Today I’m excited to announce 4dancers new partnership with Ballet San Jose. Much like our relationship with the Joffrey, in the coming months you will see interviews with various dancers from this amazing California ballet company, and today is our first…please welcome Alexsandra Meijer…
1. How did you become involved with dance?
I suppose you could say my mother has always loved dancing. Even in her sixties she loves to salsa. So when my parents made us kids participate in all sorts of after school activities of course dancing was among them. My father thought that ballet was an excellent form of discipline, and he hoped that we would learn to move with grace outside the studio. It wasn’t until I discovered ballet’s athleticism, musicality and story telling that I started to understand its beauty.
2. What are you currently doing in the field?
I am dancing as a Principal with Ballet San Jose.
3. Would you share a special moment from your career with readers?
Without a doubt the greatest moments in my career are linked to roles like Swanilda and Odette/Odile, however one of my most cherished moments on stage didn’t involve being the lead in the ballet let alone my face even being seen. It was a little known ballet by the late SFB director Lew Christensen, named Il Destratto. Towards the middle of the ballet the lights suddenly go out and the stage is left completely dark. As Haydn’s music continues, slowly a pair of arms consisting of only an upper torso eerily emerges floating in midair. Some of the audience gasps while others giggle at this unexpected twist. Then shockingly a pair of legs bourrée from the wings on the other side of stage completely void of an upper body. As we perform a sort of “Dueling Banjos” pas de deux assisted magically by our men dressed all in black, as not to be seen, the audience starts to chuckle. Now, I have performed in many comedies in my time on the stage, and as always when the audience starts to crack up I know my timing is right and it brings a lightness to my heart. However what I could never have imagined was the intensity and roar of pure, whole-hearted, gut wrenching, explosive laughter that swept the audience. As I sailed offstage upside down in the splits, I couldn’t contain this infectious laughter. I was truly grinning ear to ear and it was at this moment that I felt that I had caught a glimmer of what comedians like Dave Chappell and Dane Cook must truly experience.
4. What is the best advice you have ever received from a teacher or mentor regarding dance?
Try to take something away from every situation even if it is what not to do.
5. What has been your greatest challenge?
As a child I was told that for a female dancer to truly earn the title of Ballerina, she must first complete the roles of Odette/Odile, Giselle, and a third virtuosa role that consists of something along the lines of Juliet. However, from an early age I have always been plagued by a suppleness in my ankles. I was of course held back from receiving pointe shoes while the other girls my age furthered their studies. When I did eventually earn my pointe shoes I never really felt that I could catch up with the other girls confidence in pointe work. I thought I would never be able to preform the role of Giselle as I could not perform the iconic hops on pointe in the first act variation. I couldn’t plié on pointe with one foot let alone dream of hopping on pointe while doing a rond de jambe en l’air. In school I would go into a studio by myself and simply practice plié on pointe while grasping the barre. Once professional, my first year as the Tzarina Tatiana in The Nutcracker I was a little shaky on these walks moving upstage in plié on pointe. Dennis Nahat immediately changed the choreography so that I rolled through the entire foot. He said “it looks better anyway”, but I was devastated that I couldn’t do what was asked of me. I worked extra hard and the following year I did the true choreography.
Over time I completed Odette/Odille, Juliet, the Firebird and Swanilda among others, but never Giselle. Eventually Giselle ended up in our season and this was my chance. I poured my heart and soul into the character, researching her as well as studying film of great Hollywood actresses’ mad scenes, but I felt a constant apprehension regarding the hops. Dennis immediately wanted to re-choreograph the diagonal for me, but I pleaded with him to give me time to figure it out. I had practiced every day including the time before the season even started, but I was still struggling. My fellow dancers watched day after day as everyone in the company, including the boys, tried to help me. Some said not to worry about it and do something else, but I had already set my sights on the goal.
It was finally the day of the show and I still had never completed the diagonal flawlessly. I tried to put the hops out of my mind and focus on the character, but I asked the conductor to play the music of the diagonal much slower than he had for the other casts. Just before the solo I tore my shoes off backstage and put on a fresh pair of hard shoes in order to tackle the hops. I danced the solo with utter joy and love as a young girl. As I walked to the upstage corner to start the hops I took a deep breath as I knew this was it. I could sense the entire company sitting on stage holding their breath watching me. I could see my Albrecht and the rest of the cast standing in the wings nervously waiting to see what I would do. Would I change the choreography or would I do the hops? The tension increased as the music retarded to an agonizingly slow pace. I stepped up to pointe to begin. As I methodically moved down the diagonal the anticipation spread. Would I be able to finish all of the hops? Halfway through the sequence I knew I owned it. For the very first time I executed the hops on pointe with perfection. The audience was already clapping as I tore into the final circle of piqué turns, but it was the hushed squeals and muffled screams onstage combined with cat calls and clapping from offstage by those who had helped make my dream a reality that gave me a feeling of exhilaration like no other. This was truly the excitement of live theater.
6. Do you have any advice for dancers who want to go on to a professional career?
Some extraordinarily talented dancers have fallen by the wayside because they have pushed themselves too hard or too soon. Injuries can be heartbreaking, but your body is your medium, you must understand it and listen to it. Take extra time to treat it with respect. This might be as simple as rolling something out after a long day when all you want to do is go out with friends. Spend a little extra money on your body or you might not get the chance to make any money at all.
7. Do you have a special routine that you go through prior to a performance?
In the dressing room I put my pointe shoes on barefoot without any padding or tape. Then I cover them with heavy thick socks and slippers to keep my feet as warm as possible. After I have finished my make-up and I am completely ready the last thing I do is take the shoes off again. I give the bottom edge of the pointe a few good whacks on the floor to make them quiet. I then put the shoes back on with all of the trimmings. This silly little routine helps to warm the shoes, break them in, and mold them to my feet so that with the first step on stage I feel connected to the floor, but the shoes stay clean and as hard as possible in order to make it through an entire act.
8. What are your favorite ballet movements to practice and why (turns, jumps, etc.)?
As a child I always felt that port de bras distinguished a student from a seasoned veteran. So I guess growing up I tried to give port de bras a lot of attention. I would often repeat the exercise on the side doing only the port de bras. At this point I tend to focus on whatever an upcoming role calls for, this is usually a turn sequence.
9. What do you enjoy most about your life in dance?
The best part of being a dancer is the camaraderie in the family-like atmosphere within the company and with the choreographer, designers, stage crew, musicians, and everyone else.
10. What is next for you?
There are still so many roles that I would love to dance.
BIO: Alexsandra Meijer joined Ballet San Jose In 2001. Her repertoire In Dennis Nahat’s ballets Include Tsarina Tatiana and Maria Tannenbaum in The Nutcraker, the role of Odette/Odile In Swan Lake, the title role in Romeo and Juliet, Swanilda in Coppélia, the title role in Giselle, the title role in The Firebird, Long Tall Sally in Blue Suede Shoes, Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the featured female dancer in Ontogeny, Grand Pas de Dix, and Mendelssohn Symphony.
Principal roles under other choreographers include Juno In Michael Smuin’s The Tempest, Karen Blixen (The Woman) in the world premiere production of Flemming Flindt’s Out of Africa, Sanguinic in George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, the featured female dancer in Lew Christensen’s Vivaldi Concerto Grosso, the role of The Lover in Smuin’s Shinju, and Caroline In Antony Tudor’s Lilac Garden.
She has had the pleasure of dancing a wide variety of styles by famous choreographers, including Julia Adams. Val Canparoli. Agnes de Mille, Leondine Massine, Twyla Tharp and Yurl Posikov.
During the 2008/2009 season, Meijer was thrilled to have the opportunity to create a new work for the company, The Way We Fall, featuring music by Loop!Station.
She continues to perform guest artist roles at various festivals as well as with a variety of different companies. She has also performed extensively throughout China including the prestigious Shanghai Grand Theater during the company’s China Goodwill Tour 2008.
Meijer was born and raised In Southern California. She received her training at Mann Dance Theatre, the Orange County High School of the Arts, and completed her Cecchetti training under the direction of Marnell Himes-Ushijima. She was awarded the National Foundation for Advancement In the Arts scholarship and won the Disneyland Creativity Challenge Award.