IN chats with principal dancer Spencer Hack about what makes Frame by Frame different from other ballets and what Pride means to him…
You’re probably familiar with the classics when it comes to the ballet like the ethereal charm of Swan Lake or the festive cheer that The Nutcracker brings during the holidays, but the National Ballet of Canada is putting their own pirouette on celebrating Pride this June. Frame by Frame celebrates the life of queer Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren by mixing traditional ballet with multimedia elements making this performance just as unique as its subject. Spencer Hack is Frame by Frame’s principal dancer and he describes the show as a visually beautiful combination of McLaren’s work in film and his love of dance. “What this production aims to do is to bring some of the ideas and concepts that he worked with in his films to the stage and present them in a live capacity” says Hack.
McLaren is most notably remembered for his work as a pioneer in animation, Frame by Frame explores his professional life, as well as a glimpse into his private life with his partner Guy Glover, who was influential on the National Film Board of Canada. The performance uses technology to help set each scene, including clips of McLaren’s own work and live-action camera footage that immerses the audience right into the filmmaker’s iconic storytelling, which is a collaboration between director Robert Lepage and choreographer Guillame Côté.
Hack is taking on the role of McLaren in his first show as a principal dancer. “I’ve done a lot of side characters but I’ve never done the lead in a full-length ballet before, so I’m really excited about it” he says. Hack has been dancing since he was four-years-old and this experience will be a totally new one for him. Instead of being a supporting character, he’ll be the driving force behind the narrative of the show. He says preparing for a show like this relies heavily on getting in as much preparation and rehearsal as possible before stepping onto the stage. “With a production like this that’s so technical, and there are so many effects, I think the best preparation is to know where you’re supposed to be and know the story that you’re trying to tell”. He explains that each scene uses a specific technological element different from the one before and performing alongside so many technological elements can be a bit jarring, so all of the prep is necessary to allow him to be present during each performance.
Originally from Ohio, Hack attended the National Ballet School at age 14 and has called Toronto home ever since. He says his journey to becoming a professional dancer felt more like an evolution than a career choice, “I sort of wanted to get to the next step and once I reached that I wanted to take it a step further and it kind of led me to a career. It’s always been something that I’ve loved and I feel very grateful that I’m able to do it.” He’s also grateful that he’s able to live his life proudly, openly and authentically as a queer artist, which is something he’s aware not everybody can do. “I also think about my privilege a lot as a white cis male in this world and I think that pride is important because we need to keep advocating for those who aren’t able to live their lives openly and proudly.” he says.
Hack mentions Danish dancer Erik Bruhn is a queer hero of his. “He was one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century and he was a gay man and I always feel very inspired by what he brought to the world of ballet and how he approached his work as an artist and a performer.” Frame by Frame brings a bit of pride to the ballet and Hack mentions that to him, pride means thinking about those who came before us and fought for us to live our lives openly. He also says pride is an extra opportunity to take a look at all of the work that still needs to be done and what we can do to help inspire change.
Frame by Frame promises to be something totally different that even seasoned fans of the ballet will be surprised by. Audience members unfamiliar with McLaren’s prolific work can easily get lost in the different world that the artists transport the audience to for a few hours. “I hope that this show challenge’s people’s perception of what a ballet can be and I hope that they enjoy it and come away thinking about that.” Hack says. Frame by Frame has a limited run from June 2 through the 11 for anybody who wants to add something a little different to their pride festivities this year.
Frame by Frame, the multi-disciplinary experience that explores the life of Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren, will be performed at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto from June 2 until June 11, 2023. For tickets visit national.ballet.ca.