By Jeff Mahoney
The Hamilton Spectator
August 28, 2013
[Hamilton, Ontario, Canada] – Alexandre Christiansen, 13, has to choose his words with care. If he doesn’t phrase it precisely, his unique “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” experience might leave you with the impression that he was at the bar, picking up 18-year-old girls.
No, he was at the “barre.” And the girls he was picking up were mostly taller than he is and he had to pick them up from a standing position and make it look fluid, natural and elegant.
The girls were just a small part of it, near the end of the summer. Most of the time Alex spent in the company of about 20 boys/young men, subjecting himself to a gruelling physical and creative regimen that would leave most elite athletes pleading for mercy.
It left Alex, who lives in Dundas, hungry for more.
Alex was the only Canadian male to be invited to the summer program of the world-renowned Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington D.C. His acceptance with full scholarship — he auditioned via YouTube — crowned a year of achievement that also saw him win the lead role in Ballet Jörgen’s Ontario production of The Nutcracker.
“I was discouraged at first,” says Alex of his time at the Kirov Academy, where he studied with boys from all over the world (most of them older than he) — Japan, Switzerland and the United States, to name a few countries. “It was even harder than I expected.”
The leaps, exercises, stretches and elaborately articulated steps involved in learning ballet are notoriously exacting. But over the summer Alex adapted very ably and was winning high praise from his instructors, including a comparison to one instructor’s son who is a principal male dancer with the Royal Ballet in London.
Alex has been invited to enrol in the academy’s main fall/winter program. He had already been invited to study at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto but he declined, chiefly because he prefers the vaganova method (whole body approach) favoured by the Kirov.
While in Washington, Alex was invited to the Canadian embassy by ambassador Gary Doer. “They treated us like royalty,” says Alex’s father Martin Christiansen, a renovator who held the fort at home in Hamilton over the summer but did make it down for a couple of visits. The embassy trip was one of only a few social breaks from the rigours of training and study.
“There’s not much social life in ballet,” says Alex’s mother Sophia, who stayed with him in Washington. She has to accompany him as he has severe food allergies — had them all his life — and only she knows how to prepare his meals safely.
The hours are exhausting — exercises and training in the morning, followed by lessons in acting, ballet history and music appreciation, and then three and a half very physical hours of ballet in the afternoon. Six days a week.
And all of this, says Sophia, while Alex was coping with various injuries and growing pains. He is, after all, only 13. And his body type, while perfect for ballet — he is strong, long-boned and slender — is also a type more prone to strain. His limbs are growing almost faster than his weight and muscles can keep up with.
But Alex is incredibly determined. It is as though he is made to dance.
“He danced so much as a baby,” says Sophia, “that I brought him in to Pauline Zamprogna (of The Dance Centre in Hamilton), when he was a year and a half.” They broke the rules for Alex and he danced in his first show in Hamilton at the age of — are you ready? — 18 months.
You just have to take one look at Alex — he has an almost exotic appearance — to know he has a gift. It is a gift he has been cultivating all his life, chiefly at Hamilton City Ballet and Hamilton Academy of Performing Arts in Dundas, both run by the inspiring Max Ratevosian and Melania Pawliew.
Now as September closes in, Alex is wrestling with what to do. He’d like to continue at the Kirov but he’s not sure he’s ready to leave Hamilton and, while he has been offered a handsome scholarship, the situation is complicated by the need for his mother to move with him.
Whatever he decides, one thing is certain. Alex will dance.
© Copyright Metroland 2013