By Pam Ryan, Deputy Editor
Alan Foley is Founder and Artistic Director of Cork City Ballet. What makes him the perfect Artistic Director for the ballet company is his understanding of and his passion for every aspect of ballet as a dance, as an art form and as a business.
Once an internationally accomplished ballet dancer himself, Alan first began training with renowned Joan Denise Moriarty School of Dance, under the tutelage of its namesake. His natural talent, coupled with his determination to keep improving and keep dancing, brought him many further opportunities to study ballet with some of the industries greats at Harrison College of Dance and Drama in London, Vaganova (Kirov) Ballet Summer School in Russia, Broadway Dance Centre in New York, and Pineapple Dance Studios, also in London, all of which he grand jetéd toward!
Cork Opera House recently premiered the Cork City Ballet documentary entitled Breaking Pointe, in which viewers are taken on a journey through the creation and continued establishment of the company, along with the career of its founder. Seeing both the successes and standing ovations, as well as the falls and near-failures, of Cork City Ballet, Alan, the stage performers and those behind the scenes, in what is a notoriously difficult industry in which to succeed, shows the company for the true powerhouse it is, in both performing arts and business.
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As a dancer, Alan showed versatility and passion as well as precision and skill and so it is no surprise to hear he has choreographed each Cork City Ballet production since 1992, with each season continuing to be as successful, if not more so, than the last.
Alan added many non-dancing credits to his name, including co-producer of DVD The Magic of Ballet with Alan and Monica and co-author of Ballet Through the Lens and Cork City Ballet – The Story So Far.
Having already accomplished so much by that time, Alan retired from the professional stage in 2007 but continues to fill the Cork arts scene with wondrous dance performances from Cork City Ballet and his students at Alan Foley Academy of Dance.
He and the company are currently preparing for their run of The Nutcracker in November at the Cork Opera House but Alan found the time to chat with us about all things ballet and working in the arts.
For those who don’t know, what is involved in being an Artistic Director?
Well, for me personally, it means a very hands-on approach with everything involved in the running of the company to get the best possible results on the stage. That includes producing, coaching, teaching, directing, choreographing, financing, costuming, marketing, meeting, mentoring etc.
Deciding what production is going to happen next and then making it happen with all of the above ingredients is paramount to what an AD does.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of your work?
Juggling all the different balls in the air. That said, it’s also the part of the job that I love the most. It’s never boring and no two days are the same. My job can have me in NY or LA discussing new premieres or in Skibbereen and Clonakilty teaching small children ballet.
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If you had unlimited resources, what would you do with/for the Cork City Ballet company?
Oh, there’s so much I’d love to do with the company, including introducing new repertoire to inspire the dancers and the audience. But ballet is a very costly affair, and because we’re not funded by the Arts Council of Ireland – since 2011 – it’s difficult and risky for us to stray too far from the classics, such as Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty or The Nutcracker, which we’re doing this year at Cork Opera House in November. But I would love to do full length ballets like La Bayadere (The Temple Dancer), Le Corsaire (The Pirate), and my all-time favourite, Manon with choreography by Sir Kenneth MacMillan and music by Jules Massenet.
Being a professional ballet dancer isn’t all glitz and glam – it’s tough work! What, in your own opinion, makes it worth it?
Yes, indeed, a career in ballet is not for the faint-hearted because of the demands placed upon the body and mind, but I suppose the main reason that dancers do what they do is because they love it. It’s difficult to explain the feeling you get when you step out on stage in your costume. In ballet, you can become another character from a prince to a pirate, a swan or a sylph.
What have you learned about leadership and mentoring others?
There is no job that I wouldn’t do in the running of the company. I think that’s important for the dancers to see because they understand that I am there to oversee and take responsibility to make it [the production] happen. I never think of myself as ‘the boss’; I prefer to think of myself as someone who is carrying the torch for a little while and someday I’ll pass it on to someone else. But I do get a lovely feeling of pride when I see young students of mine who go on to do great things in the profession. That’s wonderful to see!
How did you find the strength to stay motivated and involved in the company after you realised you could no longer dance due to your health?
Dance is a short career, but it’s also quite cruel because your body always complains but if you hang around long enough you find out that it revolts. Having major heart surgery in 2007 was not a great way to finish my career and I grieved for such a long time, but like everything else in life you learn to get back in the saddle and just get on with it.
Now, I’m very happy and content to be doing what I’m doing but it’s also nice to able to look back at what I achieved over the years.
If you could grace the stage again for one more performance, who would you choose as your partner – living or dead – and why?
Funnily enough, if I was to grace the stage one last time I wouldn’t need a partner! I would love to dance Saint Saens’ Dying Swan, which is a solo created by Mikhail Fokine for the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova – yes, the one a famous French chef created the dessert for!
It’s very short and I’ve always loved it. In 2008, I choreographed a male version for Leigh Alderson in the company and he’s danced it many times to great acclaim. I’d love to have danced that in my prime. I think I’d have made a nice ‘swan’!
How would the members of the company describe you?
Hmmmm… Fair – I hope. Passionate, I think. Dedicated and determined. A good sense of humour and excellent at making tea!
What role has luck played in your success?
Luck plays a little role in everyone’s success, I think, of that there is no doubt, and for me it was being in the right place at the right time for certain opportunities that came along. It was also my ability to seek forgiveness rather than permission sometimes because this is a very short career and you have to take the opportunity of a lifetime in the lifetime of the opportunity.
Who is your style icon and why?
I’m afraid I’m not very fashion conscious because years of dressing up as a ‘Prince’ has drained the life out of me, but I do admire people who have the energy to make themselves look fantastic every time they go out. I, on the other hand, am at my most comfortable in a tracksuit and sweater or shorts and a T.
But if I had to name someone then it would be Audrey Hepburn. Her look has never gone out of fashion, and that to me is the sign of a true style icon.
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If you could meet one person from history who would it be and what would you hope to learn from them?
Margot Fonteyn – the Prima Ballerina Assoluta of Britain’s Royal Ballet. She was the epitome of grace, style, elegance and manners and was lauded as one of the world’s finest ballerinas. Her partnership with Rudolph Nureyev is legendary, and I’d love to hear what the early days of her life were like, especially the pioneering days of The Royal Ballet, now regarded as one of the finest ballet companies in the world.
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Cork City Ballet, in association with the Cork Opera House, presents The Nutcracker directed by Alan Foley, which will run at the Cork Opera House on November 8, 9 and 10, for four performances only, including a matinee at 2:30 pm on Saturday November 10, starring world-renowned prima ballerina Ekaterina Bortyakova from the Moscow State Ballet as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
For this festive production, Cork City Ballet will lead the audience on an enchanting journey through the Land of Snow to the magical Kingdom of the Sweets. Enhanced by magnificent costumes made at the Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet in St Petersburg, together with the glorious music of Tchaikovsky, Cork City Ballet’s The Nutcracker promises to be a thrilling spectacle of sumptuous dance delights!
This production by Cork City Ballet with choreography by Yury Demakov from the Bolshoi Ballet will feature the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince (Russian ballet star Akzhol Mussakhanov), principals, soloists, and a full corps de ballet in this seasonal classic for the entire family.
“In these tough economic times, Cork City Ballet is proud to continue to represent the classical ballet genre in its home city, with a spectacular event, which is sure to please every cultural palate at an affordable price.” – Alan Foley