Tealeaves Folio



#OverACupOfTEALEAVES: Reilley McKinlay of Alberta Ballet on the Arabian Dancer

About Nutcracker #AfternoonTEALEAVES: Gifts of Time:
In time for the holidays, TEALEAVES, in a collaboration with 15+ ballet companies, 10+ luxury hotel partners, and an antiquarian horologist, launched the worldwide Nutcracker #AfternoonTEALEAVES: Gifts of Time initiative. The project is a twist to the traditional gift guide that offers experiential pairings to afternoon tea, themed after the story of the Nutcracker, and celebrates the arts, true craftsmanship, and spending quality time with others.
Piece together your real-life Nutcracker fairytale and explore various ‘Gifts of Time’. 

JOURNEY TO Nutcracker.AfternoonTealeaves.com

#OverACupOfTealeaves: At TEALEAVES, we believe that the best “condiment” to any cup of TEALEAVES is a story to tell and wisdom to share. Our team had the opportunity to connect with Reilley McKinlay of Alberta Ballet, and here is what we learned.

Reilley McKinlay (© Paul McGrath)

A decadent feast of sweets awaits Klara and the Nutcracker Prince as they enter the Sugar Plum Fairy’s realm. Treats from around the world celebrate the heroine and Prince’s return and the two are enchanted with the Café rhythmically performing the Dance Arabe in a mesmerizing series of developpe a la seconde and penche.

Reilley McKinlay gives an enthralling performance as the Arabian Dancer in Alberta Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. Growing up just outside of Seattle, WA, McKinlay is celebrating her 10th season with Alberta Ballet, performing in such renowned rolls as Madame Tourvel in Jean Grand-Maitre’s Dangerous Liaisons, and Queen Anne in The Three Musketeers.

Dancing since the age of three, McKinlay first performed in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker at the age of 10.

“It was a dream come true to be in the same room with all of the ballerinas and I loved it more than anything.”

Read on to understand how the dedication of a dancer brings the magic of the holidays to life for children and families.


Reilley McKinlay (© Alberta Ballet)

TEALEAVES: What are some iconic ballet moves, sequences, or techniques that you perform in your role as the Arabian dancer? How many hours does it take to perfect them?

McKinlay: A few iconic steps I do repeatedly in the Arabian dance in The Nutcracker include a penche and developpe a la seconde.

Perfecting a certain step in ballet technique is more about the accumulation of knowledge that you’ve gained throughout the entire time you’ve been dancing. The foundations of classical ballet you begin learning at an early age helps to give you the building blocks needed for more difficult techniques and steps. These building blocks need to be instilled in your body before you can attempt the more difficult steps such as a penche or a developpe a la seconde.

Our artistic director always says that behind one minute of choreography is one hour of rehearsal. That is simply creating the choreography. To include cleaning, obtaining stamina, and getting everything to run smoothly, I would say one minute of choreography requires around six hours of rehearsal.


TEALEAVES: What is the timeline like to learn a new technique and new choreography?

McKinlay: I started dancing at the age of three. By the age of 10, I started taking technique more seriously, which gives you the foundation to build on and start doing more difficult steps as you get older. Once you really start to dance and aim to become a professional dancer, you train three to six hours a day, six days a week. Once you join a company, your schedule is one-and-a-half hours of class in addition to six hours a day of rehearsal, five days a week.

I currently work (train) five days a week from 9:30 – 6:15, not including my hour of personal warm-up that I do every morning. In our job, to learn a new technique is more about learning new choreography than a whole technique. You retrain your body for the choreography required and to feel comfortable in that choreography. I would say it takes about four weeks to truly learn and feel confident in a new technique or choreography.

It is very easy to lose technique in the world of ballet. There are some Mondays where having had Saturday and Sunday off, you feel like you’ve lost all of your training. Generally, two weeks without dancing is the max I will go before I do something active to remind my body of what is expected of it.


TEALEAVES: What are your first memories of The Nutcracker?

McKinlay: My first memories of The Nutcracker would be dancing around my Grandma’s living room to the music. My first memory of performing in The Nutcracker is from when I was 10 and danced in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker for the first time. It was a dream come true to be in the same room with all of the ballerinas and I loved it more than anything.


TEALEAVES: Can you describe performing in The Nutcracker – it’s one of the most popular ballets, and must be challenging due to the number of performers (of varying ages) and performances?

McKinlay: Performing in The Nutcracker is a wonderful experience. It is so special to see the new group of children each year performing with us and remembering how incredible it felt to be one of those kids. With Alberta Ballet, we tour Nutcracker to four different cities, so we end up working with four different groups of children. They are always enthusiastic, which helps our excitement as well.

The biggest challenge of performing The Nutcracker in particular is the repetitiveness of it all. It not only starts to take a toll on your body, but to mentally stay engaged and enthusiastic is hard. Our company is rather small to put on a full length production with over 20 shows, so we end up doing multiple roles each show and some people have to do the same thing every show for the whole run. To do party parent, snow, and flowers every show for four cities all through December takes a very strong mind and body.

You overcome this by sticking together as a company and knowing that we are all in it together. You also know that for most of the audience, this is their first time seeing this production so you do it for them. I would say one of the most rewarding things performing The Nutcracker is being a huge part of other people’s holiday traditions. We are so lucky to be the ones up on stage bringing that magic to life for so many children and families. Although our holiday season is very different from most people’s, seeing the little kids all dressed up coming to our show makes all of our hard work worth it.


TEALEAVES: How do you maximize your time as a ballerina (ie. getting the most out of rehearsals and practices)?

McKinlay: I maximize my time as a dancer by trying my hardest in every rehearsal. It is important not to ‘mark’ all the time. That means going through the motions without doing them full out. It is a learning technique that dancers use to get the sequence and movement familiar to your body without putting you at risk of injury if you are not confident in the step or sequence. I find this a wonderful practice to get you familiar with the choreography, but once I am more comfortable, I find that doing the work full out gives you the ability to work on the details and emotion that the role requires, not just the basic steps.

My relationship with time has definitely changed as my career has progressed. I was able to learn what my body requires to get me through the rehearsal day, and I stick to that. I spend more time at the studio now than I did when I was a student simply because I now take it upon myself to do a proper warmup and conditioning outside of our scheduled rehearsals. I have come up with a routine over the years that has accumulated over time and therefore ends up taking me longer.

Reilley McKinlay (© Paul McGrath)


TEALEAVES: How does your relationship with ballet change with time and you dance more and learn new choreography? Has there been an evolution in your performance?

McKinlay: My relationship with ballet has changed over time now that I have had the opportunity to dance more lead roles and embrace new choreography. I would say that once you learn more about yourself as a dancer, you are able to more easily embrace new roles and different choreography. You learn what your personal strengths and weaknesses are and you use all of that to your advantage. Once you have more life experiences, you are also able to glean off of those and show that in your movement and your characterization.

When you have spent more time being on stage, you end up having that much more experience which will always help when you are performing. Having experience on stage can be helpful with anything from knowing what to do when something goes wrong, calming nerves, or truly living in a performance and the moment instead of simply doing the steps.


TEALEAVES: What can you do better now, versus when you were younger and in the corps de ballet?

McKinlay: Things that I can do better know than I could when I was younger include characterization and truly performing when I am on stage.


TEALEAVES: There must be a lot of pressure in the world of ballet (being on stage, memorizing different choreography at the same time, etc). How do you overcome these pressures?

McKinlay: There is a lot of pressure being in the dance world and everyone works through these pressures differently. It is not easy spending all day staring at yourself in the mirror and having people tell you everything you are doing wrong. I cope with my pressure by keeping ballet as my job, not my way of life. It is helpful that my husband who is also a dancer, is a very laid back and patient person. We are able to vent our frustrations from the day on our way home, so that by the time we are home, work is back at the studio and we are able to continue on with our lives. It also helps that we have an 11-year-old toy fox terrier who is adorable yet very entertaining, who has always been there for me to make a bad day good again.

As a ballerina, you strive for the perfection of every step in your entire career. As we all know, perfection is not attainable, because art is opinion based, and one person’s perfect is not another person’s perfect. It becomes a lifelong pursuit to perfect any step in ballet. Dancers are perfectionists and therefore we are always striving to be better than we were the day before.


TEALEAVES: Do you have a favorite ballet/choreography that you’ve performed?

McKinlay: At this very moment, my favourite role/ballet that I have performed would be Madame Tourvel in Jean Grand-Maitre’s Dangerous Liaisons. It was such an incredible experience to tell Madame Tourvel’s story with choreography that felt as though it was made just for my body. It was a true growth moment for me as an artist, as I had never felt so alive yet calm on stage, and I was able to embrace the artistry of the movement and of the character to a level I felt I have never reached before.



Piece together your real-life Nutcracker fairytale and explore various ‘Gifts of Time’. 


JOURNEY TO Nutcracker.AfternoonTealeaves.com


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