James Kudelka is among North America’s most versatile and innovative stage artists. His creative range as a choreographer reflects his eclectic musical interests and command of diverse movement idioms. Kudelka is an adept storyteller but equally excels in making abstract dances filled with psychological implication and human drama. Although his major choreographic works have included versions of the full-length ballet classics – Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Cinderella – as well as shorter ballets in a neoclassical vein, Kudelka has had great success exploring today’s evolving dance styles and feels as much at home working with small contemporary troupes as with major ballet companies.
Kudelka grew up on a farm in Newmarket, Ontario. He trained at Canada’s National Ballet School and began choreographing while still a student. He continued to choreograph throughout his dancing years with the National Ballet of Canada (1972-1981) and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens (1981-1990), where he was also resident choreographer. He became artist-in- residence at the National Ballet of Canada in 1992, then, as artistic director (1996-2005), revitalized the company, making it among the most creative of North America’s major ballet companies.
A partial list of Kudelka’s most acclaimed works, several of which have been performed by companies other than their originators, includes Washington Square (National Ballet of Canada, 1979), In Paradisum (Les Grands Ballets, 1983), Soudain, l’hiver dernier (Montréal Danse, 1987), There Below (BalletMet, Columbus, 1989), Pastorale (National Ballet, 1990), Cruel World (American Ballet Theatre, 1994), Terra Firma (San Francisco Ballet, 1995), The Four Seasons (National Ballet, 1997), later adapted for television, and The Man in Black (BalletMet, Columbus, 2010). More recent successes include …black night’s bright day… (National Ballet, 2013) and Four Old Legs (2019) featuring acclaimed dancer Evelyn Hart.
Kudelka began an affiliation with Toronto’s Citadel + Cie in 2006 and has been resident choreographer since 2008. His work there has led to experimental, cross-disciplinary collaborations such as From the House of Mirth (2012) merging dance and opera, and Malcolm (2014), in which Kudelka performs as puppeteer with his title puppet character. In early 2015, Kudelka made his debut as a stage director with a production of Heinrich von Kleist’s The Prince of Homburg.
As a teacher, Kudelka has worked with Vancouver Arts Umbrella, Ryerson University, and Canada’s National Ballet School, and he continues to work internationally as a choreographer. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2005 and is among the 2020 Dance Collection Danse Hall of Fame inductees.