May, 2014 / Author:

Ryan VetterIt might come as a surprise that a boy from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, would choose to move to our city at 13 to join a ballet school. It might come as a surprise that this same person is the only self-identified gay man in the corps de ballet at Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB). It might come as a surprise that the RWB’s current rising star is only 19, joining the corps de ballet after only one year in the apprentice program. But if you meet Ryan Vetter, there is nothing surprising in the fact that he is a dancer whose skills are getting attention internationally.

The RWB invited Outwords for a rare behind the scenes encounter with Vetter at a time when a show is being built, a rising star is turning heads for a first time and a venerated ballet company is reinventing and modernizing without compromising its tradition. The private viewing of the rehearsal was scheduled for the second day of spring and the corps de ballet happened to be rehearsing “Spring,” a piece from a show titled The Four Seasons, a part of the ballet’s upcoming mixed programme. This was a gift to a writer, as Vetter could be seen as a desired spring metaphor – the fresh talent the RWB is seeking at this time of renewal.Ryan Vetter

Even when they are not the focus of the Ballet Master, dancers are retracing the required steps and movement

The RWB’s dancers are part of a company that has a rich history. The ballet is rooted in classics: The Nutcracker, Swan Lake or Romeo and juliet are always relevant. “Classical ballet is the backbone of what we do,”  Vetter says confidently. “You can appreciate neo-classical because certain tweaks nudge the performance into a crazy new adventure, if you understand the classical ballet.” A bold statement that might explain the mentality needed for a boy from Sioux Falls to end up in one of Canada’s finest ballet companies.

Ryan VetterThe instance the door of the dance studio opens, the wall of moisture and smell emanating from the multiple bodies perpetually sweating in this room is a bit overwhelming. It is a potent smell that speaks of the tremendous physical work taking place in the room. Clearly, one isn’t born into beauty, one works hard to create it. Placed in a room such as this, a moment such as this, it becomes abundantly clear that ballet demands discipline as a way of life. The dancers access the stage only after an impossibly challenging apprenticeship, training and selection process. How many jetés, how many cabrioles, how many écartés, and how many hotensias were practiced over and over again in this room, in every dancer’s room, so that these men could earn the privilege of working with this venerated troupe?

With one word from the ballet master, the appropriate dancers step into position and demonstrate the requested footwork, jump and move. This is done by sheer instinct, trusting their bodies to conjure up what they know to do after repeating it over and over again before this very moment, and trusting that it is this movement they will perform over and over again in future moments.

His controlled movements are similar to those of his older peers, but his face reveals the subtle joy often associated with youthful glee.

Taking in the room and its inhabitants is challenging, as nobody is ever at a moment of rest. Dancers are in perpetual movement. Even when they are not the focus of the ballet master, dancers are retracing the required steps and movements, using repetition to lock-in what is expected of them. The lack of chairs is confirmation of the expected work ethic.

Posters of past productions cover the walls of the studio. The posters remind the dancers that one should honour the dream of being in the company of Evelyn Hart. They reflect the ballet’s classic origins, while the posters of newer productions – Dracula, Moulin Rouge and Alice in wonderland – remind the dancers that members of the RWB must also perform contemporary pieces. Diversity is key.

Ryan VetterIn talking about what is needed to be at peak ability, Vetter’s only thoughts gravitate to the fact that most days, when he goes home, he puts on a pair of comfortable pants and reviews the new elements he learned that day. He does get to sit, though this is usually done during long sessions of stretching or the mandatory ice bath at the end of what seems like a gruelling day. After all, home is the birthplace of his love of dancing. He still connects to memories of himself as a toddler twirling to music in his parents’ living room. He talks about dance as if it were a feeling, something you can pick up on if you watch him dance.

It happened to me during the rehearsal. The story the dancers were telling fell to the background; what took centre stage at the rehearsal was the mood, Vetter’s mood, him feeling something and letting it transcend into his movements. Vetter’s controlled movements are similar to those of his older peers, but his face reveals the subtle joy often associated with youthful glee. The slightly curled lips is a sign, but if you pay close attention, it’s also in the lifting of his torso, the spring in his steps. “I feel bigger, that every movement extends further than my physical self,” Vetter reveals. To see it is to believe it. This might be what all dancers aspire to, as ballet is about making what is evidently very challenging, seem light and easy.

Ryan VetterIn the end, spring is a fitting metaphor to describe Vetter and his place at the RWB. He has a personality that allows him to forget about the long, gruelling winter, with its many hours spent rehearsing. He forgets it because he enjoys so whole-heartedly the first spring bike ride, the first spring beer on a patio, the first spring toss of a Frisbee or in this case, the first spring dance. Vetter’s eyes speak of that springtime feeling every time he dances, and so, the RWB is correct in allowing us to get to know Vetter. Audiences seek to witness those first spring moments, and Vetter’s performance in the mixed programme becomes as alluring as Dracula, Romeo and juliet, or Swan Lake.

The RWB is presenting mixed programme from May 7 to 11 at the Centennial Concert Hall. For more information, visit


– Eric Plamondon is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer.

– All images by Duncan McNairnay

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