Harrison James in Anima Animus. Photo by Bruce Zinger. Courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.
Jordana Daumec and Harrison James on National Ballet of Canada’s Return to New York City
The National Ballet of Canada is returning to New York City for the first time since 2014 to perform at New York City Center March 30 – April 1. National Ballet is bringing a diverse triple bill including Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto classically based ballet to a glorious Shastakovich score, the US premier of Crystal Pite’s powerful and earthly Angel’s Atlas, and David Dawson’s other worldly Anima Animus.
We had the opportunity to chat with First Soloist Jordana Daumec and Principal Dancer Harrison James on working with Crystal Pite and David Dawson, touring to New York City, and the unique intricacies of Angel’s Atlas and Anima Animus.
Jordana, you grew up in New York City and trained with Studio Maestro before moving to Toronto to train and dance with NBC. How does it feel to be coming home to perform alongside your colleagues at NBC?
Jordana Daumec: It’s honestly the most heartwarming and exciting feeling. My family, that lives here in the New York area, doesn’t get to see me perform often so to be able to come home and show them exactly what I do is such a fulfilling thing for me. Also, to feel the energy of my hometown, that I carry with me every day, will just feel right.
And Harrison, you are a native New Zealander. What does coming to NYC to perform on such an iconic stage feel like for you?
Harrison James: Fortunately, with The National Ballet of Canada I’ve now toured to New York a couple of times and it’s always so exciting to visit. I’m a big fan of New York City, partly because it always impresses me with the amount of dance that is continually happening, and this being the case, it feels like we’re performing to an incredibly discerning audience there. I’m excited for New Yorkers to see this programme and be wowed by what our company is capable of.
Jordana, you were part of the original cast of Crystal Pite’s powerful work Angels’ Atlas. Crystal is known for pushing dancers to their limits in an effort to achieve something greater than the individual. Can you tell what the creation process for Angels’ Atlas was like as well as its unique demands?
JD: I have never experienced something as unique as working closely with Crystal and three other dancers to set the foundation for this piece. Crystal is an amazing human being. To see her work, move, and create will be a highlight of my career that I will never forget. She makes you, the artist and person, feel beautiful inside and out. You want to give her your all because you know that she is doing the same in return.
Jordana Daumec in rehearsal for Angels’ Atlas. Photo by Karolina Kuras. Courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.
Anima Animus by David Dawson explores opposition. The title itself comes from the Carl Jung concept of elements of an opposing gender being prevalent in one’s psyche. This idea is also expressed in the works movement vocabulary. What are the characteristics of the movement for this work and what is it like dancing them Harrison?
HJ: David Dawson’s choreography just feels right on my body. Each step seems to flow naturally and evolve into the next which pulls you into the physical and emotional expression that is dance. In dance, this idea of liquidity and flow is typically a ‘feminine’ one, but I’ve always found such joy in it. As a contrast, the two principal females in this piece are given dynamic, virtuosic solos full of power and drive, which are much more ‘masculine’ traits. In this way, I think the choreography ask questions about our expectations of the bodies we’re seeing on stage and makes a point of demonstrating the exquisite beauty that can be achieved when these expectations are challenged or broken.
How is dancing Angels’ Atlas different?
HJ: I feel that both Crystal and David are shining examples of what the future of dance looks like for major ballet companies. In Angels’ Atlas, I feel more focused on the collective and what we’re saying as an almost hive mind of dancers. We’re very much looking into the ephemerality of both live dance performance and human life. This relentless beating of our hearts, and the struggle to survive and live, and what is left behind once that heartbeat stops. I always feel like I’m stepping into a moment that is bigger than me.
Angels’ Atlas features many emotive gestures and evocative visual motifs such as a pulsing heartbeat motion almost implying something which cannot be contained in the body any longer. Do these tie into a larger theme or message of the work?
JD: Yes, for me they do. I see this piece representing different stages of life, or the many feelings that come with living a life brings us. I feel it with the movement and with the music, which is drives us almost as a universal heartbeat. From a simple gesture of love and care, which then further develops to show you something even far greater than that. Crystal is a genius in my opinion.
Artists of the Ballet in Angels’ Atlas. Photo by Karolina Kuras. Courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.
David Dawson has a reputation for mentoring and changing dancers. What has your experience been like working with him?
HJ: I so enjoyed my time working with David! I think huge kudos has to go to Rebecca Gladstone and Christiane Marchant for their work in setting the ballet, because then David is able to come in and focus all his attention on elevating us beyond the steps. We talk a lot about making each run-through of the piece new and different from the last and focusing on our emotions and the opportunity for storytelling within our movement. All of it feels like lessons that can be taken with us for the rest of our careers and I so value the opportunity to apply these things, more than being in a certain position by ‘5 and’.
Angels’ Atlas features a cast of 40 dancers, which is quite large for a repertoire work. What type of energy does sharing the stage with so many dancers in this type of work create?
JD: Dancing together, you begin to feel a singularity, that is also felt in the music which is the thread that connects us. Because we all love this piece so much you can feel that on stage as well. We create our own unique atmosphere, which hopefully the audience can feel too.
HJ: Interestingly enough, Angels’ Atlas was created pre-pandemic, but it really took on new meaning when we performed it again in November 2021 in Toronto. As I mentioned before, this sense of community and togetherness feels built into the structure of the piece, and we all feel like we’re contributing to something much larger than any one of us. While this is true for many ballets, in Angels’ Atlas this feeling is much more tangible than I’ve experienced before. Post-pandemic, there is something extra special about being able to dance in unison and in such close proximity to my colleagues.
Jordana, As a native New Yorker, what does performing at NYCC with NBC mean to you?
JD: It makes me proud to come home after all this time away and share my art and the hard work I’ve been doing in Toronto all these years. New York City Center was also my stomping grounds as a kid, my mom had her massage practice office there for 21 years. I would always hang out there between school and dance classes, or after classes. It will feel so familiar to be there, like a kind of homecoming.
This will be the first time that NBC has performed for New York audiences since 2016. What about NBC are you looking forward to sharing with them?
HJ: I’m excited for people to see how this company is brimming with talent. I’m constantly awed and inspired by what my fellow dancers are capable of, and the programme we are bringing is not only incredibly challenging, physically, but presents work that sits at very different places on the spectrum of dance, from classical ballet, to contemporary ballet.
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