A Legacy of Friendship and Artistry: Tanya Howard
By Caroline Dickie
June 21, 2023
Tanya Howard as Stepsister in Cinderella during her farewell curtain call. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
On March 12, 2023, The National Ballet of Canada celebrated First Soloist Tanya Howard onstage following a performance of James Kudelka’s Cinderella. She danced the role of the Stepsister with the wonderful comic timing, pristine technique and deeply held love for the stage that have made her so invaluable to the company and loved by audiences for 25 years – the perfect precursor to her retirement this June.
“It was incredible,” she recalls. “As a younger dancer I would have said that I didn’t want the pressure of one special show for fear that I would be overcome with emotion. But the repertoire was exactly right and I just focussed on all the love! Having my husband, children and Heather [Ogden] come up to give me a hug in that moment will forever be a highlight.”
Tanya Howard and Christopher Gerty in Chroma. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
With her elegant long lines, Tanya has been a natural fit for the neoclassical language of George Balanchine, classical roles such as the Snow Queen in The Nutcracker and the hypermobility of Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, Genus and MADDADDAM. But her gift as a performer has always been to combine her physicality with an emotional core. Tanya shows you her heart when she dances, regardless of the role, and that is the true power of her art.
“Tanya is known for her gorgeous technique, creature-like movement and stunning artistry, and she has become an audience favourite and treasured company member,” says Principal Dancer and close friend Heather Ogden. “She is a generous and genuine person and it shines through in her art. She has the unique ability to capture a character wholeheartedly onstage and yet be totally herself in it.”
Born in Uitenhage, Tanya trained at The National School of Arts in South Africa and Canada’s National Ballet School. She joined the company in 1998 and was promoted to First Soloist in 2007. In the 25 years since, she has left her mark on numerous ballets and roles, such as Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, the female lead in Voluntaries and Queen of Hearts in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for which she earned the William Marrié Award for Dramatic Excellence. She is one of few to have danced both major roles for women in Alice, having also performed the title lead.
Piotr Stanczyk, Former Principal Character Artist Kevin D. Bowles, Tanya Howard and Heather Ogden in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
“I’ve been fortunate to have had many wonderful experiences in this career, too many to mention. I felt so immediately aligned with the company and the repertoire that the timing of my progression always felt right. I loved being involved in new creations and I will forever be grateful to have been a part of bringing new work to our audiences.”
In 2016, Tanya won The David Tory Award on the recommendation of her peers, recognizing her professionalism, compassion and leadership. The honour makes official a well-known fact within the company, that Tanya is a good friend to many and has striven to make the National Ballet a welcoming space for all.
“I thrive on connection and finding something to talk about comes naturally to me,” she says. “We work so closely with the other dancers, production and orchestra that I can’t help being drawn to people I have so much in common with.”
Principal Dancer Sipesihle November created a new piece for Tanya, For All That Is Within, which premiered at MAD HOT BALLET: Deco-Danse on June 6, 2023 He was joined by the entire company in recognizing Tanya for her singular legacy of friendship and artistry.
Tanya Howard and former Principal Dancer Zdenek Konvalina in Opus 19/The Dreamer. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
“To her friends, Tanya is the most hilarious, morale-boosting, supportive force,” says Heather. “She is always a team player and ready with a joke or a snack if needed. We joined the company together many moons ago as babies. I remember so many moments: our first show as Harlots, watching her debut in Romeo and Juliet, celebrating her promotions and seeing her cry off a pair of eyelashes. This career isn’t easy but it’s such a gift, and to be able to share it with Tanya has been one of my life’s greatest pleasures! I think I speak for us all when I say I will miss her dearly, I know I will. Congratulations my friend on your incredible, beautiful career.”