Robert Stephen

Robert Stephen 2013-14 Photo Credits

Robert Stephen, photo by Sian Richards.

Biography

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 audiences.

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 role.

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 coexistence.

What inspires you as a choreographer? 

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 role.

What’s your dream role to dance? 

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.

Quotes

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 

Romeo and Juliet 
“Robert Stephen’s Benvolio was sleek and played to the right pitch.” Dance Europe, 2013 

Watch her 
“Robert Stephen, a strikingly versatile dancer and consistently compelling stage presence, seems highly combustible here.” Dance International, 2010