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James Kudelka

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Through his work, the gay choreographer of a ballet that premieres this month considers questions that may surprise dance aficionados.

JamesKudelka
James Kudelka (left) rehearses dancers for the world premiere of his new work, Little Dancer.

E”ven as a dancer I was never really athletic. I grew up on a farm, and I went away to ballet school at 10 to get out of having to join a baseball team,” says Canadian choreographer James Kudelka with a laugh. “That whole hockey thing on the Canadian five-dollar bill just doesn’t turn my crank.”

The ballet world should be grateful to baseball for that.

After graduating from the National Ballet School in 1972, Kudelka joined the National Ballet of Canada as a dancer. He soon began choreographing his own dances. In 1981 Kudelka switched to Les Grand Ballets Canadiens in Montreal as a principal dancer and became the resident choreographer of that company in 1984. He returned to the National in 1992 as artist in residence and was chosen as artistic director in 1996. He stayed with the National until 2005, the same year he received the Order of Canada, that nation’s highest civilian honor. These days, the 52-year-old artist spends most of his time with his partner, Jim Wies, in an Ontario hamlet of 600 called Vittoria with their two dogs and three cats. Next month, the couple will open a bread company, where Kudelka—a graduate of the bread-baking course at the French Culinary Institute in New York, as well as one of the preeminent ballet choreographers today—plans to spend his days. “You really feel like you are doing something useful if you can make a good croissant,” he says.

Luckily for ballet-goers, Kudelka will still spend the winter months, when the snows are high, doing something else really useful: choreographing one or two new dances a season. This year Kudelka created The Ruins Proclaim the Building Was Beautiful for the San Francisco Ballet and is now polishing his Little Dancer for Houston Ballet. The world premiere of the latter work will take place on May 22 during a repertory evening titled Three Classics, Five Tangos.

“It’s in three sections set to Philip Glass’s Eighth Symphony,” Kudelka says of his new work. “I was attracted to it because it gets slower and slower as it goes on. It has a lot of rhythm and harmonic changes.”

Kudelka has amassed a body of work of more than 70 ballets in a variety of styles. He has tackled everything from full-length classics (such as a new Nutcracker and a controversial updating of Swan Lake, which introduced gender politics to the warhorse) to intimate solos and contemporary short works. The first work he choreographed was a solo for a ballerina at the National, and he says he once always viewed himself through the female dancers. “But now I find I can relate to groups of men,” he says. “Women en pointe, the ethereal muse, is not as interesting to me anymore.”

Kudelka’s new work for Houston Ballet begins with a 20-minute ensemble for 12 men. “I find the dynamics of how men work together is very interesting,” he says. “Are men the new women? Are women the new men? I always try to look at ideas. Ballet isn’t just a form of entertainment that costs more than a movie. It’s a powerful thing, particularly with the men. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. So I’m fascinated by how men work together and bond. It’s what they do in the army. Those men have such camaraderie, such a need for each other—even heterosexual men who would rather hang around with their buddies than be with their women. This just fascinates me.”

Marene Gustin, who writes about the arts and dining, reported on new restaurants for the April OutSmart.

AT THE BALLET

Houston Ballet presents Three Classics, Five Tangos at the Wortham Theater Center May 22, 24, 30, and 31 at 7:30 p.m. and May 25 and June 1 at 2 p.m. For tickets ($34–$120): 713/227-2787, 800.828.2787, or www.houstonballet.org. • In addition to the world premiere of James Kudelka’s Little Dancer, the evening includes the Houston premiere of Falling, a work created by Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch (“Dancing King,” February 2003 OutSmart ).

Marene Gustin, who writes about the arts and dining, reported on new restaurants for the April OutSmart.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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