Alexandra Cunningham is a remarkable woman. She has danced professionally with the Sacramento Ballet for nine years under the watchful eyes of two of the world's greatest artistic directors.
Miss Cunningham has a strong connection to the Ballet's co-directors, Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda. The connection is a natural one; they are her parents.
When I sat down with Miss Cunningham to interview her, I wondered how difficult her position might be. I could only imagine there had to be a tension working in such a demanding profession under one's parents.
A thought also crossed my mind that with both parents professional dancers, surely they had little Alexandra on pointe before she was five.
I began with the simple question, "When did you first know you wanted to be a dancer?"
My thoughts of "Tutus and Toddlers," were quickly put to rest.
Miss Cunningham said, “I can't say that I ever had a moment when I knew I wanted to be a dancer. For me, I was always surrounded by dance, obviously, because my parents were directing the company and even my my grandmother is a ballet teacher.”
She paused and then said, “I am inspired by music.”
Then she recalled with a laugh, “I would get in trouble some times because I would come home after school and put on music. My parents would be at work, and my brother would be someplace doing homework, and I would just be dancing in the living room, like not doing my homework at all.”
When Cunningham entered high school, her parents invited her to perform with the company when they needed a few extra girls. She said, “That experience, during high school, when you have to make your choice, do I really want to pursue this or not, totally inspired me and made me really want to be in this company in particular.”
“it's very demanding,” she said speaking of her chosen profession. She told me training under Barbara Crockett, the founder of the Sacramento Ballet, helped “instill the discipline” in me. “She made me realize that dancing isn't all pretty and tutus and easy. It takes a lot of work.”
She also said training under Crockett was “frustrating” at times but “helped me realize how focused you have to be.”
Miss Cunningham's repertory is impressive; she has danced the role of Juliet in Ron Cunningham’s “Romeo & Juliet,” and the title roles in “Cinderella” and “Alice in Wonderland.“ And she has danced in more than a dozen Balanchine ballets.
Last year, she helped create and develop the role of Daisy for the Ron Cunningham choreographed version of “The Great Gatsby.” She said she was thrilled to do that and worked closely with Stefan Calka, reading the novel and talking about the story. She said, "Stefan and I discussed the characters and we became close on an intellectual level making the story come alive.”
As far as a favorite role, Miss Cunningham said she loved story ballets, her role in Romeo and Juliet” she said “was in the top five.”
She squirmed a bit when I asked if she had a favorite partner. She smiled as she asked, “Could I pick three? Or four?"
Miss Cunningham spoke highly of the whole company, but I did get her to name three and she qualified each.
She spoke of Rick Porter first. “We worked so, so hard on Romeo and Juliet. We know how each other moves and have so much fun in rehearsals.”
Stefan Calka was next on the list. She said they hadn't partnered together much until they began creating Gatsby together. “Stefan is a wonderful partner, just like Rick. Really gets into the story behind the piece, something that I enjoy. We work really well together.”
Then she talked of Christopher Nachtrab. “The other dancer I really enjoy dancing with is Chris. He is magical with his partnering. He is an incredible partner and makes me feel really comfortable.”
Alexandra Cunningham spoke highly of her experiences and her colleagues. She has a genuine love for what she does and for her fellow dancers. She has risen to an incredible level as a beautiful and talented ballerina, yet she remains humble
Unfortunately due to a serious knee injury that required surgery, Miss Cunningham is out for the remainder of this season.
She was quick to credit her parents with making sure she “didn't get too caught up in ballet” during high school because they saw too many young people get burned out. She said “They made sure that I was well rounded and that I wasn't too much of a bun-head.”
She added, “I'm really fortunate for that.”
To Miss Alexandra Cunningham and her parents – I say “Bravo!”