Cupcakes & Conversation with Heather Ogden, Principal, The National Ballet of Canada
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
At 8:00 am on a Monday morning I have already been awake for two hours. I am up and at ‘em with my two little roosters – my daughter Emma (two years) and my son Leo (15 weeks)! They are a huge motivation for me. They make me want to be the best I can be as a mom and as dancer. It sounds cheesy but it’s true. When I get into the studio on a Monday I always try to start with a fresh and optimistic outlook for the week. There are always things I have in mind to improve and work on and I find that motivating. The week can be up and down but on a Monday it’s a clean slate and a chance to have a great week.
If ballet chose you, as many dancers say it did, what is it that has made you stick with it ?
I think that ballet did choose me because I don’t remember a particular moment that made me want to dance. I do remember the moment when I thought I wouldn’t want to stop doing this… I am going to make this my life. I think the reason I stick with ballet is quite simply because it makes me happy. I am someone who likes a challenge – I like that the work is never finished and I love the thrill of performing for a live audience. There is always room to grow and a new challenge ahead. I think being an artist is a privilege and I try to remember that on the tough days.
What are you looking forward to dancing in 2017 & what are the big challenges likely to be for you ?
I am looking forward to making my return to the stage this June in James Kudelka’s Swan Lake. This ballet has meant a lot to me throughout my career and although it is a big mountain to climb as a ballet there is nothing like a great show of Swan Lake. When I hear the music I get excited to be back in the studio and look forward to getting onstage.
I am also really looking forward to our company tour to Paris this fall. We will be bringing John Neuemier’s Nijinsky to the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. I love the role of Romola and the dramatic nature of this beautiful ballet and I’m excited to share our beautiful company with a Parisian audience!
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
I have been hoping for the chance to dance with my friend Marcelo Gomes one day. He created a beautiful pas de deux for Guillaume and me last year and we had so much fun working together in the studio. I would love to dance with him in Lady of the Camellias. I think he is an exceptional artist, partner and dancer and he always has me laughing!
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
Somewhere in one of those big amphitheatres in Italy or on the Ponte Santa Trinita, the bridge beside the Ponte Vecchio in Italy and where Guillaume proposed, ideally with the perfect harlequin dance floor of course.
How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
I step on the box, cut down the shank halfway, remove the nails, hammer under the toe and finally sew on ribbons and elastics. I often bend the shoe over the barre as well and when the shoe is just how I like it I jet glue the sides of the shank to make it last longer… that is usually only a day or two.
What is your daily routine at the moment ?
My schedule is a bit different these days as I am just returning from maternity leave.
I wake up anywhere between 6:00 – 7:00 am. I feed my son and then we come downstairs and have breakfast with Emma and Guillaume. It baffles me how crazy and time-consuming dressing a toddler is but we usually all try to take shifts showering, getting dressed and then Guillaume and I try to leave by 8:45 am but it’s usually more like 9:00 am! Sometimes we take Léo with us and my mom comes to hang out with him while we do class. I like to do at least a half hour warm up before our 10:00 am class. Class finishes at 11:15 am and then at 11:30 am rehearsals begin. These days I usually have one to two hours of Swan Lake and then I am up in the Pilates studio for about an hour or making a quick stop at physio for a tune up. I usually rush home to see my babies and get some good playtime in at the park before dinner.
What do you eat during the course of a typical working day ?
I usually have eggs for breakfast – three scrambled eggs with green onions and hot sauce is my favourite along with an Earl Grey tea. For lunch I will often eat a chicken salad with feta and walnuts. If I’m feeling like a snack I will grab a Larabar and then for dinner it’s always something different – a stir fry, salmon with brussels sprouts, steak or roast chicken (I eat a lot of chicken).
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?
John Mayer because I like his new album and hopefully he will play live after dinner, Suzanne Farrell for her amazing stories of her time with Balanchine, Phillip Glass as I am a huge fan and love dancing to his music, David Suzuki to inspire us to be kind to the environment, Kristin Wigg for the laughs and Marcus Stroman for being Marcus Stroman, the star pitcher of the Toronto Blue Jays.
What would surprise people about you ?
I am a big baseball fan and can throw a mean pitch. I don’t like coffee at all – I have never had one as I don’t like the smell. I have the biggest feet in the company. I sleep like an octopus – legs and arms everywhere… I’m lucky Guillaume tolerates me.
Who inspired you to dance ?
When I was 6 my family moved to Richmond, BC and I had a new babysitter. She danced and invited my mom and I to come see her show (she played the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella). I thought she was so beautiful and idolized her, so I asked my mom to sign me up for ballet. I’m not in touch with her but I always think I should find her somehow and let her know. She definitely got me in the door but it was my teacher Annette Jakubowski who inspired me to keep going.
What is your best piece of advice ?
My best piece of advice is not to waste a moment. Life moves so fast and you don’t get to go back and do things over again. Make the most of the time you’re given and enjoy the moment. When you look back the things that seemed so hard will look like little bumps.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
The most important thing for me is to leave lots of time to get ready before a show. I like to have a light meal and take my time putting on my makeup and getting my hair done. After I am all set I head to the studio to do a full barre and listen to music that pumps me up and puts me in a great mood. I like to spend a few minutes onstage before the show just to feel grounded and confident in the space before my entrance.
How do you deal with the stress of performing ?
Being well prepared always helps me manage stress. I like to have my shoes picked out the night before and like having a good routine on the day of the show helps me stay calm. I find I can get rid of the stress when I remind myself that I love that I do and I can only do my best!
If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create ?
Definitely a dress with a wide neck line, slightly off the shoulder with a low back and cut at the perfect spot above the knees.
What do you look for in a dance partner ?
Trust, commitment, passion and humour
What is your favourite quote ?
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart” Helen Keller
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” Eleanor Roosevelt
“Smile – it’s hard to be grumpy with a smile on your face” My mom
Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?
I’m not sure I do… I do like to turn, I like explosive movement and jump sequences but I’m not sure I have a speciality.
A phrase I use far too often is … ?
“What’s the magic word?” We are working on manners in our house with little Emma.
Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
I make great pancakes but it’s not really a secret because I make them for everyone.
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now ?
I would like to be back at the top of my game. I would love to be digging into new dramatic ballets… I would love to be involved in a full length creation.
What is your exit strategy, for the time when you stop dancing, and how did you plan it ?
I have decided not to plan it. I’m not sure what I want to do after I stop dancing. Sometimes I spend time wishing I knew what would come next but I’ve decided not to stress about it. I am going to enjoy dancing for now and address this later on! I know my husband and kids will help guide and support me when the time is right.
The National Ballet of Canada’s Swan Lake will perform June 15-25, 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Canada. For Swan Lake, Heather will be marking her return to the stage after the birth of her second child this January with husband and fellow National Ballet Principal Dancer, Guillaume Côté. The couple will dance together as Odette/Odile and Siegfried on opening night.