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Guillaume Cote in an undated handout photo.Matt Barnes/The Canadian Press

Guillaume Côté doesn’t really want to leave the National Ballet of Canada, but after a quarter century with the company, the 42-year-old principal dancer says it’s time.

Reflecting on his aches and pains, the competition, the constant pursuit of perfection, he says he wouldn’t mind slowing down.

“A place like the National Ballet of Canada, where it’s highly competitive and world class, is not a place where you can grow into old age,” he said by phone as he prepared for the company to announce that the upcoming season would be his last.

“You have to leave room for the new.”

The National Ballet of Canada announced Côté's impending retirement Wednesday as it revealed its 2024/2025 season program, some of which will be dedicated to sending off one of its highest profile dancer-choreographers.

Côté trained at Canada’s National Ballet School before he joined the ballet company in 1998. He was promoted to principal dancer in 2004, and was named a choreographic associate in 2013.

He left Northern Quebec at the age of 11 to enter the world of ballet, and dedicated himself to it 100 per cent, as all successful dancers must do. In his time with the company, he said he and a small cohort of peers outlasted three generations of dancers who came and went.

Now, he’s coming to terms with joining their ranks.

“Leaving that bubble is a process and a little bit of mourning,” he said.

In some ways, he is glad to be leaving. He will not miss the constant competition, he said, nor the fear of injury. He felt “tossed aside” by the company when he tore his ACL during the opening night performance of The Nutcracker in 2014. His recovery took more than a year.

“But it’s our passion, and it’s what we love to do, and I was able to pursue it,” he said.

Perhaps fittingly, given his long career, his farewell will stretch across the season.

The fall mixed program will open with his 2014 solo piece “Body of Work,” and in spring 2025, there will be a mixed program of Canadian work, titled Adieu: A Celebration of Guillaume Côté.

It will include Into the fade, a multidisciplinary solo piece Côté is creating with filmmaker and long-time collaborator Ben Shirinian, two new works by Ethan Colangelo and Jennifer Archibald, and Côté's Bolero.

Côté said he’s glad to share his farewell stage with those “up-and-coming” choreographers.

“If people come to see my retirement,” he said, “maybe they’ll also get to see some new blood.”

It’s in line with what Côté sees as his mission. Through his career, Côté said he’s been committed to moving the art form forward – not only as a dancer, but as a choreographer.

“I fell in love very young with choreography and the producing side,” he said. “I love creating dance shows and dance performances and dance experiences, as a creator of choreography, but also as a producer.”

Since 2014 he has been artistic director of Quebec’s Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur, the largest summer dance festival in the country. In 2018, he and filmmaker Robert Lepage created Frame by Frame, a critically acclaimed ballet inspired by the life and work of filmmaker Norman McLaren. And in 2021, he created a company of his own, called Côté Danse, to develop his own works.

“It wasn’t so much in preparation for retirement,” he said. “It was more of a side passion.”

His latest project in collaboration with Lepage, a wordless interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is set to debut at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto in April.

But when it comes to sharing his plans after retirement, Côté is coy.

“I really want to live my career at the National Ballet to its fullest,” he said. “I want to see it to the end, fully focused.”

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