April 21st, 2024

Principal dancer Guillaume Cote to retire from National Ballet of Canada

By Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press on February 21, 2024.

Guillaume Cote is shown in a handout photo. Cote doesn’t really want to leave the National Ballet of Canada, but after a quarter century with the company, the 42-year-old principal dancer says it’s time.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-The National Ballet of Canada/Matt Barnes **MANDATORY CREDIT**

TORONTO – Guillaume Cote doesn’t really want to leave the National Ballet of Canada, but after a quarter century with the company, the 42-year-old principal dancer saysit’s time.

Reflecting on his aches and pains, the competition, the constant pursuit of perfection, he says he wouldn’t mind slowing down.

“A place like the National Ballet of Canada, where it’s highly competitive and world class, is not a place where you can grow into old age,” he said by phone as he prepared for the company to announce that the upcoming season would be his last.

“You have to leave room for the new.”

The National Ballet of Canada announced Cote’s impending retirement Wednesday as it revealed its 2024/2025 seasonprogram, some of which will be dedicated to sending off one of its highest profile dancer-choreographers.

Cote trained at Canada’s National Ballet School before he joined the ballet company in 1998. He was promoted to principal dancer in 2004, and was named a choreographic associate in 2013.

He left northern Quebec at the age of 11 to enter the world of ballet, and dedicated himself to it 100 per cent, as all successful dancers must do. In his time with the company, he said he and a small cohort of peers outlasted three generations of dancers who came and went.

Now, he’s coming to terms with joining their ranks.

“Leaving that bubble is a process and a little bit of mourning,” he said.

In some ways, he is glad to be leaving. He will not miss the constant competition, he said, nor the fear of injury. He felt “tossed aside” by the company when he tore his ACL during the opening night performance of “The Nutcracker” in 2014. His recovery took more than a year.

“But it’s our passion, and it’s what we love to do, and I was able to pursue it,” he said.

Perhaps fittingly, given his long career, his farewell will stretch across the season.

The fall mixed program will open with his 2014 solo piece “Body of Work,” and in spring 2025, there will be a mixed program of Canadian work, titled “Adieu: A Celebration of Guillaume Cote.”

It will include “Into the fade,” a multidisciplinary solo piece Cote is creating with filmmaker and longtime collaborator Ben Shirinian, two new works by Ethan Colangelo and Jennifer Archibald, and Cote’s “Bolero.”

Cote said he’s glad to share his farewell stage with those “up-and-coming” choreographers.

“If people come to see my retirement,” he said, “maybe they’ll also get to see some new blood.”

It’s in line with what Cote sees as his mission. Through his career, Cote said he’s been committed to moving the art form forward — not only as a dancer, but as a choreographer.

“I fell in love very young withchoreography and the producing side,” he said. “I love creating dance shows and dance performances and dance experiences, as a creator of choreography, but also as a producer.”

Since 2014 he has been artistic director of Quebec’s Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur, the largest summer dance festival in the country. In 2018, he and filmmaker Robert Lepage created “Frame by Frame,” a critically acclaimed ballet inspired by the life and work of filmmaker Norman McLaren. And in 2021, he created a company of his own, called Cote Danse, to develop his own works.

“It wasn’t so much in preparation for retirement,” he said. “It was more of a side passion.”

His latest project in collaboration with Lepage, a wordless interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” is set to debut at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto in April.

But when it comes to sharing his plans after retirement, Cote is coy.

“I really want to live my career at the National Ballet to its fullest,” he said. “I want to see it to the end, fully focused.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2024.

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