Harrison James in 'The Winter's Tale' © Karolina Kuras _
People

Harrison James – You can count on me!

In his eyes, his value lies in how he works with people and in the fact that he is someone upon whom people can rely. On stage, the Principal with the National Ballet of Canada likes partnering and telling stories and when he is not performing, he enjoys a good beer from time to time. Here he explains all to Alessandro Bizzotto. 

Harrison James © Karolina Kuras

Toronto is unexpectedly hot, flooded by September sunlight. After a short, blistering walk along Queens Quay West, I reach The Walter Carsen Centre for The National Ballet of Canada, feeling rather dehydrated. I am here to meet Harrison James on the eve of the Toronto International Film Festival. Thankfully, the reception area of the Walter Carsen Centre is much cooler. I know I have around half an hour for the interview, which is due to take place during Harrison’s lunch break. This is the only time he has availability. From tomorrow, then, I will be in watching the Festival movies.

Harrison James in ‘The Winter’s Tale’ © Karolina Kuras

I am kindly offered a glass of cool water and I immediately start to acclimatize, feeling much better and ready for the challenge. I am led to a room close to the entrance as opposed to a studio or a dressing room, as is the norm for long conversations with ballet dancers.

Harrison James joined the National Ballet of Canada five years ago, after dancing with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Béjart Ballet Lausanne, and has been a Principal since 2016. As he reaches me, he exclaims that he is as surprised as I am by the Canadian weather. “My air conditioning is broken – I can’t sleep at night!” he says taking a seat. “It is so humid; you walk out and you immediately feel sticky!”

You are from New Zealand, aren’t you?

Yes!

Harrison James in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ © Aleksandar Antonijevic

Why not Europe? Why America?

I was really young so I think it was a little bit about how I was guided at that time. The director of the New Zealand School of Dance was bringing teachers and coaches to New Zealand and my opportunity came from one of those coaches. She was the director of the ballet program at Jacob’s Pillow and she gave me a scholarship – it just happened that way. Europe and America are very different from each other; you can have very different careers in each place and it ends up being about what suits you more.

Harrison James from the wings in ‘Emergence’ with Svetlana Lunkina © Kiran West

How much time did you spend with the Béjart Ballet Lausanne in Switzerland?

It was one year. It was a very interesting time and we travelled a lot. After a season, however, I missed classical repertoire so I tried to find a company that had a mix of contemporary and classic as I really wanted to dance classics, such as “The Sleeping Beauty” and “Giselle”.

Did you feel like you were wasting time over there, considering you wanted to increase your classical skills?

Harrison James in ‘Genus’ © Aleksandar Antonijevic

I can only say I am someone who really enjoys classical ballets. I don’t know how many other dancers feel this way. I simply discovered that I really liked repertoire ballets after not being able to partake in them. Therefore, I just wanted them back in my life.

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