Robert Stephen was born in Burlington, Ontario and trained at
Canada’s National Ballet School. He joined The National Ballet of Canada in 2004
and was promoted to First Soloist in 2011.
Mr. Stephen repertoire includes the title role in Hamlet, Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, the Mad
Hatter and the White Rabbit in Alice’s
Adventures in Wonderland, Uncle Nikolai in The Nutcracker and Winter in The
Four Seasons as well as featured
roles in Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Carmen and La Fille mal gardé.
His repertoire also includes Mozartiana,
Chroma, Russian Seasons, Pur ti Miro and Emergence. Recently, Mr. Stephen danced in the company premiere of The Man in Black by James Kudelka.
Mr. Stephen won the Clifford E. Lee Choreography Award in
2011 and created Hold Me, Neighbour, in
this Storm for The Banff Centre. His work Passacaglia won the Audience Choice Award for best new choreography
at The Ninth International
Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize in 2012.
Mr. Stephen was awarded the National Ballet’s Patron Award of
Merit in 2007 and he was the recipient of the Rolex Dancers First Award in 2012.
Robert Stephen is
sponsored through Dancers First by
Mr. Thor Eaton & The Honourable Nicole Eaton, Senator.
Question and Answer
Audiences are loving
your portrayal of the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. What was it like to work on this production?
It’s been an exciting experience working on Alice this season. We really enjoyed working with choreographer
Christopher Wheeldon and his assistant Jacquelin Barrett while they were
here. Now that the show is a certified
“hit”, the company is definitely riding on a great wave of energy from our
Tell us about
learning tap-dancing for this role.
I learned to tap at a young age, but it’s been many years
since I’ve done it regularly. In fact, I
could probably count on one hand the number of times I had even put tap shoes
on since I stopped taking lessons at age eleven! Any experience, however, has proved to be
better than none, and in January of 2011, the company brought in a terrific tap
coach, Candace Jennings, to review tap technique with a few of us on Saturday
afternoons. After our March performance
season was over, the Alice rehearsals
really got going, and Candace was there with us again to help decipher the tap
choreography and sort out all the steps.
For all of us who worked on the Mad Hatter choreography, particularly
Christopher Stalzer, Dylan Tedaldi and myself, it has been a challenging
experience, but a rewarding one, as we have seen each other make big progress
in our tapping in a short period of time.
What are you dancing
in the mixed programme, on stage June 15 – 19?
I’m very excited to be revisiting one of my favourite roles
as one of the running-shoe-clad “stompers” in In the Upper Room. It’s a
really high-energy work and a real joy to perform – despite how exhausting it
is! I’m also making my debut in the
“Gigue” solo in Balanchine’s Mozartiana,
and I was very happy to work with Suzanne Farrell and Joysanne Sidimus on this
In addition to being
a dancer, you are also a choreographer and will be creating a new work at The
Banff Centre this summer. Can you tell
us your plans for the work.
The work that I am making will be a twenty-two minute work
for twelve dancers, set to an extremely beautiful piece of music called …hold me, neighbor, in this storm… by
Aleksandra Vrebalov. The music
references traditional folk and religious themes from the Balkans, and the
composer’s notes on the work are all about how the cultural and religious
differences that have led to centuries of conflict in that part of the world,
strangely enough, produce incredible fusions in music. It’s a very powerful message and I hope to
create a simple and powerful work dealing with similar themes of conflict and
What inspires you as
As a choreographer, I am first and foremost inspired by
music. It is my primary aim in my
choreography to very specifically illustrate phrases of music through movement
in space. On top of that, I am extremely
inspired by the individual dancers I work with on a project, and love the idea
of a true collaboration in which the dancer’s own voice is very present in each
What’s your dream role
One of my favourite experiences as a dancer is being
involved in the creation of new works.
So far in my career, the role that Crystal Pite created for me in Emergence is a true highlight, and I
would love to have more experiences along that line. I am also loving exploring complex characters
in my work, particularly when I was able to further develop my portrayl of
Uncle Nikolai in The Nutcracker this
season. I would love to continue dancing
these kinds of roles as well.
What are you listening
to these days?
The new Fleet Foxes
album has been on repeat on my ipod for quite a while, and I’m also really into
this more experimental band called tUnE-yArDs. On the more classical side, I’m on a bit of a
Beethoven fix… so many layers of brilliance there.
It’s summer in the
city – what’s your favourite Toronto spot to relax in?
I love all the great patios in the city, and one of my
favourites is the backyard garden patio at Moon Bean in Kensington. I also have a little spot by the water at the
Music Garden where I chill out between rehearsals when we work down there. And for some reason I’ve always loved walking
through Ramsden Park in Rosedale. It’s
really nothing special – but it’s a special spot for me.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
“Among the character highlights: The
tap-dancing Robert Stephen as the Mad Hatter, every click of his feet mimicking
the nonsensical nature of his tea party” Los Angeles Magazine, 2012
Benvolio was sleek and played to the right pitch.” Dance Europe, 2013
“Robert Stephen, a strikingly versatile
dancer and consistently compelling stage presence, seems highly combustible
here.” Dance International, 2010