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By David Berry
National Post
March 19, 2014


Aleksander Antonijevic (Peter J Thompson, National Post) 2014Aleksandar Antonijevic bends over, hands on knees, heaving in breaths. He’s just finished dragging his partner, Sonia Rodriguez, around most of the rehearsal-room floor, sweeping around with a look of plastered elegance on his face.

Now, though, the pair’s coach for this session, Rex Harrington, has called time, and Antonijevic gets into his usual resting pose, his face inquisitive but exhausted. He straightens up when Harrington calls for a slightly longer break, moves over to his heap in the corner, takes some water. His breath slows down, but this time escapes in a huff.

Sonia Rodriguez and Aleksander Antonijevic in the rehearsal studio (Peter J“C’mon!” he exclaims, clapping his hands, looking at no one in particular, jumping slightly. “It’s like a funeral in here.”

“Well,” says Harrington, a smirk creeping up, “you are retiring.”

There is a brief pause, and Antonijevic turns to face his accuser. The stern face can barely hold on. He grins, and then he laughs, and then the people who have been running steps with the principal dancer for the last 23 years of his time at the National Ballet of Canada laugh at his impending end with him.

On the face of it, it is slightly absurd that anyone should be too grave about the end of anything for a 44-year-old. But as with most things in ballet, the face isn’t really what you’re concerned with.

Anatomy of a dancer (Illustration by Chloe Cushman,National Post, from self-portrait by Aleksandar Antonijevic)Aleks, as everyone calls him, enrolled in the ballet school at Novi Sad at the age of nine. He spent his youth, he says, “moving around to everything,” and his parents, college professors in the former Yugoslavia, figured it was the only place around where he could do that. It was not a strictly natural choice: he did not actually see his first ballet until two years later, and even dropped out of the school.

“It was awful,” he explains. “It was really stifling and boring and tedious. When you’re that young, you don’t really understand why you can’t just dance.”

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