Pas De Deux


August 29, 2021

When a body moves, it’s the most revealing thing. Dance for me a minute and I’ll tell you who you are.

Watching Alberta Ballet Company members Reilley and Kelley McKinlay navigate my questions over a Zoom call while they jostled their energetic ten month old between them was, as anticipated, grace under pressure.

In perfect unison, it was an effortless and seamless performance. One would think they had been doing this most of their adult lives and that assumption would be right. As they enter into their 14th and 20th seasons respectively with the company, the McKinlays’ love story is as eloquent as one would imagine. Their first partnering was The Nutcracker Waltz of the Flowers in 2008 and they solidified their ‘Pas De Deux’ with nuptials in 2015. The excitement of the ballet season is just around the corner so we took the opportunity to find out how this couple manages a life at home as husband and wife, as parents, and on stage as two of Alberta Ballet’s most recognizable and celebrated ballet dancers.

The both of you have had commendable careers with Alberta Ballet. What do you love most about being a part of this company?

Reilley – My favourite thing about working for Alberta Ballet is doing what I love for a living. More and more I realize how rare it is to be able to do what you’re passionate about for a job and I try not to take that for granted.

Kelley – One of my favourite things about working for Alberta Ballet is the places it’s taken me around the world. I have travelled to Egypt, China, Russia, England, Thailand, and across North America to dance. They were all incredible experiences and I have made lifelong friends in the process.

It’s Alberta Ballet’s mission to ‘ignite the curiosity and imagination of people in all communities across the province.’ A few company members have lived this sentiment/adage for over a decade. What keeps this company cohesive?

Reilley and Kelley – We’ve been so fortunate all of these years under the direction of Jean Grand-Maître. We’ve been building relationships for years and the trust that exists between the members is huge. Everyone is bringing in unique contributions and experiences. It makes us all valuable to the company.

We know of many couples that work together but to share artistry in motion between a couple is so intimate. How often does this happen in the professional ballet world?

Reilley and Kelley – It’s quite rare. Even when dancers who are couples want to work together, it doesn’t always have the best outcome. There aren’t any filters or boundaries but It’s been easy for us. We love working together. Both of our approaches, even when we aren’t working together, is that it takes two to tango and if something goes wrong, accountability lies with each of us. We figure it out together. We complement each other. We are not the exact same at all but we bring the other part to each other. We are very good at communication whether it’s at home or at work.

Being a Mom and a professional dancer must keep you on your toes!
A true balancing act! How do you do it all?

Reilley – It was a personal decision for me. I wanted to have two children while I was dancing and go back afterwards. I’m not going to lie, there are moments when I wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat thinking, how am I going to do this with two children? We’re never going to see them with our hours, how am I going to make lunches and have two baths, but you know what? We figure it out and are really fortunate with our support system.

Are there any rituals that you adhere to before a performance?

Reilley – Between the two of us we always have a moment together. Neither of us are crazy superstitious but once you figure out what works for a certain show you continue with it. As simple as, what time you start doing your hair, and warmup, leading up to performance time.

Kelley – For me, I don’t know why I started this but I will go stand right up against the main drape at centre stage and bounce a little bit and get in the zone. (Reilley is quick to add he looks a bit unusual but because he’s been there for so long, people just let it slide!)

In perfect unison, it was an effortless and seamless performance. One would think they had been doing this most of their adult lives and that assumption would be right.

Do either of you have a most cherished performance?

Reilley – (without a moment’s hesitation) Dangerous Liaisons in 2017. I danced the lead with Kelley. I was pregnant with my daughter and nobody else knew. It was wonderful, I didn’t have to worry. The only person that mattered, that knew, was my partner and that was Kelley. There was one moment where he spins me so much and I was upside down. And he held onto me for just one moment longer than he normally would have knowing my condition.

How do you maintain your physical health throughout the season and while on break?

Reilley – You remember how extreme the physical demands of ballet are once you are coming back to it, specifically in my case from pregnancy. It is very important to rebuild all your different muscles and I do that by doing a mix of ballet, pilates, and riding a stationary bike. I usually do all that as cross training when we are in season and dancing, but it has required some creativity while coming back from my second pregnancy as we have not had access to studio space due to Covid.

Kelley – While it’s crucial to stay strong for both performing and injury prevention, it is just as important to take time off both physically and mentally. It is so easy to get burnt out as you spend each and every day pushing yourself physically and emotionally to achieve perfection even though we know it’s unattainable. We are in an art form. We are always learning.

Do you think or plan beyond each season?

Reilley and Kelley – We’ve always been season by season. Once you have kids you think ok, what next? The pandemic has forced us to focus on the future so we’ve tried to use this time to brainstorm when we’re not chasing our 10 month old and our three year old around. No definite plans as of yet. Again, one ballet season at a time.

Do you have any advice for aspiring, young dancers?

Reilley – If you love it, keep doing it, even if it doesn’t get you a professional career. Too many people don’t do enough of what they love. Perseverance,
determination and support.

Kelley – I was told I may never be a dancer. For a lot of kids that can be devastating. I brushed it off and I clearly didn’t let it stop me. How can one person know what the future can hold? Or what a director wants? At the end of the day, you won’t know if you don’t try. It was never, what am I going to do if this doesn’t happen? It was kind of like, I’m going to do it. I never had any doubt that this was what I was going to do.

Some honesty now… you must have serious credibility on a dance floor!

Reilley – Funny enough, I can’t get him out there! He won’t do it!

Kelley – Nope! (I think he’s just being considerate of all the other guys out there!)

What does Modern Luxuria mean to you?

Reilley – I’m going to be super sappy but our life is pretty luxurious at the moment. We both get to be home. We have a yard for our two beautiful children that we get to spend time with, so we feel very fortunate.

Kelley – It’s become so evident through this pandemic that I wouldn’t have been home seeing them grow up during these crucial years. I’d be at work, all day, every day. To have everyone at home spending every hour together – we have made the most of it and have loved it. It’s been the silver lining in all of this. As well, I’m a car guy!

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