person or place with all your heart and imagine a great future, if you aren’t loved back then you have to let it go. It was nearly impossible for me to recognize this. There were many reasons why I needed “movement" at that time and so I just forced myself to do it.
Evan McKie and Jurgita Dronina in rehearsal for The Winter’s Tale. Photo by Aaron Vincent Elkaim, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.
How was your sudden break from Stuttgart?
The months in Stuttgart were very difficult after I told everybody that I needed some time with my family in Toronto and that I had suddenly decided to ask Karen Kain if I could join her Canadian company full-time. It is difficult to leave a place you never thought you would leave. The Stuttgart direction and audience invested so much energy, soul and time into me and just as I had begun to feel that it was all paying off in the performances, I had to make myself leave. I had to swallow the fact that I may never be able to come back if I make the decision to go…and there is a big chance that I will not dance any of those powerful roles like Onegin again, ever. If it wasn’t for a close group of loved-ones, I would have felt very alone. I didn’t really have time to process it because the week I was scheduled to pack and move all of my things to Canada, I was called to dance at Paris Opera Ballet in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Psyche.” I had already had the chance to develop and great relationship with the company and audience in Paris because of the shows of Onegin I had danced there over the last years but I was still incredibly nervous. I could not let myself decline this incredible opportunity so I accepted it. It was an intense two-week process of being thrust into this new ballet by a choreographer whom I had never worked with before. My partner was the stunning Diana Vishneva and she gave me so much life during this process. I was more nervous than I had ever been but we did it and the performances were a blessing for me. I used the intense belief in the "magic of dancing" that I had learned in Stuttgart to guide me through those shows. After the performances I had to come back to Stuttgart and I had one day to pack 15 years of memories into two suitcases and fly to Canada.
How has the last year been since arriving in Canada?
It has been a learning experience for sure…not easy, but very valuable. It’s a different Arts Institution structure than in Europe so there is always something to learn. The newspaper announced the arrival of a “ballet superstar” which was already daunting and then the first thing I did was tear my calf muscle in rehearsal. I was injured and could not perform…In fact, I have been injured more in the past year than I have been in the last decade. Many people say that it is the change of scenario that caused the injuries but I’m not sure. I was just focussed on getting myself better, getting some perspective and getting back onstage! There were some wonderful challenges like Wayne McGregor’s “Chroma”, James Kudelka’s “The Nutcracker”, Neumeier’s “Nijinsky” and dancing a role I never thought I’d dance in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” These shows were invigorating and all offered chances to work with new artists and really helped me set tasks for myself moving forward. I considered what I value most about my job. There are things about working in Stuttgart that I refuse to ever let-go of in my approach to new work. Mostly it is the openness to try something new and give 200% otherwise you never grow. Here in Canada, I feel that energy being welcomed.
Svetlana Lunkina and Evan McKie in The Nutcracker. Photo by Bruce Zinger, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.
How do you approach pain and injury in your work?
I learned a lot about “injury" when I was a 15 year old student. I had a very serious knee injury back then and the doctors said I probably shouldn’t continue dancing ballet. Somehow, I was lucky and worked extremely hard to find a way forward. I have always thought of injuries in body, mind and soul like Japanese art of “kintsugi”. It is the visible mending of broken porcelain with a golden glue in order to highlight where it was broken…and the care it took to put it back together. You embrace where the cracks once were and how they were mended. I try to stay moving, inspired and not stop dreaming and working when I am injured or feel “broken.” My love of photography, writing and creative direction grew during periods of injury over the last decade. With the help of some wonderful people, I was able to create opportunities to hold a photography exhibit, write for Dance Magazine US six times, create a website-game about John Cranko roles, choreograph and even throw some great fun events for my colleagues and friends. This last year, I took the time between physio-therapy appointments to write about dance for the national newspaper in Canada and also for the Japanese magazines Chacott Dance Cube and also Shinshokan Dance. I also travelled a lot to discuss future projects and see some of my favourite artists’ work. I saw Boris Charmatz’ work in London, Louis Stiens’ work in Austria and also spent some much-needed time with Wayne McGregor while watching his “Woolf Works."
How do you treat your body and mind when you are working?
Well, I am figuring that out. There is definitely a science to getting it right and I am determined to try to find a balance somehow without becoming bored! The thing is that ballet can be so athletic and so emotional on and off stage. I like to dream big and I hate boundaries so I often find myself in a world of both reality and fiction. It feels good to lose touch with reality a lot of the time but you are also often reminded of what your real physical needs are in order to be a healthy athlete. I try to push my fit-level and prepare well for new work. Emotionally, acting with my body really gives me an outlet for all of the good and the bad things that I let come into my life. I feel better in this world where you can use your real problems and empathy for the feelings of others and actively create something…instead of letting your emotions take control of you. Dancers are so strong and aware but are simultaneously vulnerable and like to escape reality I think. A very interesting mix.
Evan McKie in rehearsal for The Winter’s Tale. Photo by Aaron Vincent Elkaim, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.
What can we look forward to seeing you in next?
The multi-dimensional Leontes in Christopher Wheeldon’s “A Winter’s Tale” and also a role in a new story ballet by my Canadian colleague, Guillaume Cote, who is now choreographing for the company here. Both are very exciting in different ways. Guillaume is putting so much of his effort into making this upcoming production of “The Little Prince” something interesting to watch and be a part of and Chris Wheeldon’s Leontes in "A Winter’s Tale” is a role that got me very excited when I first heard about it. Now that I have started rehearsing it, I am even more in love with the production. It will also be wonderful to dance Albrecht in Giselle again this year. I was forced to withdraw from performing it at the Mariinsky Theatre last year because of injury.
Evan McKie. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.
How do you prepare for your come-back on stage?
Mostly by dancing! It is the best way to move forth.
What makes the dance art and theatre so important for you?
Theatre has been a savior for me and so many others throughout the ages. It helps us understand ourselves and each other better and reiterates questions about what the human condition is. My life is and always will be in theatre.
Would you like to change or bring something new in?
I think there are often beautiful waves of development around the world. Then we look back, cherish our idols and icons and move forward again together. I am most passionate about new limitless ideas executed with the highest level of detail and quality possible. That is what I like to see the most. Above all, I think it is most important to really believe in what you are doing and know what your purpose is.
How do you imagine your Life after dance?
Whichever paths cross in the future, my life will never be without dance, dancers and dance-makers…I don’t see another way. The paramaters are only expanding.
Questions by Mihaela Vieru
Interview September 2015