Interview with Alexandra Ansanelli
London, March 2005
A tomboy as a child, Miss Ansanelli wanted to be a rugbyman ( !), and thus did not begin classical dance lessons at all until the very late age of eleven. A thing virtually unheard of, after less than four years of study she joined the New York City Ballet at age fifteen. Sidelined in 1999 for one year by a foot injury, and despite a lifelong struggle with severe scoliosis, Miss Ansanelli recovered, returned to NYCB, and was made principal in 2002. In July 2005, without having put out the usual discreet feelers to other potential employers, Miss Ansanelli simply left NYCB, a leap in the dark that few would have the nerve for. In January 2006, Alexandra Ansanelli joined the Royal Ballet as First Soloist.
Q/ There are several high-level North American troupes that dance full-length classical works - San Francisco, ABT, National Ballet of Canada….
What, at the end of the day, were the factors that made you decide in favour of Covent Garden ?
R/ The way it happened, is that it wasn't clear to me that I would be leaving. Not until the very end of the end of the season, in July 2005, did I make a final decision.
I had always had a great desire to continue my education as an artist, and to study the great classical roles. But I did not want to be disrespectful to Peter Martins, and to the people at NYCB who had had been very good to me, and given me so many opportunities, and I was determined to end it right.
So at the actual point I left NYCB, I had not contacted any other companies. It was kind of scary, actually, but it seemed the right thing to to do.
Then I received invitations from the main US companies. But I was - I mean I AM - young ! And I wanted to explore the possibilities in Europe.
An angel is watching over me. The Royal Ballet contacted me. And Monica came to New York - she had never seen me dance. We went to a studio in the city, and I danced for her some variations from Giselle, that I had learnt from videos ! The studio was so small that I was about ten paces away from Monica. And she said, " We'd love to have you ".
At the School of American Ballet, I had started my training very late - I'd wanted to be a soccer player, in fact ! so I was eleven, but I was a very quick study. At fifteen, I joined the company, one of their youngest ever, and did principal work in my first month there.
And Peter (Martins) gave me those chances. I had the great good fortune to be Jerome Robbins' last muse, just before he died. It was Jean-Pierre Frohlich who introduced me to him.
Wheeldon, Bigonzetti, Preljocaj - at New York I was getting a taste of the world of ballet. I've always loved music, that's what even now fascinates me the most. I used to play the piano, and at school, I learnt to play the flute. It's the music in the story ballets, the music, and then the story, that touches a part of my soul that is indescribable. So inside myself I knew I would have to leave. It occurred to me, and then one day I said 'It's time'.
I've always respected and admired the European tradition in art, but until I got here, I didn't realise how deep it runs.
After I left NYCB, I talked to Mikhail Baryshnikov, who, of course, had himself left Russia, and although at first he was surprised, I think he understood my decision. He suggested that I work with Azari Plissetski, at Béjart's school in Lausanne, where I went for a month last year. And I thought I should work in Europe.
Q/ What has happened to épaulement ?
R/ In America, the actual theatre, as a building, conveys an impression of being much flatter. There's the stage, like a flat screen, and then the audience, beyond that. It may have something to do with that.
Here in London, and elsewhere in Europe generally, there's more depth to the stage, and also, more depth in the arrangements for seating the public around the auditorium - the public is almost on stage, it kind of envelops the dancer. So we're connected on so many levels.
Now, why Balanchine didn't specifically look for épaulement… I think he wanted his own style, different from the classical world that he had left behind in Europe. As an artist himself, he wanted to show his dancers in a way that hadn't been seen before. It was experimental, there was a different feel to his movement. It was a look, that was individual.
One of the things that fascinates me about ballet is to see how very different it " looks " from one country to the next.
Q/ More generally, and apart from your career, what would you like to see happen in the ballet over the next twenty years ?
R/ I think that the audiences, the world that does not go to see the ballet, and even people whom I know who are involved with the ballet in various capacities, but don't routinely attend performances, need to see what we do.
We need to get people into the theatre.
Because there is so much to our art ! People have a stereotyped image of what we do. It's not like watching a sport. Besides the athleticism, it's an art. It's intriguing. There are different types of music. And each individul artist has his own style. Here in London, I've had the chance not to be in the spotlight the entire time, because in New York, I was doing so much. Now, I'm learning again, and I can watch, and appreciate other artists, and I find myself getting lost, carried away, watching them.
So I would like there to be more connection with the public, because whenever I speak to people after a performance, I discover that they have been transported to another world. That break with our usual " focus " is, I think, essential for men to live in peace alongside one another.
But if I would ask myself, what would I like to see happen in the next twenty years, then I would like the ballet to have a much broader audience, to reach far more people, and to have them understand more, and to be more involved, with our art form.