Born: Burlington, Ontario
Trained: Canada’s National Ballet School
Which movie could you watch on repeat?
Singin’ in the Rain. It’s been my favourite movie since I was a toddler and – let’s be honest – I still want to be Gene Kelly when I grow up. He is unquestionably the coolest.
What would you have done as a career if ballet hadn’t come your way?
I’m not sure exactly what I would have done, but I definitely would have gone to university and I probably would have wanted to pursue writing in some way. I had a vague dream of writing movie screenplays when I was in high school. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll get to flex a different set of professional muscles.How do you handle criticism?
That depends on what kind of criticism it is. I love constructive feedback like when a teacher gives me corrections during ballet class. If the criticism is purely negative however, for a dancer, it’s very easy for that to feel deeply personal. In this profession, we can’t change our bodies or our natural abilities, so that makes some judgments hard to swallow… but I am working on not taking negative feedback too harshly.
Milk chocolate or dark?
If I really had to choose, I would have to say dark, probably in the 70 – 85% range. But really, all chocolate is welcome, in all of its glorious forms.What’s your definition of a successful ballet dancer?
To me, the most successful ballet dancers are those who have achieved a high level of understanding of their craft. Sometimes you watch a dancer and you just know that the messages their brain is sending to their body are exactly what you are seeing. Throw in strong musicality and a tasteful dramatic touch and you’ve got the full package.
What’s the worst thing about being a dancer and what’s the best?
The worst thing about being a dancer is what I like to refer to as “crippling self-doubt”. I know that must sound crazy to someone looking at this “Company Project” and seeing how flawless each dancer looks in every single photograph, but the reality is that there are a lot of things I have a hard time believing I am capable of… as I’m sure is true for most people at some time or another in any given field.
The best thing about being a dancer is being onstage and losing yourself in that experience. The rush of being a part of a live performance – there is nothing else like it.Do you ever feel as magical as you look when you dance, or is it mainly just hard work and focus up there?
I can tell you from experience that the magic is real. Being alone onstage can be thrilling – like when it’s just me, a blue backdrop and George Balanchine out there – and so can connecting intensely with my colleagues during performances – like when we dance The Man in Black and the cast begins to breathe as a unit, to feel intimate, like a family. Last season, when we were performing Romeo and Juliet, I had an absolutely magical experience doing a dramatic scene with Tanya Howard when we played the roles of Benvolio and a Gypsy. I’m sure most of the audience was busy watching the principal dancers on centre stage, but Tanya and I threw our whole selves into that performance and it felt amazing.
What’s your guilty pleasure song that’ll make you rock out no matter where you are?
You Belong With Me by Taylor Swift. My best friend recently moved to Poland and we text each other anytime either of us is guiltily listening to that one. Taylor Swift just gets it!Do you have any bad habits that you’re working on breaking?
I have this terrible habit where I get to work literally seconds before the morning class is about to begin. Why can’t I seem to change this? I know in my gut that my mind and body would be so much better off with a nice, long warm-up at the beginning of the day… and by the way, warming up is something that all young dancers should do. Take note: Do as I say, not as I do!
Ballet often seems to attract a very exclusive audience. Do you think that’s changing? What do you think its appeal could be to those who haven’t seen one yet?
I think it’s difficult to predict what different people will like or what different dance audience members will each find appealing about a dance performance. I’m sure if you took a random survey you would actually get a lot of different answers. So I think rather than trying to cater to what we think most people will like, we should just continue to present really strong work, so that when people eventually get around to looking at it they will inevitably find something to like because the quality in general is so good.Tell us about an awe-inspiring thing you’ve seen or experienced.
I recently went to Costa Rica for my honeymoon and we went zip lining over a cloud forest in the Monteverde region. I am not usually a big thrill-seeker, but man was that incredible. They have you strapped in so that you feel completely safe, they say “go!” and then you literally glide through a cloud which opens up to reveal the most beautifully lush green forest below. I said to myself aloud, more than once, “I’m flying”.
Do you have any habits or superstitions before you perform?
Before a performance I am very particular about my warm-up. Once I start, I don’t like to stop – I’ve never understood how people can do their warm-up and then sit around for a long time before their entrance. I like to figure out how I can strategically warm myself up gradually over the half-hour or hour before my entrance and then try to peak onstage. It doesn’t always work perfectly but having this goal in mind keeps me focused!Robert Stephen is sponsored through Dancers First by Mr. Thor Eaton & The Honourable Nicole Eaton, Senator.
Read Robert’s bio, https://national.ballet.ca/Meet/Dancers/1st-Soloists/Robert-Stephen
See Robert onstage in the 2016/17 season, national.ballet.ca