Dylan Tedaldi, first soloist, is cast as the Little Prince from outer space, and has been busy in rehearsal with choreographer Guillaume Côté.
With a little over a month to the premiere, Tedaldi is still in the stages of discovery. “I’m still figuring out what drives the Little Prince, as a character,” Tedaldi says, over the phone in Toronto last week. “It’s been a long time in the making. It’s amazing to have seen where it started and where it’s progressing to . . . it feels like we’ve all been a part of the creation.”
“Le Petit Prince” will be Côté’s first evening length ballet for the company, and opens on June 4 at the Four Seasons Centre. In terms of what we can expect from the iconic tale, Tedaldi, while giving away no secrets, mentions a two-act production, with numerous characters, and lavish corps de ballet numbers.
“It’s a family story, but the ballet is going to be not so childish; more mature, grand and powerful.”
Tedaldi, originally from Boston, joined the National Ballet in 2009. His introduction to ballet was in a way fated, his first ballet class being the audition to the Boston Ballet School. Prior to that, hip-hop was his jam.
“I started when I was about seven years old with hip-hop classes,” Tedaldi says, “after about two years my teacher said she thought I had potential in ballet, and then eventually those classes took over and I didn’t have much time to continue with the hip-hop classes.”
“It probably took me two or three years of ballet classes to realise how rewarding [ballet] could be, and how much dedication it requires.
“But I think because I had quit so many things before . . . there were definitely times I would have given it up,” he laughs.
Tedaldi trained at the Boston Ballet School until age 16. In 2008, he competed in the Prix de Lausanne, where he was named Scholarship Laureate. He accepted a a place in the School of the Hamburg Ballet; a welcome change of scene for the young dancer who craved “big change, in terms of dance training but also lifestyle.
“It was a very different style of training that I was used to. It had an impact on how I approach class. I studied with Kevin Haigen, who was a wonderful teacher, especially for a man to have.
“They have a strong focus on technique, but also the feeling that you’re emoting when you’re dancing. There's a strong contemporary aspect to their ballet school.”
Tedaldi was invited to join the apprentice programme at the National Ballet after being spotted by Artistic Director Karen Kain and Ballet Master Lindsay Fischer on a visit to the Hamburg school. Last year, following some eye-catching performances, Tedaldi was promoted to the rank of first soloist. One role in particular, Stanislav, Nijinsky's brother in John Neumeier's “Nijinksy,” holds a special place for Tedaldi.
“It was a turning point in my dance career,” he says. “I think I definitely connected with the role of the brother, Stanislav in “Nijinsky;” that was a big opportunity for me. And it was nice because I was working with John Neumeier who I had known from the school. Also, it was a variation that I performed when I did the Prix de Lausanne. So I have this deep connection with one variation.”
“I think I showed a different side of my dancing to my colleagues. I got a lot of positive feedback from doing that; it gave me a little kick-start.”
The physically and emotionally demanding roles kept coming, with a riveting performance in Côté’s “Being and Nothingness” that culminated with plunging his head into a sink full of water; as well as a satirical pas de deux in Alexander Ekman’s “Cacti” that recently had them cheering from the balconies.
“‘Being and Nothingness’ was also great experience for me,” Tedaldi recalls, “I was coming back from an injury so it was a difficult rehearsal process. I had to kind of hold back while we were creating it.”
“Somehow I continue to get these roles where I am violent and crazy on stage. I think they enjoy watching me beat myself up on stage. I get covered in bruises!”
As for the Little Prince, we may be relieved to hear that the role is “not as harsh but still very physical,” Tedaldi adds, “there are elements of that kind of craziness that I get to unleash on stage, but it is more powerful movement to express something a little bit more . . . princely.”
And how to interpret such princely intention?
“[The Little Prince] is naïve in the sense that he’s not kind of tied down by restrictions that other characters have, so he’s very curious and kind of just upfront. So I interact with a lot of different characters with different movement vocabulary.”
Having worked together previously with “Being and Nothingness,” Côté and Tedaldi have developed rapport. “We have worked together before and our energies work very nicely together; that part of the process has been very nice. Also, I think he has a sense of my movement quality and my work.”
But Tedaldi suspects synergy is not the only reason for landing the lead role.
“Because [the Little Prince’s] from his own planet and is in a sense like an alien, [Côté] wanted him to have a unique movement quality. So, I feel that my body language and my look on stage is not necessarily that of a typical ballet dancer . . .”
“Le Petit Prince” is the first full-length Canadian ballet to be commissioned by the company in over a decade. And some two years in development, the rehearsal process has been a journey, and it's one that Tedaldi derives much from.
“Being on stage is really rewarding—and when you have a show that goes really well there’s nothing better than that feeling, but it's very short lived.
“I kind of enjoy working towards something more than whipping the final product. And from a basic comfort level, we get to wear what we want in the studio, so I’m more physically comfortable.”
So much the better for creativity: and, although you didn't hear it from the preternaturally humble dancer, Tedaldi is a creative font. A photographer and film-maker in moments away from the studio, Tedaldi has directed several dance films, including White Rush, a film by choreographic associate Robert Binet.
“I'm interested in all art forms . . . photography for example; I spend a lot of time looking at shapes, what lines look nice, what colours work. I look for those things when I try to correct things in my dancing I’m not loving. I concern myself with the aesthetics of everything.”
“Le Petit Prince” is on stage with the National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre, Toronto, June 4-12, 2016.