Alex Campbell, Director, Royal Ballet

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Interpreting Des Grieux with Francesca Hayward in the role of Manon. Photo: Alice Pennefather.

Many years ago a young Australian dancer won a scholarship to travel overseas to London to join the Sadlers Wells Ballet. Her name was Valma Briggs. (“Valma should go far,” said one of the judges, Eduoard Borovansky, artistic director of the Borovansky Ballet. “She has a beautiful foot and an instep that reminds me of Elaine Fifield (another dancer Australian who rose to fame in the UK) Briggs went far and became a dancer at the Rambert Ballet in 1955-56, where she met her husband Mario Desvaux. She eventually returned home and became a teacher and examiner for the Royal Academy of Dance.

Many years later, his grandson, Alexander Campbell, made a remarkably similar leap abroad. He also won a scholarship – the McDonalds Ballet Scholarship at the Sydney Eisteddfod in 2002, which enabled him to join the Royal Ballet School in London. After graduating he was offered a place at the Birmingham Royal Ballet, from where he moved on to the Royal Ballet in London. He achieved principal status in 2016, claiming an equal place in a star-studded group that includes international stars such as compatriot Steven McRae, David Hallberg (Australian Ballet’s appointed artistic director) and Roberto Bolle.

Campbell has danced a wide variety of roles in the Royal Ballet repertoire, including some by the world’s most sought-after contemporary ballet choreographers, such as Christopher Wheeldon and Wayne McGregor. When I ask him what roles he would name as his strengths, however, he singles out the all-time classic role of Prince Albrecht in Giselle.

Campbell is not built into the stereotypical aristocratic mold – more childish and charming than tall and aristocratic, and such princely roles do not come automatically to him.

He made his debut as Albrecht in February 2018, partnering with Francesca Haywood, and received accolades for the dance and its performance: ”Judith Mackrell wrote in The Guardian. “But he’s a great dancer, a great partner, and I love the way he presents his chic boy character out of his element, experiencing emotions he doesn’t yet understand.”

Mark Monahan in The telegraph was equally ecstatic. “.. Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell – made a joint debut with such artistry and chemistry that the story seemed surprisingly new… Campbell, who always throws himself into every dramatic detail, is superb as a that a man radiating both love and remorse – his partnership here is formidable, their clinch infinitely touching – but also fighting tooth and nail for his life.

Another role Campbell names as a favorite is that of Des Grieux in MacMillan’s Manon. He was already dancing the major but sinister role of Lescaut when he was called in on short notice to play the more sympathetic hero, Des Grieux, at the last moment of the 2018 season, replacing an injured McRae, and gaining admiration for his ability. to “offer two deeply thoughtful and believable representations of such different characters in a single passage […] nothing short of extraordinary, ”according to blogger Miris Kusnik.

With Hayward to Giselle.  Photo: Helen Maybanks.
With Hayward to Giselle. Photo: Helen Maybanks.

Campbell isn’t the type to brag but “I have a real affinity with ballet, and having the opportunity to play two roles from two different angles was very special, I loved it,” he recalls. . “Both were roles I had aspired to and I thought about how I would approach them for a long time. In addition, I have a lot of experience and confidence in my reading of the roles, they came at the right time for me.

His partner in both cases was Francesca Hayward, someone with whom he established a particularly deep relationship. Both were promoted to directors in the same year and made their debuts together in a number of prominent roles, such as Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty (in both lead roles as well as steal the show as Bluebirds).

“We dance together a bit now,” he says. “The Royal Ballet doesn’t have fixed partners, we tend to change a bit, but it’s hard not to develop a little bit of a relationship if you’ve worked with someone relatively consistently, and I’ve l ‘impression that we have built on each of our roles – we have a pretty special bond, with me anyway.

One of the qualities he believes they share and value is musicality. Campbell is admired for his sensitive response to music, a remarkable achievement given that he is hearing impaired. Even her boss, art director Kevin O’Hare, was unaware of her condition.

“I got it [deafness] my whole life, ”he says. “Most of the time it’s not really a problem. It’s different when you rehearse on stage, because I can’t hear the lyrics coming from the auditorium. But the music is usually quite loud. If it’s particularly quiet, I may have to rely on someone to give me a signal.

Campbell is well known not only in dance circles. His father is Alan Campbell, who was coach and manager for Cricket New South Wales, and state manager of coaching for 20 years. Campbell could well have continued his cricket career, not deciding to focus on ballet until he was fourteen. However, through his cricket lineage, he has become a sort of spokesperson for men in ballet, appearing regularly as a guest speaker on cricket programs, and has been an advisor for England and England training programs. Wales Cricket Board (ECB). Most recently (in June 2017), Campbell was appointed Ambassador of the Royal Academy of Dance and Marylebone Cricket Club Joint Project to Encourage More Boys to Learn Ballet and More Girls to Learn Cricket. He is happy to help demystify and normalize ballet as a male occupation.

Campbell is now a British citizen and lives in his own apartment in Clapham. During confinement he spends a lot of time at home or in the apartment of his companion, Clare Calvert, soloist in the company. Like all dancers right now, he keeps in shape with online lessons and tries to stay positive. The UK version of our JobKeeper is a ‘leave scheme’, which pays 80% of a worker’s regular salary, guaranteed until the end of June.

“It happened pretty much overnight,” he says of the lockdown. “we were doing Swan Lake one day and then we weren’t. The lockdown came from the government with very little warning. The Royal Opera House has been great at communicating and providing support and there is a lot online to join with us. The main thing they communicated is that these are amazing times and we need to look out for each other.

– KAREN VAN ULZEN

Campbell with Royal Ballet Director Akane Takada rehearsing Don Quixote.  Photo: Andrej Uspenski.
Campbell with Royal Ballet Director Akane Takada rehearsing Don Quixote. Photo: Andrej Uspenski.


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