A Look Back at Rebekah Rimsay’s Illustrious Career
June 12, 2023
Rebekah Rimsay and Rex Harrington with Artists of the Ballet in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Principal Character Artist Rebekah Rimsay has inhabited countless lives and experiences in her 33 years onstage with The National Ballet of Canada. Her tenure intersects with four Artistic Directors and she has performed an exceptional breadth of repertoire at nearly every level of the dancer roster, from the moment she joined the company as a Corps de Ballet member in 1990 to her promotion to Second Soloist in 1995, First Soloist in 1998 and Principal Character Artist in 2012. When Rebekah retires this June, she will do so as one of the National Ballet’s most respected artists.
“Rebekah has been my colleague and very dear friend since we were 11 years old and I feel so fortunate to have witnessed her incredible career,” says Greta Hodgkinson, Artist-in-Residence and former Principal Dancer. “For over 30 years, she created memorable performances through her extraordinary characterizations and brilliant artistry. She personifies what it means to be a dance artist; someone who is passionate, professional, dedicated, curious, creative, and generous beyond measure. It has been my enormous privilege to be on stage and working alongside her for all these years.”
Piotr Stanczyk with James Leja, Rebekah Rimsay and Robert Stephen in The Man in Black. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Rebekah’s ability to step inside a role and turn the lights on, illuminating motive, emotion, and intention, is profound. When she is in character, the accoutrements of theatre disappear and she immerses you in her world, whether the vengeance of Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty or the comic disaffection of the Stepmother in Cinderella. She does this with a light touch; whole narratives unspool from even her slightest gestures.
So, how has she kept these roles feeling new after so many years?
“I started to develop the motivation to ‘keep things fresh’ when I was in the Corps de Ballet,” she says. “Dancing the same roles for many consecutive performances allows you to discover new choreographic moments serendipitously, whether that’s an exchange with another performer or the way you interact with props. These experiences in the Corps laid the foundation for the spontaneity I sought in all my subsequent work. I relished finding more space between the notes of the music, broader physicality in the choreography and deeper meaning in the characters I performed.”
The award-winning dramatic roles of Rebekah’s later career emerged seamlessly from her dancing, which, even in abstract works, always had a human quality. She collaborated frequently with Canadian choreographer James Kudelka, creating unforgettable roles in his Cinderella, The Contract (The Pied Piper) and An Italian Straw Hat. Her interpretation of the female lead in Kudelka’s The Man in Black is sublime.
Rebekah Rimsay and Students from The National ballet School in The Nutcracker. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
“James’ work is so incredibly layered with ideas and meaning that I always find more to feed my artistic curiosity,” she says. “Beyond my appreciation of his work, collaborating with James has been intellectually stimulating, physically demanding and artistically rich with meaning and emotion. Ultimately, I think I can distill my working relationship with him as one of trust. I trusted in the meaning of his work and he trusted me to help interpret his creations. This trust is both foundational to and the pinnacle of the choreographer/dancer relationship.”
In 2008, Rebekah received The David Tory Award for her extraordinary leadership and generosity within the company. When she looks back on her career, she identifies this sense of camaraderie as a highlight.
“I am so grateful for the many artists I have danced with who share my approach to performing,” she says. “I’m also grateful to Karen Kain for her vision and compassion in giving me my first character role at a time when, due to illness, I could not dance my usual Soloist roles. Even though I went back to dancing as a Soloist, it was a turning point in my career. Karen and James both trusted me to share my knowledge by setting and coaching some of the ballets from my repertoire and I have felt a deep sense of reward watching this art form live in the next generation of dancers.”
In the leadup to her official retirement this June, the company celebrated Rebekah onstage following her performance of the Stepmother in Cinderella on March 19, 2023.
Rebekah Rimsay in Cinderella. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.
“That moment felt profoundly sad but gratifying. A ballet company is so much more than a workplace. We sweat, hurt and bare our souls together, and all our labour and artistic investment come together to create an event that is bigger than the sum of our singular efforts. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to be part of this high-level machinery that transcends the ordinary to something metaphysical. The sadness I feel comes from understanding that this will be impossible to replace beyond these walls, but I know it will inform my next steps.”