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Working through the Pandemic
Q&A with Alexander Skinner

November 27, 2020

Alexander Skinner

Born in Ottawa, Alexander Skinner joined The National Ballet of Canada as an RBC Apprentice in 2017 and became a member of the Corps de Ballet in 2018. He  was the recipient of the RBC Emerging Artist Award in 2018 and the David Tory Award in 2020.

You worked on several projects during self-isolation – the Choreographic Workshop, Dancer Diaries and the Globe and Mail video – how important was it to stay creative?  

I found myself really struggling in the early months of self-isolation. In the face of this new normal, I, like many others, began to wonder what this period of time would mean for dancers and for the art form itself.

These projects were gifts in every way, allowing me to remain creative, inspired and present during this unprecedented time. They kept me engaged and motivated at a moment when I wondered about my purpose as an artist and helped me see how much this art form truly means to me and to so many.

For me, reconnecting with colleagues and friends and having the chance to create again was the most beautiful part of the experience. It turned out that many of us were dealing with similar emotions, as well as feeling like a part of our identity as artists was missing in the face of this new normal. From our homes, these projects enabled us to keep our passions alive and to create, rehearse and even perform in ways that were new, but just as significant.

Alexander Skinner in a socially distanced class. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
Tell us about the residency at Harbourfront Centre and preparing for socially distanced performances?

Working on The Dreamers Ever Leave You was such a gift after so many months away from the studios and so much time since our last live performances in March. I think we were all hungry to challenge ourselves through a rehearsal process again, and to have the opportunity to reconnect with audiences. Not to mention that Harbourfront Centre was such a beautiful venue to take class, work and rehearse in every day. For myself, it was so fulfilling to dive into a piece like Dreamers, a work that enabled me to make creative decisions as an artist, while also allowing for growth as I returned to training and finding my way back into ballet shape.

What did it feel like to perform for audiences that first day?

Performing for live audiences on that first day felt surreal. I remember feeling many emotions, but mostly a great deal of gratitude for the moment itself. It was so special.

It must have been hard that the opening day of performances was also the last, due to the restrictions to limit indoor gatherings.

It was. On that first day, it felt like we were just scratching the surface of a beautiful experience. I was so looking forward to diving deeper into the piece and into my partnership as the performances carried on. Of course, the restrictions and postponement made sense at the time, but the news was difficult to hear. With that being said, I am so thankful for that opening day. Despite the early end to our run, that opening day was an achievement, an affirmation that still in this climate, creativity can thrive, art can be created and presented, and connections can be made - even if in a socially distanced fashion. I will cherish the memory of those first performances until we are able to return to the stage once again.

Alexander Skinner in rehearsal for Orpheus Alive. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

What do you see as the role of donors in this moment?

I am trying to find the words to express just how much it means to know that there are people who believe in this art form as much as we do - who believe in the power of dance and artists, and of their place and relevance in today’s world. This year, our art form has been hit hard by the effects of this pandemic. The result is that we now have quite a journey to recovery. Donor support represents a lifeline – for our company, for us as  artists and for the future of this art form. While we may not be able to meet, connect or perform in the same ways right now, your gifts as donors will ensure that when it is safe to do so, we will be able to. Please believe me when I say that we are all looking forward to that day!

How are you keeping yourself motivated?  

I am trying to take every day as it comes. It’s a new approach for me, but I find it’s helping me remain grounded and focused on what I can control, when so many questions surrounding this pandemic have yet to find answers. To stay motivated, I’ve been setting small goals for myself to try and make the most of every day. It is helping me find fulfillment in the little milestones as they come.

My colleagues are a big help in keeping me inspired. After many months of relying on self-motivation, there have been times when I felt my momentum was beginning to run low. I am so glad to be back around my fellow dancers who have been navigating this same experience, as we are able to encourage and support one another.

Did you discover any new artists/works that inspired you?

A silver lining to this year is that I’ve had time to explore and discover new interests, as well as revisit hobbies that I don’t always make time for - a big one being reading. In my time at home in Ottawa, I read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. I found it one day while browsing my mom’s bookcase and it felt a bit like serendipity. Truly, I think this year was such an ideal time to read this book and soak in all of its lessons - especially at a time when some of my concerns were beginning to feel existential. It was a big source of inspiration for me in navigating this year and, in times of doubt, I think back to its many words about trusting in yourself and where you are going.

Alexander Skinner is sponsored through Dancers First by Anne & David LeGresley.

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