A Beautiful Partnership
Harrison James and Ben Rudisin
by Caroline Dickie
June 15, 2021
Harrison James and Ben Rudisin in Soul. Photo by Paul McNulty.
Part of ballet’s evolution as a living artform has involved a break from the singularity of the male/female pas de deux as a representation of love to better reflect the many expressions of love, gender and identity that enrich our world. In 2021, Canadian choreographer Jera Wolfe created Soul, a new work for two couples that premiered as part of The National Ballet of Canada’s New Voices programme of commissioned dance films, giving real life partners Principal Dancer Harrison James and First Soloist Ben Rudisin their first opportunity to perform a romantic duet together. We spoke with Harrison and Ben about Soul, their relationship and their lives together in dance.
What is it like to perform with your life partner?
Both: It’s new territory for us! But we were both really excited about dancing together because we admire each other’s partnering skills. We’ve goofed around in the studio doing classical pas de deux before, switching up who was being partnered, so in a funny way working together on Soul felt like a natural extension of that. The underlying theme of the piece is all about relationships and connections, so we enjoyed having our real life relationship play into that.
Ben: Harrison and I are often in the studio together but usually we don’t work directly together. It’s nice to have a romantic duet together and Jera wanted it to be a reflection of our relationship, our closeness and intimacy. It’s rare to see a male duet, especially in classical ballets, so the opportunity makes me proud that my relationship can be included and represented in our artform.
Harrison James and Ben Rudisin in rehearsal for Soul. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
What’s your favourite part of Soul?
Harrison: I love the split second of footage where I’m cartwheeling around Ben’s neck. When that lift worked it always felt like I was weightless and I could live my principal ballerina fantasy. Also, this was our first time performing a pas de deux together and having it be a romantic duet felt really special to us.
Ben: I first saw Jera’s work for Canada’s National Ballet School and I immediately wanted to do something with him. He has a unique way of moving – it’s very grounded, but there’s a lot of freedom in the movement. There’s an energy that flows through the body and releases at the end, like a swinging movement. Jera likes to show each aspect and the work of the movement. He has a clear vision but at first it was a struggle to feel myself in my body, to know what he was asking for but not being able to deliver.
What’s the biggest difference partnering a male dancer?
Both: Simply put, men are heavier! It really is a skill to BE partnered, though, and that was the steepest learning curve for both of us. We really developed a newfound respect for the women of our company!
Ben Rudisin and Harrison James in Soul. Photo by Paul McNulty.
How do you navigate a relationship that is both professional and personal?
Both: We’ve never really had an issue with the two crossing over. We try to practice good communication skills in both areas to address anything that might come up. We both have high expectations of ourselves as well as others so in the studio it feels like we are working together in pursuit of the same goal. In this sense, there’s very little for our relationship to come up against.
What one word describes your partner?
Harrison about Ben: Complex
Ben about Harrison: Human
Harrison James is sponsored through Dancers First by Lucy White.
Ben Rudisin is sponsored through Dancers First by an anonymous donor.