The Final Bow: Twins Jennifer and Alexandra Gibson to retire after 15 years with Alberta Ballet

‘The two of us really wanted to be able to leave this career while still being able to do our best work onstage — leaving on a high, so to speak’

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In the meet-the-dancers section of Alberta Ballet’s website, there are mini-bios of all of the performers.

That includes principal dancer Jennifer Gibson and her twin, soloist Alexandra Gibson. Both mention training as part of the Alberta Ballet School and joining the company in 2009. Both mention Helen Pickett’s Petal and Christopher Anderson’s Cinderella as highlights of their 27 years with the organization, including 15 dancing professionally for the company.

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The sisters did not compare notes before submitting their bios.

“This happens a lot,” says Jennifer, in an interview with Postmedia. “We will separately write, we will not look at each other’s work and we will send it in to the powers that be, and it will inevitably be word-for-word.”

The twins aren’t psychically linked, necessarily — it’s just that their career arcs have mirrored each other in Alberta Ballet. It is certainly a rarity for sisters to spend their entire dance careers in the same company and city. They have worked together every day for 15 years, and even live next door to each other in Calgary. They made their debut together at the Jubilee Auditorium at the age of nine and have performed The Nutcracker together almost every year since.

So it’s not surprising that they will also retire together after performing in the Alberta Ballet double bill of Der Wolf and The Rite of Spring in Calgary and Edmonton, ending their careers May 11 at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.

“I can’t really picture one of us continuing and the other one not,” Alexandra says. “We were both, luckily enough, in the same place at the same time.”

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Eli Barnes, as seen in Midsummer Night’s Dream, is also leaving Alberta Ballet. Courtesy, Paul McGrath cal

The Gibson sisters are among several Alberta ballet dancers who will take their final bow this season. Principal dancer Heather Dornian; senior corp de ballet dancers Eli Barnes – who is married to Jennifer Gibson, Melissa Eguchi and Kira Anderson; and corp de ballet dancer Mya Kresnyak will also retire after performing in Der Wolf and the Rite of Spring. While this may seem like a sudden mass exodus, the Gibsons said it was just the right time to leave.

‘This decision wasn’t easy and it’s been a long time coming’

At 34, the decision had more to do with leaving on their own terms, Alexandra says.

“There is this idea in the ballet world that the only way you retire is if you injure out, burn out or age out,” she says. “I think the two of us really wanted to be able to leave this career while still being able to do our best work onstage — leaving on a high, so to speak. It felt like time for a change. This decision wasn’t easy and it’s been a long time coming. For me, I really had to be able to leave still loving the art form and being able to support it in different ways.”

What the future holds is unclear. Either the Gibsons haven’t decided what’s next or they are keeping it to themselves. Jennifer says their immediate plans following the final bow is “to take some time, take a breath, reflect.”

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Gibson sisters
Twin sisters Alexandra and Jennifer Gibson in Romeo and Juliet. Courtesy, Paul McGrath cal

“To be so singularly focused for 15 years on one career is a blessing but it also really narrows your vision,” she says. “I think both of us want to take some time to start to explore our other interests. It took us two decades to really hone this career, so we don’t want to rush into our next one.”

The Gibsons arrived in Calgary at the age of seven in 1997 and almost immediately began training. They went through the Alberta Ballet School together, graduating from the recreational division to the professional division. After graduating high school, they spent two years at the school in its pre-professional program before then-artistic director Jean Grand-Maitre hired them in 2009.

But it was in 2005 when Grand-Maitre asked the two then-14-year-olds to appear in a production of his Vigil of Angels.

“We were just playing a small role, but we were invited to be a part of a company for that series of performances, says Jennifer. “I distinctly remember both of us being immersed in the company life, the backstage life, and just looking at each other and being like ‘Wait, we can make a career out of this. This is what we want to do.’ From there, that was the spark that really focused us in the last years of our training.”

What will it feel like to take that final bow?

“I think there will be a buffet of emotions on that final day — taking our last ballet class, putting our makeup on for the last time,” Jennifer says. “But at the end of the day, we each have really set routines and it will probably fly past and it won’t be until after that curtain hits the floor that we really have any time to take stock of the momentous nature of the day.”

Der Wolf and The Rite of Spring is in Calgary May 2 to 4 and Edmonton from May 10 to 11.

Alberta Ballet is losing several dancers, including Mya Kresnyack. Courtesy, Richard Finkelstein cal
Heather Dorniian played Cinderella for Alberta Ballet. Courtesy, Nigel Goodwin cal
Alberta Ballet is losing several dancers, including Melissa Eguchi. Courtesy, Paul McGrath cal
Alberta Ballet is losing several dancers, Kira Anderson. Courtesy, Paul McGrath cal

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