The hierarchy of stardom within The National Ballet of Canada is pretty consistent but every once in awhile the next big thing will come rocketing out of the Corps de Ballet, taking on leading role after leading role on their uniquely speedy way to the top. For the first time in many years, that’s happening right now with Skylar Campbell, the newly minted Second Soloist who seems set to become the company’s next great leading man.
Sharing the Best Ballet Performance category with some of the National Ballet’s most established stars, Skylar stood out for his breathtaking performance partnering Elena Lobsanova in Robert Binet’s Unearth as part of the Innovation fall program.
Do you remember the first ballet you ever saw?
My parents were professional ballet dancers, so I was exposed to dance and music at a very early age. Coppelia was the first ballet I ever saw. I was so young and didn’t remember much. What I do remember is the first ballet I was ever in. I was 4 years old and choreographer Jean Grand-Maitre had me walk down the stage to close this big book in one of the ballets my parents were in. It was a frightful experience, but for some reason really I enjoyed it!
What is it about ballet specifically that made you want to pursue it professionally (perhaps over other dance forms)?
Ballet is the most technical form of movement, so I knew if I could be great at ballet I could easily learn other forms of dance later in my career. What I liked most about ballet was the challenge, and constant search for perfection that we know as dancers [we] will ultimately never achieve. I loved coming into the studio striving to be the best version of myself. Then bringing all that hard work from the studio and performing in front of an audience. This brought me so much joy. Nothing gives me a greater feeling of accomplishment than hearing an audience clapping and yelling bravo at the end of a show.
What performers have always inspired you?
There is not one dancer in particular that has always inspired me, but it is all dancers of every style that inspire me. With that said, I would have loved to have seen Fernando Bujones and Fred Astaire perform live. I am also inspired every day by my friends and colleges.
You’ve been with the National Ballet since 2009. In that time what have been some of your favourite performances?
I had great experiences dancing in the YOUdance program as an apprentice. We did 5 outreach shows a week throughout one season, performing for students of all ages. It was nice to see that the kids were genuinely satisfied and fulfilled by watching a ballet performance. Also, having the chance to dance the endearing role of “Alain” in La Fille Mal Gardee as a first year corps member, was probably the most enjoyable time I have had on stage thus far.
You were then selected out of the Corps to dance the title role in Nijinsky last season. What was that experience like? How did you distinguish yourself from the corps so effectively?
The experience of dancing the opposing roles of Nijinsky and Peter the Prince in The Nutcracker has matured my perspective on dance as an art form. The most important thing I have learned in dancing these roles is to always keep a dialogue running through your mind. We do not have words to express our feelings so we have to emote these feelings with our bodies. A story or emotion will not transmit to an audience if you are not keeping specific intention running through your mind. This is something I took very seriously and I think is what made me excel in these roles.
Do you have specific partners you work particularly well with?
I had a wonderful experience dancing with Sonia Rodriguez in Nijinsky. She is a seasoned principal, so I felt like she really helped me mature into a true artist. I also had the pleasure of working with principle Jillian Vanstone in The Nutcracker. Both artists are amazing hardworking ballerinas. I feel honored to have learned from them. I think I’m adaptable to many different partners, because I listen to what my partner needs and put their priorities first. It’s important as a male dancer to know that no matter what… the girl is always right!
What would you say separates your performance style from some of the other men in the company?
I think what separates me from other men is my ability to retain details and subtle moments in choreography. These moments are the ones that make certain ballets special. This profession does not last long, so I try and dance every show as if it’s my last.
You were recently promoted from Corps de Ballet to Second Soloist. What sort of impact has that promotion had on your day to day process as a dancer?
As a second soloist I feel more established as a dancer in the company. I feel like I can enter a rehearsal with confidence, and have a better understanding of what I’m capable of doing and what I still need to work on.
Your My Theatre Award nomination this year is for your performance in Unearth, choreographed by Robert Binet. Is there a different feeling and set of pressures working on a world premiere with a young choreographer vs. a larger scale, more established piece?
Of course there is pressure, but it’s our job to make things look effortless. (Even if things are not going the way they were intended). Having been a part of larger scale productions with big name choreographers has been incredible. But working with Rob was a breath of fresh air. He is a very generous person and having the experience to work with someone that is the same age as you is pretty cool!
You’ve been cast in some of the more edgy and emotional contemporary pieces- like Nijinksy– so far in your career with the National Ballet. Then you had your Nutcracker debut this past December. Is there a change in your mindset when working on something so classic?
Of course my mindset changes with every ballet I perform. But never forgetting the intention behind the steps and staying true to the story, while maintaining a believable character is something I will carry with me throughout my entire career.
The physical strain and demanding schedule of ballet must take its toll. What would you say is the hardest part about being a dancer?
The hardest part about being a dancer to me is consistency and passion. If someone has the drive to succeed, they will. Once you reach the top its takes consistency to say there, because there will always be people below you wanting to take your spot.
… and the best part?
What’s not to love about doing what you dreamed of doing since you were a kid?!
Do you have any dream roles you haven’t gotten to dance yet or someone you’d like to work with?
I would love to dance the role of Lensky in Onegin, James in La Sylphide, or Oberon in The Dream choreographed by Frederic Ashton.
Do you have a favourite ballet or choreographer?
I still have so much to see and learn. Currently I have a love for Ashton’s distinct style, musicality and movement quality. But, I’m sure my opinion will evolve, the more ballets I dance and the more I mature as an artist.