Dancing is the way I can express the things that cannot be said.
Veronica Tennant, CC, FRSC, ballet dancer, teacher, choreographer, television producer, director (born 15 January 1946 in London, England). Veronica Tennant is one of the most prominent figures in Canada’s performing arts community. As a leading ballerina with the National Ballet of Canada, she became an international celebrity for her dramatic intensity and superb technique. Since retiring in 1989, she has worked as a teacher and choreographer, and has also forged a successful career as an award-winning TV producer and director specializing in dance programming. Tennant was the first dancer to be appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada (1975) and was promoted to Companion in 2003. A member of Canada’s Walk of Fame and the Encore! Dance Hall of Fame, she has received many awards and honorary degrees, including the Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts and the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Veronica Tennant started dancing in England at age four and immigrated to Toronto with her family in 1955. As she recalled in a CBC TV interview, “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.” Tennant studied under famed ballet teacher Betty Oliphant, whose gruelling regimen included nine classes a week.
Tennant trained at the National Ballet School and upon graduation at age 18 was hired into the National Ballet of Canada at the principal dancer level — the youngest in the company’s history. She made her debut as Juliet in John Cranko’s version of the full-length Prokofiev ballet, Romeo and Juliet. The production was later produced for CBC TV by Norman Campbell.
In rapid succession, Tennant added many other leading roles to her repertoire, including parts in Swan Lake, Giselle, and The Nutcracker. With the retirement of Lois Smith, Tennant was quickly adopted by critics and her adoring public as the company’s de facto prima ballerina. Tennant danced the title role in Campbell’s Emmy Award-winning 1968 CBC TV production of Cinderella and continued to excel in the great 19th century classics. She gained even wider renown when she became the National Ballet’s first Princess Aurora in its 1972 staging by Rudolf Nureyev of The Sleeping Beauty, another Emmy-winning program in Campbell’s production for CBC TV.
Tennant’s repertoire also expanded to embrace an enormous variety of roles, including many works created for her superb talent as a dance-actress. Although her career suffered a potentially ruinous knee injury, she took the opportunity of almost a year away from the stage to write a children’s book and have a daughter before making a triumphant return. Two of her most celebrated later roles were as Titania in Frederick Ashton’s The Dream and as Tatiana in Cranko’s Onegin.
During her long dancing career, Tennant was partnered by many of the greatest male dancers of the day, including Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Anthony Dowell, Fernando Bujones, Richard Cragun and Peter Schaufuss. In what many considered a premature retirement in 1989, Tennant bowed out by giving several dazzling farewell performances of Juliet, the role that had established her reputation 25 years earlier, followed by a special tribute gala with visiting guest artists.
After the National BalletAfter retiring from the National Ballet, Tennant remained active in the dance world and performing arts in general, choreographing, hosting, narrating, writing, teaching and directing. She expanded into the theatre as associate director and choreographer at Toronto’s Canadian Stage Company and Tarragon Theatre, and was an actor and dancer at the Shaw Festival during its 1992 season. In 1994, she choreographed Cyrano de Bergerac at the Stratford Festival and Rough Crossing at The Canadian Stage. Tennant also devised and performed a dramatic dance piece, Maud, drawn from the journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, and co-wrote and performed Choice and Chance Encounters with clarinetist James Campbell and jazz pianist Gene DiNovi at the Festival of the Sound in Parry Sound, Ontario.
In 1995, Tennant shared the title role with Nicholas Pennell in the Rhombus Media film Satie and Suzanne. She also directed productions of Carmen La Gitana at Niagara on the Lake (2005) and Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad with The Royal Shakespeare Company at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa (2007).
Following her retirement from dance, Tennant also became increasingly active as a film and television producer. She was host, creative consultant and writer of CBC TV’s Sunday Arts Entertainment for three seasons. Her first projecty as a television producer was a 1995 CBC/Radio-Canada co-venture, Salute to Dancers for Life/Danser Pour La Vie, followed by a 1996 special about modern dancer Margie Gillis and another featuring Karen Kain in 1997, which went on to win an International Emmy Award.
More recently, Tennant has moved from producing into directing dance films and videos. In 2005, she attended the Toronto International Film Festival’s prestigious Talent Lab workshop for emerging directors. Her extensive filmography includes several notable dance films, such as The Dancers' Story: The National Ballet of Canada(2002); a pairing of SwanS (2003) with Evelyn Hart and Rex Harrington; the award-winning dance-drama Shadow Pleasures (2004), written and narrated by Michael Ondaatje; Vida y Danza Cuba (2008), narrated by Colm Feore; and Something’s Coming (2012), starring Guillaume Côté.
~ Andrew McIntosh & Michael Crabb