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The Monday Q&A: James Kudelka on dancing a solo at 55

James Kudelka in the solo for AllOneWord

John Lauener

Star Canadian choreographer James Kudelka, now 55, dances a solo as part of a program of six of his works (including three premieres) at Toronto's Enwave Theatre on Thursday. In an e-mail interview, he discusses performing, violin music and the choreographic exercise.

How did your preview performance last week in Guelph, Ont., go?

Hard to say, since I was in it and couldn't watch from the audience. It was a long day and the performance was a small part of what went on - getting to Guelph, discovering the performance space, lighting the works; the lighting board was a little unruly and slowed things down. The advantage of working with good people with a lot of experience meant that there were no fits of temperament. Just professionals getting the job done. In the end, it went very smoothly, technically. No one got hurt and no one cried.

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When was the last time you danced in public?

I don't keep much track of dates. It was some time ago when I performed with Peggy Baker, on one of her programs, a duet with her by Doug Varone, called Home. That said, when you run a big company like the National Ballet of Canada, as I did until 2005, it is all a performance.

Is your solo a demanding one physically?

No, it is not, and was not created to be. There are much more difficult dances on the program than mine. It does demand a lot of concentration. It is a dance for a seasoned performer, which is a kind way of saying an older one. In Guelph, I figured out that when a walk-through of a dance and a full-out run-through of a dance look the same, you have reached the age when it would be cruel to be too critical.

Why perform?

Last June, when we were putting this together in a coffee place on Parliament Street, the idea that I would perform myself seemed like a good one. And in the end, it probably was. But in between, there were times when I wasn't sure I wanted to look at myself from the performer vantage point. I am not a performing animal and I won't soon do this again. But I like to know I can, in the right piece and the right setting, which this program is because all of these pieces are very personal statements.

You'll dance again on Thursday, with Bill Coleman dancing the same solo on Friday and Saturday. What does he bring to the solo?

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Bill brings a more physical body to the dance. He has a beautiful mystery about him and he still has line - meaning his body still falls into more dancer-ly shapes than mine. He is very compelling.

This program is made up of six of the eight dances of your See Series, all inspired by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber's passacaglia, Guardian Angel Sonata. Why does that piece move you so?

Who can say why one piece of music inspires and another doesn't. The violin is an instrument I grew up with in my family home. My grandfather was able to keep his violin when he was interned in [Nazi concentration camp]Bergen-Belsen. That very violin is now on loan to the faculty of music at the University of Toronto. I studied violin until I went to the National Ballet School. It is a very soulful piece and stands in contrast to the solo violin pieces by J.S. Bach, and I think precedes them. The fact that few know this piece of music is a great help because the public can discover the dance and the score at the same time.

You've set dances to the same music before, correct?

I have used Spem in Alium, the 40-part motet by Thomas Tallis, at least twice, and the same goes for Aaron Copland's music from the film Our Town. I have done a ballet to a suite of waltzes including three from Sergei Prokofiev's Cinderella and also choreographed the full-length score. I don't think one necessarily uses a piece of music a second time because you got it wrong the first time. After all, we do age, and most choreographers eventually complain that there is no music left for them to use. Why not go back to a score and revisit it?

Is it a choreographic exercise?

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All my choreography is a choreographic exercise, from my middle-life solo performance in See #6 to The Nutcracker. It is about seeing if I could do it, and having done it, letting it rest, so I can go on to the next experiment.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie presents James Kudelka's AllOneWord at Enwave Theatre, Feb. 10-12 (416-973-4000.)

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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