National Ballet of Canada - Rex Harrington Farewell
by Michael Goldbarth
May 23, 2004 -- Hummingbird Centre, Toronto
The headlines proclaim Rex Harrington that danced for the final time in a principal role. And if you believe that, you no doubt believe all the promises coming out of Prime Minister Paul Martin’s political cakehole as the Fiberals attempt to buy your votes-yet again. This is one promise I hope is not fulfilled. The National Ballet of Canada is woefully weak for male dancers of principal status-for the expectation of the exceptionally talented Guillaume Côté and Aleksandar Antonijevic. One star is youth rising, the other experience descending. And so goes the age old truth, just as you figure out and appreciate all you have creating illusions on stage, the body betrays the mind, and you must make way for youth, and so goes the cycle of life (the Four Seasons). If only Paul Martin could live up to the truths Rex Harrington created on stage. Movement never lied for the Man truly for all Seasons.
Let’s hope Rex Harrington can imprint his considerable ballet magnetism upon budding principals in the making. If you think you can make it just on your own natural talents without coaching and mentoring, you may find yourself dancing for a smaller company or out of ballet. Many coaches and role models shaped Rex Harrington. Many were on stage to present him a single rose. Of those included a surprise appearance by long time partner, Evelyn Hart. Music Director Ormsby Wilkins was there too replacing guest conductor David Briskin in "The Four Seasons," who ably directed the music for "Theme & Variations" plus "Cruel World."
The standing ovation accorded Rex Harrington was long and loud. The National didn’t have to buy bouquets; the fans themselves came well prepared for the occasion. So much so, the wonderful Ham that Rex is, he traveled from one end to the other end of the stage to present himself as a most willing bull’s-eye of his fans affections, which included a teddy bear! Of course, Rex and his teddy became fast friends to the appreciative “ahhs” coming from his adoring fans.
Yes the Hummingbird Centre was SRO (Sold Right Out)! There were no empty seats for the dancers not performing to occupy. They all stood at the wings of the Hummingbird Centre to watch Rex die one last time. Sexy Rexy gave the thumbs up to the crowd along with a ‘you’re number 1 in my heart,’ and as a bonus threw in a cartwheel and headstand! You couldn’t ask for more!! There was the usual confetti fireworks along with balloons overflowing the stage. When the curtain on Rex Harrington’s ‘principal’ career finally descended, a pop from a single balloon could be heard. No doubt bursted by the mischievous Rex Harrington (a notorious practical joker) preparing for his future role as the grim reaper in the Winter act of "The Four Seasons"!
There was also a surprise retirement announcement precipitated by the dancers themselves: Philip Lau, a lifetime member of the corps de ballet. He too was accorded a standing ovation. Though Philip Lau was never more than a supporting player he has much to be proud of. Since joining the National Ballet of Canada in 1991, Philip Lau always danced with much exuberance and gave no less than 150% for those few precious moments he was allowed on stage. My favorite roles of him were the Court Jester in "Cinderella" and Pussy Cat in "Sleepy Beauty." My favorite roles for Rex were, of course, the Man for all Seasons, and Eugene Onegin.
Rex is a natural on stage always dancing to the fan in the very last row. He figured out long ago the need to not just dance the steps but also to silent act in concert with dancing the role. Rex also knew the importance of giving to fans. I recollect a Dancers for Life Aids Benefit many years ago where he went out of his way to greet fans and sign autographs galore. I would just like to take this opportunity to say thank you for giving so much of yourself to ballet and for enriching my experiences at the ballet.
As I watched Rex perform for the last time, it hit me how fast life flies by and how cruel life is. In the "Summer" pas de deux, Greta Hodgkinson wowed the audience with some dazzling pointe work and twirls. It lasted all but 20 seconds but it was 20 seconds I’ll never forget. Hours in the studio were invested for those 20 seconds on stage to create memories that will never go away. With Rex apparently gone, will Mr. K. create a woman or perhaps a man and woman (couple) for all seasons? I hope James Kudelka adds an afterlife act to his Four Seasons. It’s so cruel for life or a career to end.
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