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Antonijević’s visually arresting behind-the-scenes portraits of the ballet world he knows so well will be showcased at Berenson Fine Art in Toronto in May as part of the annual Contact festival of photography.

He first entered that rarified world of classical dance at age of 10, and credits his endurance in ballet to the careful and rigorous Russian-based training he received early on in Novi Sad, close to the Serbian town where he was born in 1969, the first of three children whose parents are recently deceased.

The tousle-haired boy had natural-born talent, recalls his first ballet teacher Ksenija Dinjaski.

But he didn’t know what he was doing.

“When he first came to me he had no musculature, I had to re-organize everything,” says the internationally known dance pedagogue of her very own Billy Elliot.

“I could see past the ligaments to the talent,” she continues on a recent visit to Toronto to admire the stellar progress of her prize pupil. “I could see that he would be the greatest dancer we have ever produced, and I was right.”

Today, Antonijević is as much in demand as ever, hand-picked by an impressive line-up of internationally acclaimed ballet choreographers creating or re-staging works for the National Ballet.

They include the American-born director of the Hamburg Ballet, John Neumeier, who has selected Antonijević to dance his acclaimed ballet, Nijinsky at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre of the performing Arts in March, and the Russian-born Alexei Ratmansky, artist-in-residence at American Ballet Theatre, who personally requested that Antonijević reprise the role of Romeo for performances for his version of Romeo and Juliet which the National Ballet will perform in April in London, England.

Back in Toronto in June, Antonijević is then scheduled to end the season dancing the male lead role of Don José in Davide Bombana's version of Bizet’s Carmen as well as Nr.24, a world premiere created for him by fellow principal dancer (and burgeoning choreographer) Guillaume Côté.

“It blows my mind that choreographers still want me,” exclaims Antonijević, a dancer for whom  age remains a theatrical illusion.

“People come in saying they want young and beautiful dancers and I think I should go to the back of the room. But then they call my name and I can’t believe it. Of course I am very grateful. It’s a gift to continue dancing such challenging works. I won’t quit until my body tells me to.”

Aleksandar Antonijević's first gallery show, INFORMants, opens on May 2, 2013 at the Berenson Fine Art Gallery, 212 Avenue Road, Toronto. For more information, see  Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

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BY DEIRDRE KELLY