Brendan Saye, principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, managed to squeeze in just one performance of Romeo and Juliet before COVID-19 shut down production in mid-March.
Created by the National Ballet American Ballet Theater’s resident choreographer, Alexei Ratmansky, in 2011 — the part of Romeo was Saye’s very first principal role in a full length ballet – something he defined as “nothing short of surreal.”
Nearly nine years later, Saye said performing it still feels just as electrifying as it did when he debuted.
Despite the future of the revival being very uncertain due to COVID-19 halting all forms of live theatre, Saye still said he felt fortunate for getting to work with his partner Chelsy Meiss for that one performance.
Born and raised in Langley, Saye said his childhood and formative experiences were in Langley before he made the move out to Toronto to follow his passion.
“I think I had always been interested in performance. I was always so taken by any performance we attended as a family and would often obsess over them long after seeing them,” Saye said.
“I think I also had a lot of physical energy and my parents tried getting me invested in different activities to occupy my need to move around. So when dance came into the picture it was a perfect outlet for my creativity and frenetic energy.”
An interest in Riverdance led to ballet classes and eventually his principal role as Romeo with the National Ballet at the age of 21.
“This was particularly special for me as my first experience seeing a professional full length ballet was The National Ballet performing Romeo and Juliet on tour to Vancouver when I was just 10 years old,” Saye said. “It was an important moment for me as I realized I could make a career out of this thing.”
Throughout the past decade, Saye enjoyed roles as Prince Florimund In Nureyev’s Sleeping Beauty, Siegfried in Swan Lake, and Oberon in Sir Frederick Ashton’s The Dream.
“A very special role this last year was debuting in the titular role of Apollo in George Balanchine iconic one act ballet,” Saye added, a moment that saw him promoted to principal dancer in 2019.
His career-path has led him to work with acclaimed choreographers including Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne Mcgregor, Alexei Ratmansky and Justin Peck and perform around the world in Paris, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Hamburg, London, New York, San Francisco, and Washington.
Seven years ago, Saye nearly lost everything that he’d worked for after falling ill with Lyme disease.
“My body shut down at such a dramatic rate that I had to stop dancing. It took me two years to be able to get back on stage again,” Saye recounted. “I think almost any dancer has a story that’s similar about injury or illness creating a road block in their career. Dance is so incredibly dependant on your physical health.“
While COVID-19 has put another unexpected halt on his and other dancer’s careers, Saye remains hopeful as ballet has an incredible ability to bring people together.
“Ballet and live theatre generally in its act of bringing people together to see something beautiful and creative also creates a major sense of community and I think helps us get a handle on what it is to be human and to be truly present,” he explained.
For more information on Saye and the National Ballet of Canada, people can visit https://national/ballet.ca.
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