James Kudelka then and now.

It’s an iconic photograph in the history of Canada’s National Ballet School – a young James Kudelka enthusiastically engaged in a creative dance class. Today, 50 years later and now an internationally admired choreographer of ballet and contemporary dance, Kudelka is back at the school to create a new work for NBS’ 2018 Spring Showcase; one that is inspired by memories of the school that are richer and more complex than the single moment caught in the photograph.

Kudelka entered the Professional Ballet Program when he was only ten years old and spent his formative years at NBS experiencing all the normal pangs of growing up, all the while engaged in the rigorous, daily task of mastering the language of dance. Cognizant of the many positive changes that have taken place in the school, he is also nostalgic for the old rabbit warren of Maitland Street that was, for him, home. The new work is being built out of his fleeting memories of life at the school which have been triggered not only by being on the premises but also through his interactions with the students, some of whom remind him of himself and others he knew.

His working title for the new piece is School or possibly 1968, the year he entered Grade 8 - the mid-point of his life at NBS. The choice of that year not only gave him a starting point for beginning the work of choreographing, but also enables him to look both backward and forward in his experiences. He is currently working with the senior students on the period from 1968 forward. Later, when he begins working with the junior students, he will be exploring his own junior years before that time.

For music, he has chosen Un petit train de plaisir, by Azio Corghi, which consists of twenty-five very short pieces of piano music, interspersed with percussion. For Kudelka, these musical episodes suggest ideas that align with many of his memories - ballet class, roughhousing with friends, performance, nostalgia etc. Even their division by the composer into three parts supports Kudelka’s vision of the work: the first part is childlike, the second somewhat aggressive and the third elegiac.

Kudelka, who long ago mastered the language of dance that he began to learn as a ten year old boy, acknowledges that the only thing that makes it possible for him to create with that language are the dancers. He says that, so far, this creative process has been productive because the students have been good, bringing enthusiasm and a hunger to work into the studio each time they meet. The new choreography promises to illuminate their shared experiences: master and students, master as student, and students collaborating with the master to enable him to create a work that reflects his school life and in many respects their own.