By: Ashley Bartlett

This weekend the city will transform before our eyes as we make way for Luminato, Toronto Festival of Arts + Creativity . In anticipation of summer our city will become the ultimate haven of culture as the streets fill with live music, art exhibits, and special dance performances. Celebrate the festival with The National Ballet as they open the summer season with Carmen & Skin Divers , an exciting mixed programme. Carmen is a provocative re-interpretation of the classic opera, and Skin Divers is based on the poem by Anne Michaels .

I caught up with the First Soloist Stephanie Hutchison , whose love for dance began early. Ms. Hutchison talks about her journey through the world of dance, a place she was mesmerized by at the young age of four. After joining The National Ballet of Canada in 1997, she was promoted to First Soloist in 2003.

Ashley Bartlett : Did you do what you started out to do, or did it just happen? Was dance what you always wanted?
Stephanie Hutchison : I have loved dancing for as long as I can remember. My first ballet class was when I was four years old, but it was around the age of eight that I saw Veronica Tennant performing and I decided that I wanted to become a ballerina.

AB : Let’s get back to your beginnings. What were you like as a kid?
SH : As a kid I was very, very active and interested in everything. I took ballet classes twice a week, but I also took gymnastics and figure skating, was involved in Brownies and was interested in track and field, especially running and high jump. Even while I was at Canada’s National Ballet School, I ran the Terry Fox run every year, skied on the weekends in the winter and became a lifeguard.

AB : Many girls get their first taste of dance when they are young, aged 4-5, as guided by their mothers – most don’t continue. What kept you going?
SH : I took my first ballet class because my best friend Eva was taking classes. I landed in Canada’s National Ballet School at age 10 and being in the school environment certainly kept my dream alive and growing. I credit my Dad and teachers Laurel Toto, Joysanne Sidimus (founder of Dancer Training and Resource Centre) and current Artistic Director of Canada’s National Ballet School Mavis Staines for encouraging me in times of doubt.

AB : Who has influenced you most in your career?
SH: I have been influenced by many wonderful people in my career: dancers, coaches, choreographers and directors. I would have to single out Frank Augustyn who gave me my first job and had so much faith in me at the beginning of my career. I feel like all my Artistic Directors have influenced me at each stage of my 20 year career: John Alleyne at Ballet BC, James Kudelka at The National Ballet of Canada and presently Karen Kain.

AB : You recently gave birth to your first child. What was that experience like? What was the adjustment like coming back to the stage?
SH: I had a lot of insecurity during my pregnancy about what it would be like to get back. I was absolutely amazed and grateful for how fast my body bounced back. I was performing Anita in West Side Story Suite just nine weeks after I gave birth! Returning to the stage was nerve-wracking, mainly because I was singing for the first time in my career, but also because my beautiful daughter was waiting for me in the wings (literally). Giving birth to Charlotte has given me a lot more confidence in myself physically and emotionally. I can only say good things about becoming a Mom. It is amazing on every level!

AB: What does a typical day look like for a dancer?
SH: A typical day right now is taking class in the morning and rehearsing Carmen for a few hours followed by rehearsing Skin Divers for a few more. Over the next few days we’ll be onstage for technical rehearsals as well. My character in Carmen, Michaela, is a sad character. She is facing the beginning of the end of a relationship, and is losing Don José to Carmen. There is so much she wants to say, but she doesn’t have the words. She doesn’t want to lose him but she already has and must learn to let him go.

Carmen & Skin Divers opens at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on Saturday June 6, 2009 at 7:30 pm. The show runs until Saturday June 14, 2009. Make it a ladies night – dinner and post-performance cocktails.

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