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Alexandra Ansanelli

Principal,
Royal Ballet

interview by David Bain
report by Liz Bouttell

Cleared for publication in October 2007 the original interview dates from August 2006

At the time of the interview Alexandra was a First Soloist.




© rb

Ansanelli in reviews

Ansanelli in RB reviews

Royal Ballet reviews

RB website

Interview 30 August 2006
Report written by Liz Bouttell and corrected by Alexandra Ansanelli and David Bain.
© Ballet Association, October 2007

our Ballet Association page





The next in our series of reports on the proceedings of the Ballet Association (BA), intended to promote the BA's work to a much larger audience. See the BA page for more details including a list of other interviews.


David welcomed First Soloist Alexandra Ansanelli and began by asking about her background. Alexandra is an American from Long Island. Her father’s family is Italian and her mother’s English. She has two sisters. As they were much older than her she spent time on her own but all the family were always very supportive. She was very athletic as a youngster, playing all sports and since the age of six was playing soccer every weekend. The team coach wanted her to join the travelling team at the age of ten and a half. This was a major commitment which would continue through college and possibly professionally. Instead of attending the six week sleep away sports camp that she had gone to for three summers, Alexandra attended an Arts camp, which integrated all forms of arts, fine and creative, in Belvoir Terrace in Lennox, Massachussetts. Edward Villela’s daughter attended the same dance class as Alexandra and suggested that she audition for the School of American Ballet in New York City.

Two months before turning 11, Alexandra and her parents went into New York City for the audition at the School of American Ballet. Alexandra was unaware of the magnitude and importance of commitment to this fine art. There were hundreds of applicants who were already trained and ingrained in the ballet world and system. Alexandra’s parents reminded her of the great experience that this was, seeing the reality of the situation. The applicants entered the studio in groups of ten. Alexandra thought she heard the three elderly Russian auditioners say “A2” when they evaluated her. Alexandra was sure of her acceptance. Meanwhile her parents waiting with anticipation and awe of this impressive institution just showed Alexandra support without trying to dampen her new found dream. The next day it was confirmed by a phone call that Alexandra was accepted and to be in level “a2”.

Alexandra gained many scholarships for summer schools during the next few years. The first year of attending the School of American Ballet, she stayed at her academic school, Friends Academy, a Quaker school in Long Island during the day. She commuted to New York three times a week for ballet school. She also performed in children’s roles with New York City Ballet. Despite having no ballet background, Alexandra was put in class with girls two and three years older than herself. As she had no foundation she always felt that she was learning ballet in reverse.
 


Alexandra Ansanelli with Albert Evans
in New York City Ballet's Western Symphony
© Martin Mydtskov Ronne


When the schedule accelerated for the ballet, Alexandra’s parents were very supportive and had her move schools and they rented an apartment in New York City. The Professional Children’s School were very accommodating to Alexandra’s irregular schedule. Leaving her friends behind was a big change.

When she was fifteen, Peter Martins saw Alexandra in a studio performance choreographed by New York City ballerina, Nicole Hlinka. Alexandra had never performed in the annual workshop performances on stage. Peter hired her immediately that evening. A month later she was performing three different roles in the Nutcracker with New York City Ballet. Within the month, Peter not only gave her her contract for her sixteenth birthday, but also had her learn and dance the Principal role the “Dew Drop Fairy.” This was a complete shock to her and many others. No-one since Gelsey Kirkland and Darcy Kistler had received such an honour so young. The commitment and passion for her love of dance was completely confirmed.

The experiences while dancing with NYCB were incredible. Peter Martins created principal roles fr her in five new works. She was Jerome Robbins last muse, working with hime and dancing n eight of his works. He then restaged his last ballet, Les Noces, and had her dance ‘The Bride.’ Other great choreographers that have created principal roles on her have included Christopher Wheeldon (Carousel, a Dance, Morphoses, Polyphonia), Mauro Brigonzetti, Boris Eifman, Garth Fagan, Miriam Madaviani, Benjamin Millipied, Susan Stroman, Richard Tanner and Leigh Witchel.

 


Alexandra Ansanelli and Ricardo Cervera in Rubies at the Royal Ballet
© John Ross


After being promoted to soloist at 17, Alexandra was replacing many of the injured principal ballerinas of the company. She was learning principal roles one day and performing them the next in addition to her own schedule. This was all happening for the Balanchine 50th Anniversary Celebration. Her foot began hurting, but she thought it was only the demanding schedule. By the end of the season, Alexandra could hardly walk. The problem was diagnosed as a fracture. After taking off the suggested time, and returning six weeks later, the pain increased! With excessive swelling of the foot, even while on anti-inflammatories, Alexandra was in search of a solution. Not being able to walk or even do exercises she looked for doctors to find the proper diagnosis. Every three weeks there would be a new diagnosis and prognosis from rheumatoid arthritis and bone cancer to damaged back nerves tested by electrical currents. This long course of agony lasted for almost two years. When doctors told her that she might not walk or even dance again, this seemed out of the question! Finally, she found a doctor who correctly diagnosed the problem. She was given proper treatment and returned to NYCB in 2001. This was definitely a fear, knowing that the company had been evolving since her departure.

In 2003, Alexandra was promoted to Principal. She had four performances dancing Swanhilda in Balanchine and Danilova’s staging of the three act Coppelia. Even though she had worked with many choreographers, Alexandra knew deep down that the classics of ballet were the essential fundamentals of dance and knew she lacked experience and exposure to them. She had seen videos and heard about the great artists in Europe but didn’t have the time or exposure to research completely.
 


Alexandra Ansanelli
© Royal Ballet


When possible, Alexandra tried to explore the ballet world outside of her life. She guested in Italy with Alessandra Ferri, guested with Angel Corella dancing Corsaire and performed at the Champs Elysee theatre in Paris. It was not enough. She did not want to have regrets at the end of her career and have that negatively effect her personally or artistically. Alexandra decided at the end of the NYCB season to leave. This decision was very difficult and even had her crying on stage during her final bow. It was something she felt she must do. Peter Martins was very understanding and said there would always be a place for her at NYCB.

On hearing the news, Misha Baryshnikov, who knew her from City Ballet, arranged for her to work with the Bejart company in Lausanne and with a friend and teacher. Misha had helped her work on Corsaire for her guesting and understood her passion for continuing her education in her art field. After this month in Lausanne and with no future contracts, she received calls from successful classical companies asking if she would like to join them. Alexandra’s heart and dream was to continue her career and education in Europe.

Monica Mason had heard of Alexandra’s departure from NYCB. Out of the blue Monica phoned her, saying she’d never seen her dance but was coming to New York in a few days time and would like to see her. Alexandra rented a small studio and showed Monica a few classical variations, some that she had danced and others taught from a video. Afterwards, Monica offered her a contract with the Royal Ballet, but explained it would have to be as a First Soloist, although she had been a principal for some years and knew no other existence. Alexandra was thrilled and in tears. She knew that this would be a difficult transition but wanted the challenge.

 


Alexandra Ansanelli in Allegro Brillante with Christopher Wheeldon’s company - Morphoses
© John Ross


Alexandra joined the Royal Ballet mid season in January 2006 and was told by Monica that there may not be a lot of work for her at first as everything was already cast. However, she was looking forward to exposure to the works of Macmillan and Ashton and learning and understanding more of their styles. Not long after joining the Company the programme and casting altered slightly and gave Alexandra the opportunity to perform in Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of the Faun, Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia and the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty. She also enjoyed the experience of working with Monica on Juliet at a masterclass, although she was only given a day’s notice to start to learn the role.

Now based in London, she would like to see more soccer when time permits. Meanwhile, she has been very busy dancing. She has started preparing for her performances as Aurora later in the season. Asked if she admired any particular dancer, she said she could not pick just one, knowing how hard everyone worked, they all had merit. Alexandra would love to develop a partnership one day, but enjoys the various connections between her partners. Partnership she feels is a very important aspect of dance. When two people have a connection it creates an environment so magical for those on stage and for the audience.
 


Alexandra Ansanelli and Ricardo Cervera in Rubies at the Royal Ballet
© Johan Persson


In conclusion, David asked if she had had any funny moments on stage. Alexandra could think of nothing in particular but joked that David’s throwing a glass of water over her at the beginning of the talk was funny enough!


Report written by Liz Bouttell, corrected by Alexandra Ansanelli and David Bain. Copyright The Ballet Association, October 2007

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