Brendan Wyatt doesn’t really need to be modest. At 29, he’s one of the premier male dancers in Toronto and is in demand by choreographers across the country. Besides having chiselled features and the flawlessly ripped physique that can come only from spending countless hours in a dance studio, he embodies the rare combination of impeccable technique and uncompromising emotionality. And that makes him highly sought after.
But talking to him, you’d never guess you were in the presence of a dance celebrity. Soft-spoken and gentle, Wyatt exudes a quiet confidence that never betrays his star status or even acknowledges he’s aware of it. When he won the Dora Award for Outstanding Dance Performer last June, the honour came as a surprise, at least to him.
“I never thought I was going to win, so I didn’t prepare a speech,” he laughs, on the phone from the Toronto home he shares with his boyfriend and their African grey parrot, Rupert. “I can’t actually remember what I said when I was onstage. I exited the wrong way, and I was so shaky I immediately dropped the award.”
No doubt Wyatt will be more comfortable onstage this week, when he performs in The future memory heartbreak junction, Diptych, a two-part evening featuring a solo performed by choreographer Sasha Ivanochko and a duet by Ivanochko and Wyatt.
“Sasha made the solo a while ago and later decided she wanted a duet to pair with it,” he says. “Her character in the solo seems like she might have been abused or left by a man, without it being clear. The duet tells the back story of the relationship she is recovering from.”
The piece is an erotically charged tale of two lovers who are torn apart by addiction and self-loathing.
“Our characters are performers touring in a show together, and my character has a serious substance-abuse problem that is destroying him,” he says. “He’s a bit of a Sid Vicious figure in a downward spiral, dealing with self-hatred, being abusive to his lover, and ultimately overdosing.”
“The story of the piece comes out in a very literal way,” he adds. “It’s quite cinematic and accessible for the audience. People won’t have a problem understanding it. Plus, I get to wear a really tight pair of leather pants that make my butt look great.”
Born in rural Saskatchewan, Wyatt began dancing at the age of four. When he was 11 he was offered a scholarship to attend the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and soon departed for a bigger — and what he hoped would be a more queer-friendly — city.
“I knew I was gay from a very young age, and so getting out of Saskatchewan was a priority for me,” he says. “I had the sense that ballet school was a better place to be gay, and I knew that chances were good I would meet someone like me.”
His hypothesis proved correct and he was indeed able to connect with other young gays in the company. But did he get any action?
“Well, boys will be boys,” he laughs. “For sure there was a lot of fooling around. But what was more important was having a peer group I could be myself around.”
By 15, he’d entered his first relationship, with a man in his 20s. It was not what some might think.
“At that point he was a virgin and I obviously wasn’t,” he says. “That relationship was more about learning how to work together with someone and how it would be to share my life with another person.”
At 16 he left school, having realized that he didn’t want a future in a ballet company, with its inherent politics and hierarchies. He quit dancing and moved to Victoria, where he finished high school while teaching movement to visually impaired students.
By 2001, Victoria had grown too small for him, and he longed for a bigger (and gayer) city to call home, as well as a return to a career in dance. “I liked things about Victoria, but I felt incomplete,” he says. “I knew there was something missing from my life.”
Later that year he and his best friend packed a U-Haul and drove cross-country to Toronto. After training at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre from 2002 to 2005, he launched immediately into a dance career.
Now, five years later, with a schedule that will keep him busy well into next summer, Wyatt never questions his choice to return to the stage.
“I can be an anxious person, and if I didn’t have a clear path and goals I could easily get strayed,” he says. “Dance is truly the love of my life. It’s something that keeps me grounded and in touch with who I am. I feel truly lucky, just to be able to do what I love.”