LE Newsletter - November 12, 2009
Bridgett Zehr: A Ballerina Set To Soar
www.globeandmail.com - Paula Citron
(November 11, 2009)
National Ballet of Canada's newest principal dancer,
according to the highest authority – company artistic director
Karen Kain, coach Magdalena Popa, and dance partner and fellow
principal dancer Guillaume Côté.
“When Bridgett came into the company,” says Côté, “everyone knew
it would be a quick ride to the top.”
Zehr entered the Toronto-based National Ballet as a second
soloist in 2006, and with rocket speed was promoted to first
soloist in 2007 and principal dancer this summer. Zehr will
perform her first Princess Aurora in Rudolf Nureyev's very
challenging version of The Sleeping Beauty in the matinee
Aurora is the Mount Everest of classical ballet technique, and
excelling in the role would place Zehr, 24, among a rarefied
pantheon of ballerinas.
Even more impressive about Zehr's rise is that she lost almost a
year due to a non-union stress fracture in her foot. The
corrective surgery in 2008 required two bone grafts from her
hip. Says Zehr: “I was pushing myself too hard and I've had to
learn to become as passionate about looking after myself as I am
about ballet.” Zehr feels her road to good health has been
influenced by the teachings of German-born, Vancouver-based
spiritual leader Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth and
The Power of Now.
Zehr was born in Sarasota, Fla. To audition for the Sarasota
Ballet of Florida's free after-school program for lower-income
children, Dance: The Next Generation, children were supposed to
be 9, but Zehr was accepted when she was 7. A full scholarship
to the ballet's school followed, and by the time she was 14,
dance had become Zehr's all-consuming passion. “In my free time,
I watched ballet videos,” she says.
She spent three years at the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton,
Fla., when she felt she had outgrown her Sarasota teachers. A
similar desire for “something bigger” triggered her audition for
the Houston Ballet's Ben Stevenson Academy in her senior year.
At the school, academics were via correspondence course, and
Zehr sheepishly admits that she never graduated from high school
(which hasn't stopped her from being a New York Times
crossword-puzzle fanatic). When she was 17, artistic director
Stanton Welch took her into Houston Ballet as an apprentice.
According to National corps member McGee Maddox, 23, who knew
Zehr when he danced in Houston, the dancer was, and is,
absolutely focused on dance.
“Bridgett is endowed with a gifted body, flexible long limbs,
high extensions, delicate port de bras, impeccable technique and
a knack for characterization. In person, she is humble and
sweet, but onstage she can be passionate and emotional. Even as
an apprentice, she was getting leading roles like Calliope in
Balanchine's Apollo . My classmates and I loved watching
her in rehearsal.”
Zehr was promoted to soloist in Houston in 2006, but she was
feeling restless again. “I wanted a company that understood the
art of ballet,” she explains. She auditioned for the National
that year after hearing positive things about the company from
her former Houston colleague and current National principal
dancer Zdenek Konvalina. (Konvalina is now her significant
other.) Both Kain and Popa were so impressed that even though no
soloist contracts were available, a private donor was found to
underwrite Zehr's salary.
Says Kain: “Bridgett has a kind of magic. Her musicality, her
beautiful line, her co-ordination speak of her undeniable
talent. It is like a light shining in her.” And Popa adds words
like “sensitive, intelligent and versatile.” She points to
Zehr's surprising sensuality in roles like Carmen, and her
ability to produce movement that is both powerful and dynamic.
“Every single part of her body is expressive,” says Popa.
Zehr's fragile appearance belies a strong personality that is
both wilful and determined. Côté compares Zehr's work ethic and
her penchant for detail to that of legendary Royal Winnipeg
Ballet ballerina Evelyn Hart. “Bridgett understands that dance
is all about communication,” he says.
And Zehr adds: “I love to tell a story. I want to make Aurora
The Sleeping Beauty runs from Friday to Nov. 22 at Toronto's
Four Seasons Centre. Bridgett Zehr performs Aurora, dancing with
Guillaume Côté, in the Sunday, Nov. 15 matinee.