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Alexandra MacDonald with Artists of the Ballet in Giselle. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.

Whether it’s dance or theatre, film or music, visual arts or literature, the arts are a cornerstone in creating and maintaining vibrant communities, and this is something the RBC Foundation recognizes and strives to support through its Emerging Artists Project. This project supports a range of initiatives and organizations across Canada, one of which is the Apprentice Program at The National Ballet of Canada, RBC’s featured dance partner.

When renowned Canadian former ballet dancer Karen Kain took over The National Ballet in 2007, part of her focus was on building a solid plan for how to train the next generation of dancers and audiences and investing in that succession. This is when the Apprentice Program underwent a significant redesign under the hands of Lindsay Fischer, Artistic Director of YOU Dance and Principal Ballet Master, who speaks very passionately about its purpose, impact and goals.

“Beyond the focus on developing technique and artistry is learning that a profession in the performing arts is all about enriching the lives of others. Dancers give physical shape to emotions, showing people how they feel and validating how they feel through the performance in a public way, in a way that defies language — we make that experience central to the apprentices,” Fischer shares. “As part of reinventing the program, we decided it was vital for apprentices to perform in front of people who have no preconceptions about ballet and who will respond in a complete and honest way.” And this is where YOU Dance, an outreach program providing performance opportunities for elementary school children, was born.

Meet Alexandra MacDonald

ballet alexandra Alexandra MacDonald with Artists of the Ballet in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Sian Richards

The story of Alexandra MacDonald’s entry into ballet as a young girl is one of true mother-daughter connection. “My mom had always wanted to learn dance when she was growing up, but she came from a large family who couldn’t afford to put her in dance. It became something she always held onto and wanted for her own children,” Alexandra shares. Knowing how much her mom had dreamed about that path for herself fuelled Alexandra’s passion to pursue dance. “I started dance when I was five and was blessed with an incredibly talented and artistic teacher who saw potential in me and nurtured me for over 10 years.”

Through that time, Alexandra trained at the International School of Ballet in Calgary, Alberta, before going south of the border to Boston Ballet School’s Trainee Program. The year the new Apprentice Program was unveiled at The National Ballet was also the same year Alexandra was selected as one of only eight apprentices from over 300 applications. “At the time, I had no idea I was one of only eight who were chosen,” says Alexandra. “Since the program had just been restructured, I had no idea what to expect, but it took only a few weeks of the apprenticeship to realize how incredibly demanding and rewarding it was going to be.”

Over the course of the year-long program, apprentices learn and perform a series of YOU Dance shows, become understudies for some of the large story ballets, participate in The Nutcracker, and then do a large show as part of the corps du ballet, an intense process that requires an incredible amount of time, learning, training and skill building at every level. In reflecting on the program’s impact on her development at the time, Alexandra shares some key insights. “The apprentice year was very demanding. It stretched my limits and opened my eyes to different coaching styles and techniques. There was definitely an adjustment period, but it challenged me in all the right ways, making me stronger as a dancer and giving me confidence in my abilities.”

Hired on after her apprenticeship, Alexandra was promoted to Second Soloist in 2012 and is now a First Soloist within the company. Looking back at her experience, Alexandra is hopeful she can be a positive role model for apprentices in the program now and in years to come — a sure sign of the learning and development on all levels coming full circle.

And what has she taken away overall from her apprenticeship? “It was an incredible learning experience that not only showed me how to push my technique and artistry, but that also taught me a lot about myself and what I could accomplish. The program presented learning I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise and set me up for the rest of my career — I know that I likely wouldn’t be where I am today without the Apprentice Program.”

Alexandra’s sentiments perfectly sum up the experience that the Emerging Artists Project aims to provide and encourage through its support. And as Fischer so powerfully shares, “RBC’s support has been central to the strength and growth of this program. The way they have committed to this program year after year speaks volumes about the value they place on developing the next generation of artists. They support it because they truly believe in it, and that leap of faith is the linchpin of philanthropy.”

Change in Action – RBC Race for the Kids

A driving force behind many of our initiatives is providing meaningful support to benefit younger generations. The RBC Race for the Kids, a global race series that raises funds for a variety of children’s charities, is a true example of this support in action. Two of the 11 global races are Canadian-based, and this year’s events in Vancouver and Toronto were incredibly successful. The Vancouver race, which took place on June 5, had a fantastic turnout of ~6,600 participants and raised an impressive $1,013,323 for pediatric oncology and mental health initiatives at BC’s Children’s Hospital. The event in Toronto on September 17 boasted ~8,500 participants and raised ~$2,200,000 towards the Family Navigation Project at Sunnybrook Hospital, which provides help to youth struggling with mental health and addiction issues. These two events, and the entire series of races, represent a prime example of the amazing achievements that can happen when families and communities come together for the future and well-being of our youth. For more information on this race series, please visit RBC Race for the Kids.

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