"The invitation from this grade 12 class to speak on the occasion of your graduation arrived as a beautiful and completely unexpected gift. I am deeply touched to have been extended this great honour, and I thank you.
So here we are in the Betty Oliphant Theatre, and you all understand very well why we always speak of theatres as having ghosts. This place is so familiar, so full of memories for each of you. And now – is it only me, or do you also find this a bit surreal? – we’re here for your graduation!
I find it very beautiful the way the dance world works: each of us must take complete responsibility for ourselves – do our own work, dig deep for the grit and grace to learn and grow; find the heart and humility to persevere in the wake of disappointment, errors in judgment, set-backs, personal tragedy; figure out how to handle success so that it is something to build on and not something that knocks us off course. We each have to do that ourselves – but we don’t do that alone. You have each been pursuing unique and highly personal dreams within a web of pivotal relationships – delicate relationships, tough relationships – with family, teachers, choreographers, rehearsal directors. And connecting to those individuals there are more: benefactors, board members, musicians, theatre technicians, physiotherapists, and connecting to those individuals more again. The list of people implicated in your graduation is so long that I am quite sure it is a superb example of string theory! It is certainly a beautiful illustration one of life’s primary contradictions: even our most individual accomplishments are achieved in the context and company of others.
The dance milieu is a multi-generational matrix in which every single participant plays a crucial role, and in which the generations roll over ceaselessly. Our art form cannot thrive without the engagement of individuals of all ages, representing every stage of life’s journey: the spontaneity and imagination of childhood; the aspirations and determination of youth; the ardent ambitions and innovations of the young adult; the ever deepening commitment and virtuosity of those in their prime; the perseverance and sublime artistry of middle age; the perspective and hard won wisdom of the elder. You will want to fully embrace, cherish and ultimately be ready to relinquish the poetry that epitomizes each chapter of your life. The huge shifts you have experienced from childhood through adolescence and youth to the brink of your adult life will not cease. What the future promises is ever more change through a succession of profound transformations that will deliver you again and again to the core of your self and to the threshold of something brand new. As the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez had a character in one of his greatest novels declare, ”… human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers gives birth to them ... life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
The forward motion of the present has now delivered each of you to the threshold of your adult life. All of the dancing that has come before you is your heritage; yours to draw from, carry forward, challenge, live up to, and build upon. Your individual artistry and personal vision are fundamental to the vitality and advancement of our art form.
You may have very specific goals at this moment – the company you dream of dancing with, the choreographer whose vision you are ready to dedicate yourself to – and these specific ambitions are powerful, aspirational fuel. Exploit the courage and energy that these ambitions give you, but don’t let the details weigh you down. Be ready to respond to opportunity and to make daring choices in relation to doors that close and doors that open. See dance when ever and where ever you can. There is astonishing art being created and performed by artists around the world – including work you’ve never in any way imagined – that will rock you to the core. There are profound experiences awaiting you – from your seat in the audience and from your place on the stage – and with every deep experience comes a shift of your inner world and a shift in prospective on the world around you. The arts lie at the heart of our shared societal experience as the strongest expression of our culture. Whether or not we are conscious of it, we all require the sustenance of the arts as a response to the deep questions of what it is to be human. The creative act is a fundamental force in human experience and in human history.
In class, in rehearsal, in performance; under the gaze of teachers, directors, the public, and critics you will do battle with your vulnerabilities and fears, and you will learn how to harness your gifts and abilities. If you are mortal there will be times when you lose your bearings or your confidence. Be resourceful; be persistent and constructive. As you did throughout your time at NBS, connect to the strength and insight you possess, and to the strengths and insights of the people in your private sphere – your family and friends – and the people in your professional sphere – your colleagues. You will have people turning to you as well.
Your education in dance has taught you how to take action on the things that matter to you in the world. And the world is teeming with worthy pursuits. You may find yourself at a moment in the very near or in the far distant future when the course of your life shifts, and you give yourself over to a path you did not anticipate when you set off to become a dancer. Your education in dance has nurtured magnificent traits and abilities that will translate elegantly to any other sphere of endeavour that you might wish or need to pursue. The path of each life is utterly unique, but all of us here today have already been woven into a matrix of connectivity with one another that will be a sustaining force at every steep incline and hairpin turn in our individual journeys. At today’s graduation ceremony this connectivity among us and to the wide world is vividly illustrated by the inauguration of both an NBS Chancellor, the honorable Margaret McCain, and by the new Ken McCarter Award for Distinguished NBS Alumni, honouring choreographer James Kudelka and clinician scientist Dr. Lorraine Kalia. These magnificent individuals are part of your world, and just as you are part of theirs. We are all living lives of consequence. We are literally building a world together.
To the 2017 class of Canada’s National Ballet School; to your families – whose love and support has allowed you this possibility; to the superb teachers and artists who have nurtured you; and to our visionary artistic director, Mavis Staines, I offer my congratulations and my admiration. You beautiful, inspiring dancers; you extraordinary young people, I count you as friends and colleagues – it has been a joy and a privilege to be one of your teachers – to question, explore, discover and learn with you. I join with everyone here today in wishing you great adventure, rich experience and deep satisfaction in the life that lies ahead."
- Peggy Baker, NBS Artist-in-Residence