Celebrating 10+ years with Alberta Ballet

Alberta Ballet Dancers (from left to right) Alexandra Gibson, Garrett Groat, Mariko Kondo, Jennifer Gibson, Kelley McKinlay, Reilley McKinlay

Alberta Ballet Dancers (from left to right) Alexandra Gibson, Garrett Groat, Mariko Kondo, Jennifer Gibson, Kelley McKinlay, Reilley McKinlay

This season we are celebrating some big anniversaries for six of our company dancers, and we couldn’t be more honoured that they’ve chosen to stay for another year. Over the last 10 years, and even longer in some cases, these talented professionals have become the faces of Alberta Ballet, performing beloved characters in the classic ballets as well as showcasing their extraordinary talents in new works as well.

We’ve watched them mature into the dancers they are today. To celebrate their history with Alberta Ballet, we asked them what keeps them dancing here. They all agreed that the versatile repertoire of classical and contemporary works, new works and Artistic Director Jean Grand-Maître’s signature portrait ballets provide them with development opportunities that not all dance companies offer.

But the family feeling we share in the studio and with our patrons also plays a big role, they said.

Veteran dancer Kelley McKinlay says it was the family environment that drew him to audition for Alberta Ballet 17 years ago, and it’s what keeps him here today.

“Getting to work with my wife Reilley allows us to travel around the world together with our dog Mildred, and now as well with our daughter Jules,” he said.

From dancing in the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics to representing Alberta Ballet in Moscow and Egypt, Kelley has so many memorable moments from his career so far. But what really stands out was his first performance as a company dancer at a private event inside a tent where he performed “one of Jean’s hardest pieces of choreography to date,” The Winter Room.

“The stage was extremely small and had wires above that were holding up the tent. I had to be very cautious as I lifted my partner in between the wires, while the entire audience and Alberta Ballet Company watched and evaluated my every move. Thankfully it was followed by a standing eruption of applause,” Kelley said.

His wife Reilley said dancing with her husband in Dangerous Liaisons after they found out she was pregnant with Jules was very memorable for her.

“What made it so special was that we were the only two people in the theatre who knew I was pregnant at the time with Jules. What an amazing thing to be able to share as a part of our job!” she said.

Twins Alexandra and Jennifer Gibson, who trained at Alberta Ballet School for 12 years before joining the Company, have similar motivations for staying on for the last decade. But having their parents, family and friends close by tops the list.

“My parents invested so much time and energy, and sacrificed many Saturday mornings and Christmas seasons for my ballet training, so it means a lot to me that they have been able to see me reach the professional level and can watch me perform regularly,” Jennifer said.

Alexandra agreed, explaining, “I also have the added bonus of getting to dance alongside my amazing twin sister, Jennifer. She is my best friend, biggest champion and most honest critic, and I am so grateful that we were both chosen to join Alberta Ballet all those years ago.”

She’s also grateful for all of the love and support our devoted patrons have shown over the years.

“Knowing there are such gracious and enthusiastic people in the audience makes it that much easier for me to put myself out there on stage,” she said. “So many of my favourite memories with the company are thanks to the generosity of those special people who have gone the extra mile to demonstrate their extraordinary support.”

Dancers Mariko Kondo and Garrett Groat are also celebrating milestones this year.

Mariko was born in Japan and trained at Canada’s National Ballet School before dancing professionally in Toronto and Germany. She joined the company in her 20’s and has enjoyed working with the various choreographers over the years that have helped her grow as a dancer. One of her biggest achievements was returning to the stage after having her two beautiful children. One of her most memorable moments was when her husband proposed on stage after the first time she danced Swan Lake.

Garrett, who was born and raised in Edmonton and trained at Dance Unlimited before receiving a scholarship for the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre in New York City, is celebrating his 10th season with Alberta Ballet. Some of his most memorable roles have included Prince Desire in The Sleeping Beauty, Prince Charming in Cinderella, The Elton Fan in Love Lies Bleeding and Frederick in Ben Stevenson’s Dracula, to name a few.

Congratulations to all of our dancers celebrating more than 10 seasons with Alberta Ballet. We couldn’t be more proud to have you as part of the family.

Kim Jackson