Stuart Sweeney: When did you start
Alexandra Dickinson: It was something
that was always in my life. My older sister took ballet classes when
I was young and from early on I was doing Scottish dance and creative
movement and then it snowballed; once you get started you cant
stop. I always loved dancing and music and for me its not so much
about technique, its the fact that moving to music is so liberating.
Its wonderful and I get paid to do it!
So how did you start with PNB?
Id been going to summer programmes with them since the age
of 11, so it was a natural evolution for me. I knew it was where I wanted
to get a job as a dancer, but Im a Canadian citizen and I knew
that would be a problem. PNB had always accepted me and involved me
in The Nutcracker when they came to Vancouver and so on. Whereas
Id never been accepted at any Canadian programmes, as theyd
say I was too tall or too whatever. So it seemed very natural for me
to go to PNB and they worked hard to make it possible.
It has always seemed to me that PNB has a high proportion of tall
Yes, but you know it changes so much from year to year. Now the
Company is so much shorter than it used to be. When I first joined I
was considered a short dancer, now Im somewhere in between.
Tell me about the early part of your career.
Looking back I got tremendous opportunities when I was first in
the Company. They had to push me because of my visa and I moved faster
than if I had been an American citizen, as they needed to see what I
was capable of doing and if I would fit in. It was good for me and created
a desire in me to come back. However, I was never confident that I would
be able to stay and in the end the circumstances with the visa made
it so difficult that I left and joined Ballet British Columbia. I was
lucky to get a job, but it made me angry that Id had to leave.
I spent two seasons with Ballet BC and learned a tremendous amount.
They rarely do pointe shoe work and have a great rep with pieces by
Kylián and Forsythe. But all the while in the back of my mind
I wanted to go back to PNB. So whenever I got a good review Id
send it to PNB right away and off-season Id be in Seattle staying
with friends and taking Company class and basically in their face.
After two years at Ballet BC, I told them that I was really grateful
for what I had learned, but that a number of things were getting to
me and I decided I had to leave, even though I didnt have a job
to go to. Then next day out of the blue, when I was at a barbecue, I
got a call from Francia [Russell] asking me what I was doing and would
I like to come down and see them. Right off I said, Im there!
So I took classes for a few days and then a job offer came for me from
the Royal Winnipeg. When I told Kent [Stowell] and Francia they said,
Wed like to hire you as a Soloist. It was so amazing
after all the trauma and it was so great to be back.
"I find it very interesting to be exposed to modern work and
its a way to grow and also makes your classical ballet better."
Since youve been back have there been landmark roles for you?
One that immediately comes to mind is Jardí Tancat
(by Nacho Duato). As I mentioned earlier I learned a tremendous amount
when I was at Ballet BC and I strongly believe that if I hadnt
had that opportunity I would not know how to do certain things. When
Jardí was first set on PNB it was all Principal dancers
apart from me, but it was clear that I understood that type of movement.
I do a wide range including classical stuff as well as the modern and
that suits me. I would find it boring to do the same type of movement
all the time.
On the question of performing a wide range of work,
some traditionalists argue that ballet companies shouldnt be performing
these modern works. They raise issues such as a dilution of expertise
in classical ballet and risk of injury. Whats your view?
There may be some truth in those arguments. But there is so much
more to explore with your musicality and your physicality and how your
weight can be different. I find it very interesting to be exposed to
modern work and its a way to grow and also makes your classical
ballet better. Its important for audiences too to get a variety
of work. Although some just want to see classical, many want to see
stuff like In the middle.
Theres also a lot of discussion about the balance
between technique and artistry these days with the increased importance
of competitions like Jacksonville. Do you think the balance has gone
too far in the technique direction?
I think there are two kinds of dancers. There are some that are
cut out for the competition aspect of dance. However Im not sure
what the point of that is and it was never a path I took. I find the
approach of how-many-pirouettes-can-you-do and how-long-can-you-hold-this-balance
a bit freakish. Personally thats not what I go to the ballet for
and I dont understand the motivation for it.
Were you here in London on the last tour?
Yes, with Midsummer Nights Dream, one of my favourites.
The orchestra was tremendous and we had the kids from the PNB School
who always steal the show.
What pieces are you scheduled to dance this week?
Im expecting a baby, so Im doing less than I would have
otherwise. Im doing Jardi and all my roles in Silver
Lining, but I was down for Fearful Symmetries and maybe Divertimento.
I havent been feeling well, so its better that I dont
do too much. Fearful Symmetries is a great, explosive work and
I think the audience here will like it, but it is very hard work.
So looking to the future, what are your plans?
First and foremost its the baby, of course, and then Id
like to come back. Were opening a new theatre and that would be
in the season that I return. And we end that season with Midsummer
Nights Dream, which would be a great incentive for me to come
back to work. At the moment my horizons are short term because of the
baby and very exciting at the same time. As for dancing, I want to keep
evolving and experimenting and learning new work. I dont want
to settle, because then its lost all its intrigue for me.
And when you stop being a dancer?
You know, Im torn in a couple of directions. One thing I would
love to be involved in later is psychology, although I would take a
lot of schooling. Young dancers struggle with confidence and dont
get a lot of support. So Id like to be like the people who work
in sport telling young people, You can do it. The other
route is working for myself in a small business, but I dont have
any illusions that its going to be really tough. As dancers we
expect a certain standard of excellence and we have to adjust to the
fact that we wont achieve the same level in other areas for a
long time. For the time being Ive started studying again in preparation
for whatever route I take.
What view of PNB would the Company like London audiences
It would be obvious to come and bring a Balanchine rep, but I admire
the courage to bring a diverse rep trying to show that the Company is
able to do a lot more than one particular thing. Some people may criticise
us, but some are always going to be unhappy. Francia and Kent are always
bold with touring programmes and when we went to the East Coast we took
some 12 ballets. I think people should enjoy us for what we are.
Please join our forum
to discuss this
Edited by Malcolm