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On His Toes

Eat. Sleep. Dance. Repeat.

That is how professional dancer Tyler Gledhill keeps a steady rhythm to his schedule, which on any given day can include up to eight hours of training in studio, teaching yoga and pumping iron at the gym. It’s the type of raw discipline that turns one into a success.

The son of two physical-education teachers, Gledhill grew up in the small community of Manotick in south Ottawa, and first moved to Toronto when he was 13 to attend school at the National Ballet of Canada. After graduation, he moved to Europe, where he spent two years performing in the Netherlands and then another four years in Sweden.
The opportunity to work alongside world-renowned choreographers—including William Forsythe, Jiri Kylián and Mats Ek—helped mould Gledhill into a plié powerhouse. Today he is one of the leading men in Toronto’s Opera Atelier, an international leader in period opera and ballet from the baroque era. and now marking its 30th year. This fall (October 22-31), Gledhill will appear in its Toronto production of Armide and then join the company in staging the show at the Royal Opera in Versailles, France. In a conversation with IN, Gledhill discussed his jet-setting career, being out and proud in the dance world, and why he always gets cast as a leading prince.

 

IN MAGAZINE Congratulations on your role in Armide! Tell us about the character you play.
TYLER GLEDHILL The show is a traditional baroque opera about a woman named Armide who’s a warrior princess during the Crusades. She falls in love with a Christian man, and she knows this is something she should not do. So she summons the spirit of hatred to protect her and make her strong enough to draw this man in but not fall in love herself. In the end, her love is too strong and she ends up in love with someone that she can’t have. I play the character of Amour, who acts much like Cupid.
IN This is the second time you’ve performed in Armide. What other roles have you played?
TG It was in Toronto two years ago, and I played a different role last time. I was one of the demons from hell that torture the spirit of love, which I liked because I always get cast as the good guy. I’m always the prince or the hero, which can get dull sometimes. I had fun exploring the darker characters.

IN Why do you think you always get cast as a prince?
TG My friends say I look like a Disney prince.

IN You’ve toured with Opera Atelier in Versailles, France. What was that like?
TG Amazing. The theatre was pretty much located in the birthplace of ballet. The people there understand it more. Dance and opera are part of children’s lives and the culture. There’s such an appreciation for them.

IN Does performing onstage ever affect you personally? Have you ever had a Black Swan moment?
TG Totally! That’s the thing about performing. You have to fully embrace your role to make it believable. For example, whenever I’ve played an evil character, I’d get riled up and leave rehearsal agitated. That’s a good thing.

IN You’ve danced with Opera Atelier for seven years. What do you love about the company?
TG As a dancer, I often get to work with just dancers, whereas at Opera Atelier, we work with singers and live musicians. It mixes things up. We get to be onstage with opera singers, and I dance while they sing. I also love how the company preserves the traditional art form of baroque opera while putting a modern spin
on it by using projections.

IN What are some of the challenges of being a full-time dancer?
TG I’m 32, so I’m considered a more mature dancer. I face the challenges of my body not always doing what I want it to do. I have friends who have retired because of serious injuries who are younger than I am. My body doesn’t recover as quickly as it used to.

IN How did you get into dancing?
TG I didn’t start formal lessons until I was 10 years old. But I had been dancing all the time since I was two, while watching my sisters take dance classes. My babysitter used to put on Michael Jackson, who inspired me to dance. He was unreal.

IN What’s it like being gay in the dance world? Is it at all like the sports world?
TG Not at all. The dance world is all artists who are open and accepting. To be a homophobe in the dance world…you wouldn’t survive. But I’ve experienced a little [homophobia]. There are a lot of straight guys in the dance world who feel they have to assert their masculinity and [emphasize] that they’re not gay, which is pretty entertaining.

IN Did dancing play a role in your coming out?
TG It didn’t while I was in school…and you’d think ballet school would be a safe place. I didn’t come out until I was 19, after I left the National Ballet School, because in my class the guys weren’t very mature. There was a bit of homophobia. I had a girlfriend in 12th grade. It was something I also struggle with coming from a small town. Because I was a dancer, people called me a “fag.” There was part of me that didn’t want to prove the stereotype right: that
being a dancer automatically makes you gay. I wanted to prove them wrong, but after a while you can’t do that.

IN Where do you see yourself being 10 years from now?
TG I’m not sure if I ever want to give up being onstage. Even if I transition into something different, I’ll still want to be in theatre. I have colleagues who are in their early 40s and they still perform. They do physical theatre, and there is a psychical element. I’ll for sure keep teaching yoga and dance. I’m also considering going to school for marketing, but I’m not ready just yet.

IN What advice would you offer to someone considering a career in dance?
TG I would say, Go for it. The feeling of being onstage, the adrenalin rush…it’s a feeling I can’t compare to anything else. It’s a tough life, but it’s worth it.

(For more information on Opera Atelier’s 2015 season, visit OperaAtelier.com.)

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