Cupcakes & Conversation with Bridgett Zehr, Principal, National Ballet of Canada
Bridgett will dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in James Kudelka’s The Nutcracker. Known for extraordinary musicality and willowy limbs, Bridgett combines a delicate innocence with lyrical grace and steely technique, making her an critic and audience favourite. She recently made her debut in the title role in Giselle, as Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty and Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. She also created the female role in Christopher Wheeldon’s Prokofiev Pas de Deux.
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
Like most people I need to start my day with a good breakfast that must include a cup of coffee….
What are you looking forward to dancing in the new season ?
At the moment we are learning Chroma by Wayne McGregor. Even though we are in the very early part of the process it has been so exciting. I feel very fortunate that our company is performing it and I can’t wait for the moment when I’m onstage.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
Wow, what a hard question! There are so many wonderful dancers past and present! I’m going to go the complete opposite direction with this and say my older sister Rachel. We started ballet together and then she gave it up when I moved away to a boarding school. She was incredibly talented in everything she put her mind to, especially dancing and playing musical instruments. She passed away very recently and it’s been a difficult few weeks. In order to get into my role for Olga in Onegin, I thought about her being my Tatiana. She was quite the passionate bookworm, and she was always my protector. I would love to dance opposite my sister in Onegin.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
In an outdoor theatre that would be free to the public so that anyone could come and see and realise the beautiful world that ballet creates.
How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
I wear Gaynor Minden’s so I don’t have to do much preparation. I step on the box a little bit and bend the shank back and forth a little bit and I’m ready to go. I sew ribbons and elastics, and sometimes I’ll pancake them to match my tights because I think it creates a cleaner line.
What is your daily routine at the moment ?
Wake up at 7:30, make coffee and breakfast, check emails and facebook, shower and out the door by 9. I live across the street from where I work yey!! so it’s a two minute walk to the studios, stretch for about 20 min. and class starts at 10. Rehearsals start at 11:35. At the moment since we are in the learning process of new ballets I have six hours of rehearsals with a lunch break from 2:30 to 3:30. The day finishes at 6:30, I walk home and I’m usually pretty tired so the rest of the night is spent relaxing, eating dinner, watching tv and preparing mentally for the next day.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?
Evelyn Hart, Manuel Legris, John Neumeier, Gelsey Kirkland, Jiri Kylian, and my boyfriend Zdenek Konvalina
What would surprise people about you ?
I’m a little shy and I get nervous around people, but deep down I’m a fighter.
Who inspired you to dance ?
I can’t really say it was one person or one thing. It was the fact that when I was 7 and had my first ballet class I had never felt more at home.
What is your best piece of advice ?
Never stop asking questions. You gain so much by continuing to learn.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
I like to listen to the music and go through my steps the day of the show so I feel that I know I did everything I could to prepare. I eat some snacks and usually have a tea. Make-up first, then hair. Go down to the studio and stretch and do a light barre. Put my pointe shoes on, make sure they feel ok and the ribbons and elastic are sewn tight. Sew my ribbons in so they don’t pop out during the show. Test out the stage, I like to just stand still on it because it calms my nerves and normalises being on it. Put my costume on, hug my partner and take a deep breath.
Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. It’s a three act ballet and your technique is completely exposed. It forced me to rethink my whole way of working which meant there were lots of tears and frustrations. On top of that I had to remember what I wanted my interpretation to be so that I could carry the story along. Instinctively, I tend to focus more on interpretation but Beauty forced me to do both.
If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create ?
A creamy pink tutu with delicate details and jewels (maybe even some tiny flowers) with a low back. Earrings that are delicate but sparkle a lot, and a head dress that matches all the detailing on the tutu.
What do you look for in a dance partner ?
Passion, commitment, musicality, generosity, and a good sense of humour.
What is your favourite quote ?
“True intelligence operates silently. Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.” Eckhart Tolle
Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?
I feel like musicality comes naturally to me.
A phrase I use far too often is … ?
I might have to ask other people about this one because I can’t think of anything…
What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?
After over a year off from an injury, working my way back on stage and taking my first bow after thinking I might never dance again. I felt so fortunate.
Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
I have an addiction to puzzles. Especially crosswords and jigsaw’s. I love the focus they take.
How did you find working with Dan Freeman – what was the process and how do you feel about the resulting images ?
Working with Dan was an amazing experience for me. He had so many ideas and his positive energy was infectious. The first shot of the day was going to be me on a hill, then a dog walker with tons of dogs walked by us and Dan’s inspiration hit. He ran up to the lady and asked if we could borrow her dogs for a minute. That showed me that he had guts and an infectious sense of humour. It definitely set the tone and showed me that he wasn’t afraid to take risks. It was the first photo shoot I’ve ever been on where I felt totally comfortable and also free to share my ideas. He had a work ethic that pushed me to my limits (getting in freezing water) but I felt like we were both there for the love of our art forms. I think the images turned out beautifully. Every one of them is so different and tells a different story. Dan’s eye for angles and colors in the editing is out of this world. I’m so thankful to have had that experience.
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now ?
All I can ask for is to be healthy and that I learned a lot of new lessons along the way.
Cinderella runs November 11 to 20, 2010 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Canada.
The Nutcracker runs December 11, 2010 to January 2, 2011 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Canada.