It's easy to see why Evan McKie is one of the most in-demand ballet stars of his generation. The Toronto-born principal dancer with Germany's Stuttgart Ballet is the whole package: He has a lyrical line, impeccable technique, robust physicality, envious height and an aristocratic bearing. He is also multi-talented, dabbling in photography, choreography and dance journalism (McKie contributes to both Dance Magazine in New York and Shinshokan Magazine in Japan). As the 31-year-old prepares to return to his hometown to join the company of the National Ballet of Canada for its 2014/15 season, Globe Style Advisor caught up with the down-to-earth danseur noble to talk about acting out on stage, making it abroad and how he impressed burlesque queen Dita Von Teese.
What motivated you to become a dancer in the first place?
I was led to the theatre; I almost had no choice. Growing up, my grandfather was a lighting designer, my grandmother was a play director, my dad was a musician and my mom was a makeup artist. Our family friends were drama teachers and set and costume designers. We were a pretty crazy, animated bunch.
But why ballet?
My parents tell me I could never sit still when music was on, which is why they enrolled me in dance class. I saw a lot of theatre, including dance. I loved Gregory Hines, the late, great tap dancer, whom I saw in Toronto. He blew me away. But when I was eight, I saw the National Ballet of Canada perform Onegin with Rex Harrington in the lead and I realized then that ballet was like acting but in an intensely physical way.
Critics have called you the male Karen Kain for your presence and versatility. How did you develop such an international career?
I was taken into the National Ballet School [in Toronto] around the age of nine, and I loved it there. Finally, other kids liked me! But when I became a teenager I lusted to see the whole world, so I left and trained at the Kirov Academy in Washington, D.C. and finally in Germany at the John Cranko Schule, from which I graduated in 2002. Some people questioned why I wanted to leave such a promising future here in Canada. In short, I feel a duty to myself and to the audience to explore as much of the art of ballet as possible.
You have been working with the National Ballet of Canada as a guest artist this year. What has that been like?
It has given me great pleasure to be a guest in Toronto. Every time I am back in Canada, I compare myself with my contemporaries who decided to stay and build their careers here. I see people like Guillaume Côté, who has evolved into a lovely dancer, truly world-class. We were roommates at the ballet school, and here we are again working side by side, but having taken two entirely different paths to our spots on the stage.
You have also performed to critical acclaim with the Paris Opera Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet. Describe those experiences.
In 2011, I was humbled to become the first Canadian to dance with the Paris Opera Ballet. I just performed again there in February. I am also the second Canadian since Karen Kain to dance as a guest with the Bolshoi. When I danced Onegin with the Paris Opera Ballet, I invited my friend Dita Von Teese to visit the infamous foyer de la danse, made famous by Degas in many of his paintings of ballerinas in the 19th century. Dita, given her ballet background, was in awe.
Men are again on the rise in ballet. How do you see the comeback of the male ballet dancer from your perspective?
Guys just really want to dance! There is no stigma these days. Of course, there will always be a few bigots who don't understand classical music or the statuesque lines required to be a top male dancer. But we all know that if those same bigots took a dance class or got a chance to perform they'd secretly love it because it is fantastically physical, more strenuous than any other sport.
What would you like your ballet legacy to be?
I think I work harder than most dancers. But I am also blessed to be born at a time when the international audience is starving for a passionate male danseur noble who also loves the avant-garde and telling stories. If such a hunger takes root in my own beautiful country, then perhaps I will have had a hand in developing the Canadian ballet scene into something truly wow-worthy. That's my hope.