“I don’t get nerves anymore—I’ve been doing this for a long time”: Principal dancer Heather Ogden on the National Ballet’s production of Emma Bovary
Ahead of the show’s opening on November 11, Ogden talks about the adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s classic French novel and showbiz superstitions
Heather Ogden takes centre stage as the titular character in the National Ballet of Canada’s production of Emma Bovary, an adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s classic novel Madame Bovary, developed by choreographer Helen Pickett. Ahead of the show’s world premiere at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, which runs from November 11 to 18, we caught up with Ogden for a backstage peek into her pre-performance routine.
How do you get ready for a big show like this?
The preparation starts months beforehand—getting into character and learning the story—followed by hours and hours of rehearsals. By opening night, everything is in your body already. The only thing left to do is get warmed up and have hair, makeup and costuming done.
Walk us through the day. What comes first?
We start every day with a company class, which all of the dancers do together to warm up our bodies. Then we have different rehearsals throughout the day, and at some point, I’ll get a 15-minute tune-up with a physiotherapist. Two hours before showtime, we break, and I’ll go out for dinner.
What’s for dinner?
Usually just a boring ham-and-cheese sandwich—nothing too spicy that could stay with me during the performance. I’ll have another meal after the show.
Boring meal out of the way, what’s next?
I like to take a short nap in my dressing room before the show. I usually just curl up on the floor with some blankets, cover my face and put on some white noise. I only sleep for about 20 minutes, but it helps me reset. Even though I’ve already done some physical activity, I like to be sweating before the show, so I’ll do another mini barre set on my own after my nap.
What’s the routine?
I start small, warming up my knees, then my hips and my back. It’s like a daily ritual. Sometimes I like it, and other times I have to push myself to do it, but it’s how I check in with my body.
Do you listen to anything to get pumped up?
Sometimes I listen to classical music—lately, it’s been a lot of Concerto Barocco. I try not to listen to music from the show I’m doing. I want to experience it onstage.
Any pre-show jitters?
I don’t really get nerves anymore—I’ve been doing this for a long time. But I do get a nervous-excited feeling.
How does the costuming work?
I put on my tights and underclothes, and we have dressers assigned to help us get into our costumes. All of the dresses have lots of hooks in the back, since they need to stay secure while we’re being lifted up. For Bovary, the costumes have to look like they’re from the period while still being light enough to dance in.
Are there any showbiz superstitions you adhere to?
I’m not superstitious, but I do have one little ritual before I go onstage. I always stand by the lights in the wings and balance on one foot, then the other, with my eyes closed. My coach taught it to me. It’s harder to balance with your eyes closed, so it centres you. There are people all around me, and the orchestra is tuning in the pit, but I get to have this little moment of focus. I always think about how grateful I am to be doing a live show.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.