What does a prima ballerina do when she stops dancing? In the case of Veronica Tennant, the answer is "everything."
Beloved as one of Canada's best and most versatile ballerinas for more than a quarter-century, Tennant has since proven equally skilled as a writer, lecturer, director, producer, teacher, spokesperson, administrator, and international arts ambassador. As one colleague aptly noted, no matter what the medium, she is, simply, a "great communicator."
Born in London, England, on January 15, 1946, Tennant began dancing at age four. In 1955, she immigrated to Toronto with her parents and sister. As she recalled more than four decades later in a CBC-TV Life & Times profile: "Within one week of our arrival - we didn't have furniture, we didn't have anything, I don't think I was even in school... but I was in ballet classes." Studying under the legendary Betty Oliphant, Tennant endured a torturous schedule of nine classes a week.
Such tremendous discipline, coupled with her natural grace and versatility, enabled Tennant to become, at age 18, the youngest dancer ever to enter The National Ballet of Canada. After making her debut in the principal role of Juliet in Romeo And Juliet, Tennant emerged over the next 25 years as one of the world's most illustrious prima ballerinas, dancing every major classical role, inaugurating many contemporary roles created especially for her, and performing with all of the great male dancers of her generation - including Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Erik Bruhn.
In 1989, having dazzled audiences across North and South America, throughout Europe and across Asia, Tennant decided to hang up her toe shoes. Her schedule hasn't let up since. Eager to expand her involvement with the arts, Tennant quickly demonstrated that her talents extended well beyond the stage.
Trying her hand at writing, she produced a pair of children's bestsellers - On Stage, Please, which remains a perennial favourite with tiny dancers and their parents, and Nutcracker, a charming exploration of the festive classic.
Her byline was soon appearing in major Canadian newspapers and magazines. Her quick wit and keen intelligence also made her a favourite of TV and radio hosts across the country and an increasingly popular choice for major speaking engagements. Equally articulate in both official languages, Tennant's long list of credits includes keynote speaking engagements at the University of Toronto's Convocation Hall, the Governor General's Awards, and the Canada Day Protocal Show on Parliament Hill.
As a writer and speaker, Veronica Tennant established what most retired dancers only dream of - a vibrant, vital second career. Still, it wasn't enough. Having spent decades in front of an audience, she was eager to learn what life was like behind the scenes.
She has since emerged as an award-winning screenwriter, director, and producer. In addition to crafting a moving homage to her former mentor, Betty Oliphant, Tennant has been the driving creative force behind three superb CBC-TV specials - Salute To Dancers For Life, Margie Gillis: Wild Hearts In Strange Time and Karen Kain: Dancing In The Moment, a sensational tribute to her former National Ballet colleague and close friend.
The Kain special, produced in 1999, garnered Tennant a Gemini Award, a silver medal at the New York Film and Television Festival, and an International Emmy. While maintaining a schedule that might exhaust someone half her age, Tennant has also found time to teach master classes at ballet schools across North America; to serve as honorary chair for UNICEF, for which she was presented with the coveted Danny Kaye Award; and to raise a daughter, Jessica, who is pursuing a PhD in molecular biology at Stanford University in California.
Last December, Tennant was sidelined for the first time in more than 50 years when she had hip replacement surgery, a common necessity for professional dancers who specialize in challenging, arduous roles. With typical Tennant aplomb, she was up and about and back to her standard 18-hour days a mere three months later.
Tennant is developing a documentary about Italian dancer Enrico Cecchetti, who worked in Russia as a dancer and teacher during the golden era of Pavlova and Nijinsky.
She has also accepted a role that thrusts her back on the world stage. As Toronto's Cultural Ambassador for the 2008 Olympic bid, it is her daunting task, as she recently explained, to develop and encourage "the symmetry and energy of arts and sports." The International Olympic Committee slogan is "celebrate humanity," she says. "That's what Toronto can offer in spades, with its vibrant energy of people and culture coming from every nation in the world."
A daunting challenge, indeed. Yet, like everything else in a life filled with diverse accomplishments, Veronica Tennant is sure to carry it off with ease, grace, intelligence and, above all, tremendous charm.To learn more about Veronica Tennant, visit her website www.veronicatennant.com.
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