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James Kudelka
Choreographer
Represented by Ian Arnold
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James Kudelka
photo by Bruce Zinger

Canadian-born James Kudelka’s prominence among today’s choreographers derives from his exceptional creative range. He has staged inventive versions of the full-length classics, choreographed non-narrative yet psychologically nuanced ballets and has shown himself equally adept in the more visceral, grounded movement idioms of contemporary dance.

Kudelka’s broad musical tastes draw him to an extraordinary variety of scores, from early music to major 20th-century works. He places a high value on artistic collaboration with dancers, designers and musicians — he relishes opportunities to choreograph to original, commissioned scores — in the knowledge that each plays a crucial role in the creative process.

He trained at Canada’s National Ballet School and began choreographing while still a student, soon demonstrating an interest in exploring alternative, innovative approaches that has remained central to Kudelka’s creative identity.

Rather than relying on his manifest choreographic strengths — instinctive musicality, theatrical flair and a rich technical vocabulary of movement — Kudelka, with his keen sense of artistic integrity, readily embraces creative challenges. He avoids comfortable conventions, pushes aesthetic boundaries and upholds dance as a primary form of artistic discourse.

Even during his early career as a solo dancer and choreographer with the National Ballet of Canada (1972-1981), Kudelka was drawn to exploring modern dance and contemporary forms of expression, particularly as a member of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens (1981-1990) in Montréal — a French-Canadian city known for its dance innovators.

There in 1983 Kudelka created In Paradisum, an early masterwork in contemporary style to a commissioned score. It signaled Kudelka’s gift for using movement metaphor to communicate poetic and psychological meaning. This approach was also apparent in such major works as Soudain l’Hiver Dernier (Montréal Danse, 1987), There Below (BalletMet, Columbus, 1989), Pastorale (National Ballet of Canada, 1990), Cruel World (American Ballet Theatre, 1994), Terra Firma (San Francisco Ballet, 1995) and his much-acclaimed setting of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (National Ballet of Canada, 1997), later adapted for television.

Kudelka is equally gifted as a dramatic choreographer. His youthful version of Henry James’s Washington Square (National Ballet of Canada, 1979) was the prelude to a series of literary adaptations and thoughtful reinterpretations of such ballet classics as The Nutcracker (1995), Swan Lake (1999), Cinderella (2004) and An Italian Straw Hat (2005), all choreographed for the National Ballet of Canada where he served with distinction as artistic director, 1996-2005.

During nine years at the helm of Canada’s largest ballet company, Kudelka continued to create new works for it and other leading companies. In his curatorial role he oversaw a remarkable artistic flowering, acquiring acknowledged masterworks — several by the great George Balanchine — and commissioning others from both established and emerging choreographers.

Kudelka grew up on a farm in rural Ontario and remains strongly attached to his native soil. It’s an intellectual, spiritual and emotional territory he understands in all its complexity. His artistic sensibility is distinctly Canadian, which might explain why his choreography has been more readily embraced in North America than in Europe.

Kudelka, whose artistic achievements were officially recognized with his 2005 appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada, now focuses primarily on collaborative choreographic projects that inspire his curiosity and which continue to earn him wide respect as one of today’s most accomplished, courageous and distinctive dance makers.