We are continuing our virtual travel around the country, paying a visit to Canada’s most easterly province – Newfoundland and Labrador. Known for its warm and friendly people and breathtaking scenery, the province has strong connections with the School. The Artistic Advisor to the Professional Training Program and Artistic Director of Toronto Dance Theatre Christopher House hails from St. John’s, and over the years some of the School’s most spirited students and graduates have come from Newfoundland. This time we catch up with the School’s two most recent imports from the province – our 2016 graduate Hilary Knee and our third year student Philip McDermott.
Born and raised in Corner Brook, Hilary had her first dance class at the tender age of six: “My mom enrolled me in dance classes because I was a very energetic child, and she wanted me to practise good posture. I studied at Dance Studio West in Corner Brook with Amy Andrews, the owner and Artistic Director of the studio. She was my main dance teacher, teaching me ballet, jazz, and modern. Candice Barry (Pike) taught me ballet and jazz for several years.”
At 14, Hilary moved away from family and home in Newfoundland to further her dance training in Halifax: “I knew from a very young age that I wanted to pursue dance as a career, and in order to make this dream a reality it was evident that the next step for me was to seek out some more intensive training. Luckily, my parents were incredibly supportive, and for that I am forever grateful. I am so glad they trusted me!” In Halifax, Hilary trained in ballet in the Pre-professional Program at the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts for two years, after which she attended the Leica Hardy School of Dance. “Leica is an incredible instructor with a vast knowledge of the body, dance, dance history, and classical technique. Through Leica I found my love of modern dance and learnt about The School of Toronto Dance Theatre!”
Since graduating from the School last May, Hilary completed a three-week creation session as part of the Sharon Moore Solo Project, and has been demonstrating for Peggy Baker’s contemporary dance classes at Canada’s National Ballet School. Fully immersed in the busy lifestyle of a fast-paced city now, Hilary reflects on her home province: “Newfoundland is a unique place, and I am proud of my heritage. Islanders are wonderful story tellers – our history, culture, and traditions are practised often and held close to the heart.”
A native of St. John’s, Philip started dancing at the age of four: “My mother signed me up for my first ballet classes. She noticed that I was hyperactive – I would start dancing whenever there was music playing, trying to copy the dance routines on television. I hated my weekly ballet classes but, after starting tap a little later, dance grew on me and I ended up in an intensive program at MAX Dance in St. John’s – it had jazz, Latin, hip hop, modern, ballet, everything really! I studied for about eight years intensively, truly falling in love with dance. I trained in St. John’s with such teachers as Sandra Blackmore, Pamela Pittman, and Marie Steffen, before attending the summer intensive program at the School of TDT and auditioning to study here.” Philip has flourished during his time at the School. A disciplined and passionate dancer, he is also a dedicated teaching assistant in the School’s Young Dancers’ Program – he loves working with our three year olds!
Philip always looks forward to visiting his family and friends back in St. John’s. “People at home are probably the friendliest people you will ever meet! Growing up on the island gives me a very strong sense of community and appreciation for its unique nature, wildlife, and culture”. His devotion to dance, and to his home province, earned Philip the great honour to be named the 2015 Dance Ambassador for Newfoundland and Labrador by DanceNL. Now in his third and final year at the School, Philip was thrilled to go back home and recharge during his recent holiday break, and says, “Here’s to a fantastic last term at the School and giving it my all!”
Click here to read more about Philip.