A Young Ballerina’s Path: Alexandra Wilson

Ballerina Alexandra Wilson has, at the young age of 19, an adventurous and inspiring fledgling dance career. She grew up in Colorado, the daughter of a ballet teacher, traveled to New York to study at the prestigious Ellison Ballet, then trained at the Kirov Academy in Washington D.C. From there, she was recruited to the Universal Ballet Company in Seoul, South Korea. She recently returned to the United States and joined Colorado Ballet’s studio company. The World Dances spoke with Alexandra about the challenges and rewards of starting out in professional ballet, what it was like to dance to South Korea, advice for aspiring dancers, and more.

What was your path to the Universal Ballet in South Korea?

I was invited to the Universal Ballet from the Kirov Academy in Washington D.C. That program was a perfect program for me. I’d trained in Vaganova my whole life and the Kirov Academy helped to hone my skills in that style. It also had housing, academics, and ballet all in one place, which my family liked. I went to the summer intensive then attended their year-round program. That was during my junior year of high school and the first half of my senior year. The director of Universal Ballet came to watch our winter performance my second year and he invited me to join his company.

How was the Kirov Academy such a good fit for you?

The Kirov was the first time I went away year round. I’d gone to Ellison for a summer program, but I ended up going back home afterward. My parents didn’t think I was ready to move away by myself. Then I went to the Kirov three years ago. The transition from home to D.C. was  a smooth one. It helped that I’d been there in the summer program. I was ready and needed to be in an environment with dancers who were as serious as I was.

Our class size was small, 15 dancers. The individualized attention was helpful. Our teacher’s understanding of the Vaganova style was superb and her instruction was everything I was looking for.

What made you so committed to the Vaganova style?

It’s so pure and classical. It’s the ideal technique to start with as a young dancer. From there you can expand into more diverse styles, but it seems harder to switch from other styles to Russian.

What was it like moving to Seoul and joining a company when you were 17?

It was crazy! My parents and I knew that, because jobs are so hard to come by, it was too important an opportunity to pass up. It was tough, though. You learn everything in school all one way. When I started with the company, they needed me to forget all that and stop moving like a student. It was quite the learning experience.

What did it mean for you to stop moving like a student?

It meant not looking afraid and not looking for reassurance that I was doing a good job. I had to learn to trust in myself and in my technique. When you make it to that point, you have to let go of a lot. I learned not to be afraid to ask for help. I relied on some of the soloists to help me understand—partly to understand pragmatically across the language barrier, but also to understand what the company was looking for artistically. They helped me to improve as a performer and learn how to push myself without a teacher telling me what to do. You have to learn what you can do for yourself.

How was it dancing in the company?

I loved it. Their rep is so rich with all the full-length classical ballets.  We did Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, and Don Quixote. My first performance with the company was Swan Lake. You can’t beat that!

My favorite role was Aurora’s friend in The Sleeping Beauty. That was my first highlighted role. But my favorite ballet was Romeo and Juliet. Alessandra Ferri came and danced Juliet with us. It was unbelievable. You never see stars like that so up close. Her level of artistry and passion for ballet were so inspiring. It made me want to be that much more of an artist. She taught a few of our classes. She was so focused, even in class, on expressing her passion through dance. Most people don’t seem to bring that level of artistry to class, but that is where everything starts for dancers.

How was it living in Seoul?

It was difficult being so far away from my family and worrying about things going on in the world. I had a great group of friends and I love the country. Everyone was so kind and welcoming. I didn’t decide that my time was up in Seoul until this May after a year and a half with the company. The political tensions there pushed the decision. It was too high a sacrifice being there with the North Korea situation always looming. For the South Koreans, a sense of constant threat seemed normal and nobody talked about it. It wasn’t in the news, but I kept getting worried messages from friends at home. I asked the assistant director, because she spoke English, what was going on. She answered that nobody knows and it’s just a waiting game. Waiting and not knowing what was happening was stressful and unhealthy for me. I thought it was in my best interest to return home. It was tough to leave because the company was a dream, but it was too difficult psychologically.

How did you make the transition to Colorado Ballet?

I’d always been interested in Colorado Ballet. It had always been a dream to dance on their stage with my family in the audience.  I decided to send them my audition reel in May. Even though it was super late in the audition season and Gil Boggs kindly made room for me. It’s great! I’m looking forward expanding my repertoire with some Balanchine and other styles.

How are you finding the studio company?

I’ve only been here for about three weeks but I love it! It’s a totally different environment. It helps to speak English. Diversifying my rep is great. I got to rehearse Balanchine’s Serenade, which was a completely different and exciting experience. It’s a good challenge. It’s teaching my body to work in a different way, to be faster, to have different ports de bras. I’ve never had to move that fast. I’ve always been slower, more adagio, and I’m enjoying the challenge and feel like I’m growing as an artist. It’s also a challenge being new. I’m trying to put myself out there and show the company that I’m ready and want to dance with them without being in anyone’s way.

How does dancing in a studio company compare with dancing in the corps de ballet in Seoul?

It’s less demanding so far, but we’re working on rep I hadn’t experienced so I’m already learning and pushing myself in new ways. I think this stage is an opportunity for them to get know me and for me to learn their style, rep, and company culture. If they need dancers to fill in for the corps, that’s where we get our experience on stage with the main company and how the ballet masters get to know us. In any company, you have to work your way up, like you do for your whole life as a dancer.

What do you like about Colorado Ballet?

I think I like the diversity the most. It’s really important to me that they have both diverse rep and dancers. The company keeps up with the times. Ballet has evolved a lot in the last five years. “Ballerina bodies” aren’t as prioritized. There’s a wider range. Girls jump like the boys here. Everyone is really powerful as an artist and I love it. 

How do you think ballet has evolved? 

There are companies that say ballet doesn’t have to be danced by one specific body type or present one look. It’s not about perfect feet or legs; it’s about artistry. I think the field is exploring differences and diverse ways of being a dancer and that is opening ideas.

What advice would you offer young dancers hoping to follow in your footprints?

I would tell young dancers not to worry about what everybody else is doing. As dancers, we get so caught up in where one's going for a summer intensive or how much scholarship money somebody else got. Understand that your path as a dancer is never going to be the same as anyone else’s. Keep persisting, working to your full potential, and sharing your passion. You’ll get there some day.