“When they said glitter, I immediately thought—no,” photographer Karolina Kuras was somewhat wary of truckloads of glitter entering her Toronto studio for a photoshoot with Brent Parolin, second soloist of the National Ballet of Canada. And yet, the results are nothing less than, well, sparkling. Makeup and styling by Ashley Readings.
So, how does it feel to be covered head to toe in glitter? “It felt a little crispy once it dried,” Parolin says, speaking by phone on a recent afternoon, “but overall, I felt like a Greek god, like a bronze idol or something!”
Even as a child, Parolin was not afraid to shine. Dancing around his living room in his home in Prince George, British Columbia, was a cue for his mother to send him to dance class. He started ballet lessons aged 6, and continued dancing recreationally into his teens. At 14 years of age, he auditioned for Canada’s National Ballet School, and was accepted. He moved to Toronto to study dance full time, and dreamed of being onstage with the National Ballet of Canada.
Upon graduation, he auditioned for the National Ballet, alas Parolin was turned down. Undaunted, the young dancer set his sights on Europe joining the Stuttgart Ballet under Artistic Director Reid Anderson.
“It was exciting—it was a brand new beginning. A new group of people, a different language, a different culture.” Not only did Parolin have a new milieu to get used to, but the change of pace that comes with the demands of being a professional dancer in a company.
“School is more regimented; there’s more structure in how they want build a young mind, and a young body to develop within a piece. In a company you have maybe two weeks to a month to create a new piece. So that was a big change,” Parolin recalls. Surrounded by a group of dancers from all over the world, the Canadian quickly found his footing, ultimately dancing with the company for nine years.
From the diverse repertoire he performed with Stuttgart Ballet, John Neumeier’s “Lady of the Camellias” struck a chord with Parolin: “I danced Des Grieux, the alter ego of Armand, the man in love. I find the choreography stunning.“ After Alexandre Dumas famous novel, “Lady of the Camellias” weaves in Manon and Des Grieux, characters familiar from “Manon” as counterpoint, and is set to a lush score by Frédéric Chopin.
“Yantra,” Wayne McGregor’s 2010 creation for Stuttgart Ballet was another highlight for Parolin. “Just to be part of that process, to be in the room working with Wayne was incredible,” Parolin says, “there was a nice physicality to the piece, just pushing your body to the limits of what it can do: where you’re going through every single muscle, every bone, every joint is being contorted, and you’re kind of feeling the stage and the people around you.
“With music from Esa-Pekka [Salonen], you’re being driven, like Stravinsky—something that pushes you to the limits of comfort, and almost to the edge of reason.”
“Seoul, Macao, Seville, London, Madrid, Tokyo, Moscow—” Parolin can’t remember them all. “I’d seen a lot of the world dancing ballet,” he says, and, “nine years is a long time in a short career.” After the better part of a decade abroad, Parolin made the decision to return to Canada.
In 2014, Parolin joined the National Ballet as a corps dancer, being promoted to second soloist a year later. “Canada itself was a big part of my reason for returning,” he says. ”Also I wanted to start thinking about the future. Not just being a dancer, but teaching, and how to develop future dancers. I have a strong desire to teach in the future.”
Since returning to Toronto, Parolin has had the opportunity to teach at the very school where he trained, Canada’s National Ballet School. “It’s been a great learning experience, working with choreographers and the students there.” His mantra, believe it or not, is work harder.
“I want to let the kids know that it’s such a short career, and a short time to learn, so take advantage of everything right now. Once you’re in a company, priorities change.” Parolin speaks from experience: “The company looks at the piece as a whole; the school looks at the individual as a prodigy, to develop as a dancer.” To young dancers, Parolin says, “I want to sent that message—to take advantage of it now.”
Brett Parolin dances in the National Ballet’s upcoming seasons of “The Winter’s Tale,” November 10-19 and “Nijinsky,” November 22-26, at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto, Ontario.