A Passionate Journey: Piotr Stanczyk on a Life in Dance
By Caroline Dickie
September 11, 2023
Piotr Stanczyk. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.
This fall, Principal Dancer Piotr Stanczyk will retire from The National Ballet of Canada in his 25th year with the company, leaving a legacy of powerful performances, beautiful partnerships and commitment to the art of dance. Piotr has chosen to give his final performances in a ballet by James Kudelka called Passion, which will showcase his charisma and technical purity as a dancer who shines equally in contemporary and classical languages. James Kudelka has been an important figure in Piotr’s career, which adds a layer of meaning and poignancy to the choice of repertoire. Here, Piotr takes us inside his life in dance.
You moved from Poland at the age of 17 to attend Canada’s National Ballet School and joined The National Ballet of Canada as a member of the Corps de Ballet in 1998. What was that experience like?
Moving to Canada was quite spontaneous. I made the decision within a couple of weeks when the opportunity arose. I arrived in a new country and I didn’t speak the language, so it was quite a scary and chaotic experience. But I’ve been lucky in my life to meet the right people at the right time, people who saw something in me and helped me get where I am today. I’m the product of many people, but James Kudelka, Magdalena Popa, Lindsay Fischer, Mandy-Jayne Richardson, Sonia Rodriguez, Peter Ottmann and Rex Harrington were particularly significant at the company, Mavis Staines at The National Ballet School and Mona Campbell who was my sponsor at the school. Their generosity was not something I had experienced before.
How has ballet held your interest for so long?
I have always loved working. My ballet teacher in Poland instilled that in me very early and even today I love working and being in the studio. I do it out of discipline and the understanding that it’s the right thing to do. I would say that my love of performing grew over time. I enjoy not being myself and portraying different characters and being in a different world. It happens gradually but at a certain point you realize you can’t live without this. I want to do this for the rest of my life.
Piotr Stanczyk in The Winter's Tale. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
How did you get started in ballet?
It wasn’t my choice to go to ballet school and in fact I hated my first two years of training. Then in my teenage years I started to see how difficult and athletic dancing is and I discovered a whole other layer to it as art – music, costumes, design, architecture. My job is never boring. Every day you meet different people and consider different productions. It’s this constant, never-ending exploration, discovery and curiosity.
Do you have any favourite ballets or roles?
There are so many productions I have really loved dancing and all of them have enriched my life. Big classical works like Don Quixote, La Fille mal gardée, Onegin and The Sleeping Beauty developed my confidence early on in my career. But it’s a journey – how I performed those works then is not the same way I perform them today. There is constant growth and I’ve learned how to make sure that I’m growing all the time. When you’re young, it’s everything to dance those big leading roles, but over a journey of 25 years I can tell you that every role is important. The production is a whole and everyone has to do their part. With time you realize that.
Piotr Stanczyk with Artists of the Ballet in Don Quixote. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
You have excelled in dramatic, character-driven roles. Why do they appeal to you?
I’ve always been interested in the question of why people do things one way and not another. Exploring and portraying characters became something I started to devote time to, mainly through reading, research and watching films. For me, becoming so many different people in different worlds is what makes this work so amazing.
But to be an artist you also need good technique. If you’re afraid of doing the steps, you’re not going to be able to act or portray things. It’s very important to be athletic and strong and technically capable. This is the base on which you build artistry.
You will give your final performances with the National Ballet in a piece by James Kudelka. Why did you choose it?
James has had the biggest share of who I am today. He was a mentor to me, both as an artist and a human being. I don’t know what he saw, but he invested his time in me. I am the person I am today because of him. I chose Passion first and foremost because it was James and I wanted to work with him again. I also wanted to dance something challenging and it’s one of the hardest pieces I’ve ever done. I’ve always been very realistic about my capabilities at each stage of my career and Passion is a work that suits me today. It’s really three ballets going on at the same time; there’s a classical layer, a contemporary layer and the passion informing all the steps. It’s a beautiful work and I’m really looking forward to it.
Piotr Stanczyk in The Man in Black. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.
Learn More About Piotr
Passion is onstage November 11 – 18, 2023 with Emma Bovary.