Have you seen him dance? It’s like poetry in motion. Guillaume Côté, principal male dancer for the National Ballet of Canada is passionate about dance. And it’s clear why.
Toronto will see Côté’s next piece at the National Ballet. No. 24 is based on Paganini’s Caprice No. 24. He choreographed it for the National Ballet’s Choreographic Lab in 2010, but this will be the first time it’s performed for the public. It’s a hard piece to dance and play. “[I thought], I’m going to take the hardest pieces [of music] written for the violin and make the hardest dance piece possible, pick some great dancers and just see what happens.” No. 24 took third prize at the 2011 Ballet Society Hanover’s International Choreographic Competition. “It was quite a big deal when it won [because] it’s a contemporary competition but my piece is a little on the classical side.” No. 24 is on stage June 19-23 together with Pur Ti Miro, The Man in Black and Theme and Variations.
Côté is also a musician and a choreographer. He says it is hard to find new music. Creating it himself gives him a new challenge. “A lot of what I write leaves room for the dance to counterpoint [the music] visually.” His music has been performed internationally. When he was younger, he dreamed of becoming a “rock star”. When asked if he would release an album, Côté laughs. “I haven’t yet had the desire to write music that could stand on its own [without a visual reference] but you never know, maybe one day.”
Since choreographing No. 24, Côté’s been looking for more chances to create. “It’s very hard to choreograph. It’s a skill and sometimes we forget how difficult it is.” Being on “the other side” as he calls it, gave Côté fresh perspective about the creative process. “[Dancers] can be quite difficult [to work with]. Our schedules are packed and someone will come in and sometimes not know what they want to do and we get frustrated.” Standing “in front of the room [as a choreographer]” gave Côté the opportunity to see that “maybe you don’t always know what you want to do, and sometimes it’s a process [to create a dance piece.]”
Côté is vocal about the need to follow one’s passion. His upbringing in Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec included a large extended family that danced in his parents’ ballet school. Because of the remoteness of his home, he grew up unfettered by the stereotypes associated with ballet. “Dance is physical and athletic, especially for the men.” He laments that many people don’t follow their passions because they’re too concerned by what others think. “I’m not saying that everyone needs to discover dance. Look for what you’re passionate about.”
Côté’s passion has led him to dance on some of the best stages in the world. He’ll continue to crusade for a different perception of ballet “until the last step I ever dance.”
WORDS: OLGA KWAK
PHOTOS: ALEX BROWNE
LOCATION: THE WALTER CARSEN CENTER