Kirsten Wicklund is a multi-talented dancer, born and bred in Vancouver, Canada. Despite having a late start to ballet, Kirsten instantly fell in love with the artform as a way of creative self-expression. Within a few years, she had won an artistry award at the Youth America Grand Prix Finals in NYC and earned the only Canadian placement in the Top 12 Women.
Kirsten’s vibrant and varied career includes film acting and teaching yoga, and a successful transition from classical ballet to contemporary dance. Her most noteable work is with Ballet BC, where she has enjoyed 5 seasons thus far.
AinslieWear caught up with Kirsten ahead of the 2018/19 dance season to learn about her training and approach to her craft, evolution as a dancer, and career aspirations.
AW: Tell us a little about your dance story – how old were you when you started dance and why did you start?
KW: I started dancing very late – especially in regards to ballet training! My first experience with dance was tap and musical theatre when I was around 10 or 11. By the time I was 12 I was taking ballet as seriously as a determined 12 year old possibly could, but I had to play catch up to my age group! Most of my peers had been dancing since they could walk and all the while I had been playing soccer and baseball, only performing for my family and friends in the living room of our house! I always wanted to entertain and put on a show for my family.
Singing, dancing, acting you name it – I would piece together an act for them! I always had the impulse to move and share my point of view in a physical and expressive way. I had no idea the extent of this impulse but it developed into a deep passion for movement, rigour in my craft, and an emotional connection to art that now fills my world in such a profound way.
Where did you dance in your early days?
I first went to a small school that was in a church and was signed up with a few girls that were close family friends so we could carpool. Soon enough my friends stopped and I begged for more! I discovered jazz, hip hop, lyrical, ballet at another small studio and eventually was drawn entirely towards ballet. Playing catch up, I started my first formal ballet class at age 12 and was working towards exam work with kids half my age to catch up to the syllabus. I wanted more!
I then danced at a more serious competition dance studio, still focused on ballet but training in all styles, I loved the challenge and the expression of the different styles. Ballet continued to draw me in deeper. I finally was enrolled in the Pacific Dance Arts Half Day program led by Li Yaming and this level of ballet training opened my eyes completely to what I wanted. I went on to train full time at The Goh Ballet Academy where I eventually finished my academic studies online to allow me to train for full days at the academy.
Alongside my classical training I always continued working on contemporary dance and other various styles – even dabbling in ballroom and more commercial forms of dance. Ballet for me was the foundation I knew I would build everything upon and I loved it. It was important for me to keep different colours of dance in my toolbox… I loved the exploration, the challenge and the diversity.
When did you know you wanted to become a professional dancer?
I feel like I knew almost as soon as I discovered ballet…I didn’t know if it was possible, or what it actually meant, or what realm of the dance world I wanted to take on. But slowly as I trained and did my own research, the notion started to form itself into something that I felt would be achievable with the right drive and support system. I knew I would do whatever it would take to move towards this dream that at one time felt far fetched, but over time became somewhat tangible. I started to carve out different paths for myself to consider and all it was going to take from my stand point was relentless work, and the perseverance to never give up on myself.
At what point did your focus shift from ballet to contemporary dance and why?
My first professional job with a classical ballet company was at The Washington Ballet in Washington DC. It was there that I started to consider the choice I had made in taking on a strictly classical career. I found myself missing the freedom of expression that I could achieve through contemporary movement – although I believe that can be found in classical ballet, I wanted to be able to input my own ideas and point of view into my work. I did not want to only dance other people’s steps, instead, I wanted to contribute to the conversation.
I began choreographing and teaching in different convention style venues and this was something that helped me to realize – I needed more! I wanted to be in a collaborative environment. Something that was not only about perfecting steps, lines and formations. A place where I could have a conversation and be part of creating work that is deeply meaningful, expressive and discusses a larger range of ideas. This was my craving. It eventually led me straight through the doors of Ballet BC and I never looked back! That being said, I strongly believe that this path would not be available to me had it not been for my extreme dedication to the classical form. My appreciation and understanding of that root enables me to now do what I do in my field.
Do you have any tips for dancers seeking a career in contemporary dance?
I would honestly say to take as much information from your classical training as possible. It does not mean you are gluing yourself to a future in classical ballet, it does not take away from your capacity to step outside of that zone, but in fact it allows you to understand the place where what you eventually want to do has bloomed from. If you truly dive into that land, I believe it plants a seed for rich and robust growth to happen. The appreciation it develops for sophisticated co-ordinations of the body is unmatched and when you pair that with an open mind to various approaches to dance and art-making, I believe you can do anything you want inside of contemporary dance. Become both a sponge and a chameleon at once! Do not discount anything – it is all information and is useful…each approach, theory, way of working – it all has something to contribute. Read and research! Study how other artists are making work and why, see what these things have to offer and how they might influence your ability to contribute to a creative space. Keep both your mind and body healthy, cross-train and seek balance.
You’ve had a diverse career thus far – in what way do these experiences influence your work as a professional dancer?
These experiences influence my work greatly. Each approach to movement offers something unique and opens my mind to a different way of thinking. What we do as dance artists is physical yes, however the longer I practice the more I recognize how the mental approach can change everything. It can drastically change the quality of a movement I make just by my mental approach to that movement even if it is almost imperceptible or can’t be put into words. All of these experiences I can now draw on when I am in a room creating, teaching, or physically executing on stage. What I do is also about co-operation and working with other individuals and being able to give and also receive information in a productive fashion. All of these various avenues of experience have truly helped me develop these kinds of skills.
What inspired you to become a yoga teacher?
I have dealt with many injuries over my career, and have since a young age. I was dealing with some injuries and I wanted to stay connected to myself as a dancer – for me this meant movement and developing more knowledge. I decided to invest in a yoga teacher training because physically I could engage with movement without physically executing movement while I was healing. It was a very valuable experience to learn about another approach to movement, how it influences mind-body connection and wellness, how breathe work is invaluable to us as complex bodies and more. Spiritually it was so grounding. I teach regularly and aim to allow my dance practice to influence my yoga teachings and vice-versa. I focus on energetic pathways of movement in the body as well as healthy alignment for optimal strength building and of course illumination of breath.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
A typical day often starts out with either some type of treatment of cross-training. Either seeing my physio, chiropractor, other practitioner, or starting the day with a pilates, yoga, swim, or gym session. This can be as early as 7am. Our regular rehearsal day starts with Ballet Class at 9:30am-11:00am which is where we train and warm up for our rehearsal day. There are various approaches to this class based on the type of works we will rehearse during the remainder of our day which is 6 total hours of rehearsal with an hour for lunch.
On show days we often start a bit later – 11am for class, we do Technical Rehearsals and a full dress rehearsal for premieres, and then time for notes and additional rehearsals. Finally, we have an 8pm curtain for the show!
What is your favourite dance memory?
When asked this question I have trouble coming up with a singular memory of dance. My favourite memories often lie inside of the working processes that we have in the studio. The process of collaborating with the artists in the room and seeing the work through towards its final formation is extremely rewarding. Also the periods of time where we are working relentlessly on a piece of work and we go for a run through and something happens where I enter this flow state, almost a meditative zone where I am lost in the work and the moment itself. I have experienced this a number of times in studio and a number of times on stage. These moments I can recall as the most transformative. I have a memory of what happened but at the same time I almost cannot recall what happened or how. I have an incredible sense of satisfaction and emotion surrounding these rare and beautiful experiences often shared with other artists that are dancing with me at the time. I believe the only way to describe it is as being somewhat “magical”. I have not found words to properly explain it!
What is your dream role and big-picture career goal?
My dream role is each and every work that I am about to dance. All roles I try to approach with equal value and importance, whether I am featured or not in a work, I like to find the same weight to it. Of course some roles require more digging for me as an artist, that is a joy…but in all roles I aim to find depth in my approach. My career goal is to continue dancing as long as my body will allow me, and to transition to choreography along the way. My absolute dream is to create a work for Ballet BC and other companies nationally and internationally.
How do you stay focused and continue to challenge yourself as a dancer?
I find a lot of inspiration in people around me, in the way society works and moves. Inspiration in art and approaches to art, music, films, books, poetry, nature. Viewing other peoples creative endeavours is inspirational as well as my own writings – the way thoughts can flow out of me often spill a variety of ideas before my eyes. My loved ones inspire me greatly, seeing people behave in the world, seeing people fight for what they want, seeing people being brave inside of their fears. These things to me are of ultimate beauty.
Video by Peter Smida featuring AinslieWear.
Follow Kirsten Online
Thank you to Ballet BC, Cindi Wicklund Fotografia, Peter Smida
& Kirsten for her candid and inspiring insight into her world.