Martin ten Kortenaar
Photo: Sebastien Galtier

Martin ten Kortenaar

As a freelance violinist, Jef ten Kortenaar – the father of soloist Martin ten Kortenaar – once worked for a short time in the Netherlands, the homeland of his parents. He played with various orchestras there, including the occasional performance with the Dutch Ballet Orchestra. Martin says, “He even accompanied Rudi van Dantzig’s Vier letzte Lieder”. Jef also performed at a party in Limburg once, and there were soon sparks between him and Monique, the pianist from Neerbeek who was accompanying him.

When Jef returned to Canada, Monique went with him, and in the following years they had four children together. Martin says, “We were always surrounded by music at home, and all four of us had to learn piano and try to learn violin.” Like many Canadian children, Martin also did a lot of skating and – through his sister – ended up going to figure skating classes. “I also took part in competitions, although I wasn’t very serious about it all.” 

A downright miracle 

The fact that he eventually became a dancer, he says, is his mother’s ‘fault’. He laughs, “It’s a downright miracle that I ended up with Dutch National Ballet.” As a child, he often danced around the living room, so his mother suggested going to modern dance classes, and as Martin enjoyed them she said, “Why don’t you try ballet as well?” Martin says, “I put up a lot of resistance to that idea, because there were no boys at all in that ballet class.”

So Monique organised some private lessons for him and his teacher soon proposed that Martin should audition for Canada’s National Ballet School. He didn’t fancy that idea either, but Monique said, “Well, it’s only for one day and if you don’t like it, that’s okay.” Martin says, “Before the audition started, all the other kids were doing stretching. They were all deadly serious, but I had no idea what I ought to be doing.” Nevertheless, the audition secured him a place at the annual summer intensive. He chuckles, “I didn’t want to do that either, but my mother said, ‘Oh, it’s only for a month’, and when I was accepted for the school after the summer school, it was ‘Go on, just try it for a year.’”


The twelve-year-old Martin found it difficult at first at the ballet boarding school. “I was quite a long way behind the other pupils and it was a big adjustment being far away from home. I was often in tears on the phone.” But he did enjoy the dance classes and after a couple of months he decided it was ‘doable’. “I worked hard and enjoyed the challenge and the fight you have to put up as a dancer, but I wasn’t obsessed. And at the time, I never imagined I’d become a soloist one day. I was a beanpole who found it difficult to keep his body under control, and that’s why I stayed on at school an extra year.”  

In 2013, Martin was given an élève contract with The National Ballet of Canada. But he didn’t feel at home there and decided to do auditions in Europe. Nothing came of that plan, however. “I asked Mavis Staines (director of Canada’s National Ballet School) if she had any suggestions, and before I knew it Ted Brandsen had offered me a contract with the Junior Company. Ted had seen me dancing the year before at the Assemblée Internationale, and he apparently trusted I’d made enough progress since then, just as Mavis had assured him.”

Where your heart takes you 

The switch to the Junior Company, in 2014, felt like a fresh start for Martin. “The way that Ernst Meisner (the coordinator of the Junior Company – ed.) pushed and coached me was precisely what I needed. Up to then, I’d never been such a good partner and could still barely do a press lift (where the man lifts the ballerina above his head – ed.), but all the opportunities I got from Ernst enabled me to rediscover myself, as it were.” 

After just one year, Martin moved up to Dutch National Ballet, where promotions followed one another in rapid succession. In 2016 – when he was still a member of the corps de ballet – he shared the stage with principal dancer Igone de Jongh in Meisner’s duet Merge. That was followed by leading roles in nearly all the big classics, and also in Ted Brandsen’s Mata Hari, among other ballets. Martin says, “I’ve done much more, and had far more opportunities, than I ever dared imagine.” He particularly enjoys doing romantic, dramatic roles, like Lenski in Onegin and Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. “I think it’s wonderful to totally lose myself in a character. For me, dance is less about the steps than about the heart and where it takes you.”


In the 2023/2024 season, Martin is taking a sabbatical from Dutch National Ballet, to go and dance with Staatsballett Berlin, where choreographer Christian Spuck was recently appointed artistic director. “I’ll get the chance to do very different works there, by Crystal Pite, Sol León and Sharon Eyal, for example.” But it wasn’t an easy decision, he says. “Everything’s great for me in Amsterdam, and I have one of the most fantastic coaches in Larissa Lezhnina. She’s so smart in the way she pushes you, and she’s given me so much.” However, he’s decided to ‘press the pause button for a while’, in the ‘pleasant’ knowledge that he can always return to the company. “It’s better that I dive into this adventure now than be wondering ‘what if?’ in a few years’ time.” 


Place of birth: 
Toronto (Canada)

With Dutch National Ballet since: 

Career with Dutch National Ballet: 
Soloist (2019), grand sujet (2017), coryphée (2016), corps de ballet (2015), Junior Company (2014)

Previously danced with: 
The National Ballet of Canada (apprentice programme) 

Canada’s National Ballet School (Toronto, Canada) 


  • 2013: Hnatyshyn Developing Artist's Grant
  • 2012: Peter Dwyer Award
  • 2012: Glenn Gilmour Award