Alexander Campbell: A Matter of Trust

It really doesn’t seem that long ago that Academy Ballet in Randwick, Sydney, was a second home.

I first met Nicholina Kuner, the principal of the school in 1993. She was kind enough to let me study with Valma Briggs when I was working towards my Royal Academy of Dance teacher’s certificate, then, much later I taught Academy Ballet students for their RAD 6,7,and 8 Grade exams.

Nicholina became a close friend and trained both of my daughters.

The beautiful, vaulted studio (with no mirror!) in the church hall became a place that I loved over time, where I watched my daughters dance, along with many other students including competitors taking open classes for the McDonald’s Ballet Scholarship.

Since the first day I stepped into the studio it was clear that the young Alexander Campbell, was a very talented student.

Alex had a unique connection with the school as Valma Briggs, a Royal Academy of Dance teacher and examiner was his maternal grandmother. Both Valma and her husband, Mario Desva, were dancers in Ballet Rambert in the 1950s.

The family connection was important but so, too, was the long relationship Alex had with Nicholina, who taught him from the age of 5 until he moved to London when he was 15.

When young ballet students show exceptional talent around the age of 12 or 13, other teachers, students and parents sit up and pay attention. It’s hard not to notice potential professional dancers in Australia where numerous ballet competitions are all part of the scene.

At some point during their teens many students swap schools, often more than once, drawn by the lure of another place that might get them even further, higher, faster.

There’s no shortage of teachers on the lookout for the top talent and it takes trust to remain with one teacher for the whole of the training period.

Alex did, although he almost chose cricket above ballet when he was 14. He was a talented cricketer and his father, Alan, was a selector and manager for Cricket New South Wales, and State Director of Coaching for 20 years.

Ballet won. Nicholina saw him through all his exams, including the biggest challenge of all, his win at the McDonald Ballet Scholarship in 2002 at the Sydney Opera House and she travelled to Switzerland to see him dance in the Prix de Lausanne in 2003. A finalist at the Prix that year, he moved to London to train at the Royal Ballet School.

He was offered a contract with Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2005 and was promoted to first soloist in 2009.

The Royal Ballet offered him a contract as a soloist in 2011 and this year Alex was promoted to the rank of principal.

On October 15th and 22nd, he will dance for the first time on the Royal Opera House stage as a principal artist of the Royal Ballet in the role of Colas with Roberta Marquez as Lise, in Fille mal Gardee.

Now retired from teaching, Nicholina is about to fly to London to see Alex dance.

I think there will be tears of happiness.

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Francesca Hayward, Alexander Campbell, Akane Takada and Ryoichi Hirano, new principals at the Royal Ballet, photo © Andrej Uspenski

Alexander Campbell and Francesca Hayward, Nutcracker, Royal Ballet © Tristram Kenton/ROH

Alexander Campbell and Emma Maguire, In the Night, Royal Ballet, photo @ Tristram Kenton, ROH

Alexander Campbell at Academy Ballet, in his teenage years, photo © Andrew Meares

Alexander Campbell with the Shefield Shield