JEWELS and THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS/ APOLLO/THEME AND VARIATIONS choreographed by George Balanchine. Presented by the National Ballet of Canada at the Hummingbird Centre (1 Front East). Jewels runs through Sunday (February 26), mixed program runs March 1-5, Wednesday-Saturday 7:30 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $39-$133, stu/srs/rush available. 416-345-9595. Rating: NNNNN
It's the day after Valentine's Day and the man who many in the country's dance world believe could be ballet's next romantic heartthrob is telling me he's not in love.
"The romantic in me has sort of died," chuckles Guillaume Côté, mere days before stepping onto the stage as the prince in Swan Lake.
He also performs in this week's Balanchine ballets: Jewels and a mixed program that includes his lead role in Apollo.
Côté's recent personal life resembles one of the storybook tales he's found himself dancing during his rapid rise through the ranks of the National Ballet of Canada.
Three years ago, while guesting at the South African Ballet Theatre, he met ballerina Burnise Silvius and immediately fell in love.
"I thought, "If you love somebody enough, life will come around; we'll make things work somehow,'" he tells me.
Silvius ended up moving to Toronto and guested with the company. The two even danced together in last season's An Italian Straw Hat. But Silvius had to return to South Africa, and Côté found he couldn't follow her.
"I tried to hang on for as long as I could," he says. "There were possibilities of me moving there, but she's seven years older than I am and at a different stage in her life and career. For me to move to a place where dance is really pushed aside would have been tough."
So yes, girls, Côté is now one of the city's most eligible bachelors. Not that he's got much time these days for the mushy stuff.
"I think the experience helped me gain more respect for my work," he tells me in one of the National's board rooms. He communicates with the same openness he exudes onstage.
"I had to re-evaluate everything. I realized that I absolutely love my work. I love everything about it."
What's not to love? Promoted to principal dancer in 2004, Côté, who's also a talented composer, has amassed a CV that any dancer would envy. Besides tackling leads in core rep like Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Romeo And Juliet, he's premiered lead roles in James Kudelka's The Contract, Cinderella and An Italian Straw Hat.
He's now at an exciting juncture in his career, coinciding with the change in the National's artistic directorship from Kudelka, who focused on creating new works, to former ballerina Karen Kain.
"I feel like the focus has been brought back to the actual dancers, and to the interpretations of roles," says Côté about the changeover. "That's only natural. James, as a creator, was a genius. He was very strict about what he wanted to see, and how much leeway he allowed you. Karen, who's one of the best interpreters of dance in the world, understands that every role becomes the dancer's role. It's not just an idea in someone's head. You have to become another person."
This new direction could be exactly what Côté needs. I've always appreciated his technique but have found there's something generic about his performances.
"Karen understands the need to establish character," says Côté. "Dance is a lot more than just steps."
Still, those steps especially when choreographed by someone like Balanchine can pose a challenge.
"The Balanchine technique is different from anything else," he explains. "It's so minimal, but there's so much in it. The steps themselves are some of the most original ever. Anyone, even if they've never seen a ballet before, can see that there's something amazing and special about it. It's like you're watching a visual score."
And the role of Apollo, which Côté first performed at 19, could be a perfect fit, well-suited to his noble bearing. The work's symbolism, about the birth of a god, couldn't be more apt. After the departure of star Rex Harrington, the National and the dance public is looking for a new dance deity.
"There are moments of peace and wilderness, up and down," Côté explains about the role. "And in the end it resolves beautifully. I started performing it years ago, and it's amazing it almost feels like it belongs to me. It feels like something I've made."