Veronica Tennant: A new role
The former National Ballet star has shunned retirement for a new career
in as filmmaker and producer, thus setting herself up as a model for
baby boomers approaching mid-life (published in Forever Young)
By Ellen Ashton-Haiste
Along the road from prima ballerina to award-winning filmmaker — a journey where accolades pop up like signposts: Officer of the Order of Canada, Emmy Award winner, Walk of Fame inductee, Governor-General’s Performing Arts Award recipient, UNICEF Ambassador, Companion of the Order of Canada (the nation’s highest honour) — Veronica Tennant has acquired one that was both unexpected and surprising: that of role model.
Tennant retired as the National Ballet’s prima ballerina in 1989, at age 43, following a 25-year career during which she brought her celebrated talent to myriad classical ballet roles, beginning and ending with the romantic heroine of Romeo and Juliet, and shared the stage with some of the greatest male dancers of the time, including Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
(Veronica Tennant photo)
retirement, she could have rested on her laurels but Tennant moved
seamlessly into uncharted waters in television, film, and stage — as
associate director and choreographer at Toronto’s Canadian Stage
Company and Tarragon Theatre, actor/dancer at Shaw Festival in its 1992
season, choreographer at Stratford Festival (1994’s Cyrano) and as a
writer, director and producer of documentaries that bring her passion
for dance to new audiences.
In 1998 she won television’s coveted Emmy award for her production of Karen Kain: Dancing in the Moment, the same year she formed her own company, Veronica Tennant Productions.
The message in this for baby boomers is that there is life after mid-life and it’s never too late to follow your dreams.
It’s a message that, Tennant says proudly, was heeded by her own husband, Dr. John Wright.
“He was so inspired by the fact that I was able to expand my directions
that he took his executive MBA while carrying on as a physician and,
so, has steered his career into a wider career.”
believes she’s also been a role model in terms of juggling work and
motherhood, as she raised her daughter, Jessica while carrying on a
rigourous performing schedule.
“At first I was surprised when I was called that but now I’m happy and also honoured to take on these roles,” she says.
She’s expanding that responsibility by using her celebrity to promote a
healthy lifestyle, as part of a campaign by Centrum to launch a new
multi-vitamin, called Advantage, that targets the chronic illnesses of
aging by bolstering cardiovascular, prostate, breast and colon, eye,
and bone health. It’s a product Tennant endorses for its “high-end
nutritional science research,” something she says is particularly
important to her, in that her husband is a doctor and her daughter a
molecular biologist, both skeptical of vitamin therapy fads. “They
always say ‘what’s the research?’” She also agreed to lend her name
to the product because the company advocates a healthy lifestyle
including regular exercise and good nutrition.
excited about taking this on because I think there’s so much strength
in being proactive rather than reactive, talking about wellness rather
than illness,” Tennant says. “We’re all thinking about how to improve
the quality of our life.”
As a ballet dancer, and as a wife
and mother, a healthy lifestyle was always important to her, she says,
recalling that since the National Ballet rehearsals were held at
Toronto’s St. Lawrence Centre, Saturday afternoon visits to the
farmer’s market for fresh vegetables, meat and fish became a family
And exercise was, of course, an integral part of
her career. Today, she says, she doesn’t follow the structured exercise
regime that she did when she was dancing but focuses on maintaining an
active lifestyle. “I walk. My doctor says walking is just about the
best exercise you can do. I’m always running for a bus and I never see
a set of stairs that I don’t run up and down.”
something she particularly appreciates after a number of dance-related
injuries threatened to sideline such activities. In 1977, a major knee
injury forced her to take a year off (during which time she took the
opportunity to complete the first of two books she’s written for young
people, On Stage, Please). Then, four years ago, she had a hip
replacement, also a direct result of strenuous dance career.
Staying on top of her health is equally important for Tennant in her second career as a hands-on producer and director.
“It’s demanding, I have to tell you,” she says. “You go out on a
shoot, and the shooting days are 12 and 13 hours, so you really have to
have a lot of stamina.”
Her most recent project found her
helping her cameraman lug around his equipment in Havana Cuba, where
she’s discovered Danza Cuba, “a fantastic flamenco, fusion, classical,
contemporary dance company” founded by Cuban choreographer and composer
“I’m doing a film documentary of them and
the wider picture is a very interesting social look at a country on the
cusp of change through its art and its artists,” Tennant says. “It’s
This comes on the heels of completing Celia Franca: Tour de Force,
a television portrait of the National Ballet of Canada founder which
was telecast on the Bravo! network and named Best Dance Film of 2006 by
the Toronto Star.
It was another intensive project that
involved more than a year and a half of work and research. “It’s a
portrait of an extraordinary woman,” Tennant says of Franca, now 85.
“Most people talk about her monumental achievements here, which they
were. But what I did was to delve into her early years in London,
England, in the twenties and thirties and investigated who she was
before she got here. (Those achievements) become even more monumental
when you realize that she was a Cockney and her first job was as a
Tennant says being a filmmaker has allowed her
to develop creatively even more than she could as a dancer and she has
“lots of exciting projects” in mind for the future. So she doesn’t see
herself retiring from this second career any time soon, or even slowing
down, as long as she can stay healthy.