The Alexander Technique
With graceful, iconoclastic power, the dancer Harry Alexander has raised the barre, setting international stages alight as a member of the Michael Clark Company, He also proves a natural model for Wylde’s menswear shoot on the following pages. But, as Luke Singleton discovers, there’s more to this “beautiful giant” than meets the eye.
"You don’t get higher status in my troupe just because you’ve been there longer... nobody is that important,” dancer Harry Alexander assures me.
We’ve met in a café in London’s Piccadilly to discuss his membership of the legendary Michael Clark’s ensemble, and his life to date. As if to qualify the previous, possibly harsh-sounding comment, he adds: “You’re constantly given chances to prove yourself. Michael creates shapes that aren’t the easiest to hold and a show doesn’t allow for much spontaneity. His choreography is very precise and there are details that, if done wrong, you’ll notice. So I’m usually looking into the darkness on the Barbican stage trying not to wobble! Of course, you’re expected to be technically perfect.”
Alexander joined Clark’s iconoclastic company in 2010 aged 19 and was most recently seen in Clark’s sold-out run of To a simple, rock ’n’ roll. . . song, at the Barbican, where a strident Bowie soundtrack camouflaged some typically complex choreography. To my surprise, he tells me the troupe learnt the sequences to classical music; the soundtrack was added later live on stage.
Clark is known for sticking with people he knows well. “He likes familiarity and working with the same dancers,” Alexander tells me. “His contracts are unusual for a ballet company; we are technically freelance dancers on long contracts. So it’s actually quite nice having a bit of time away from the company, to tick a few boxes.” These “boxes” have included a fashion story shot by Tim Walker for The Sunday Times, AW17 campaigns for Versace and Smythson – and now this monochrome menswear story for Wylde. This should all be a doddle compared with performing on stages in New York, London, Paris and Berlin? “Fashion feels slightly more pressured, to be honest. In a show you’ve got moments to redeem yourself if something’s not perfect; the stage is designed to be seen face-on by an audience. But a camera shot is dependent on one person’s focus; a subtle angle will change the image completely. You’ve got your chance and then it’s never going away.”
It’s not hard to imagine why the elegant 6ft 3in figure and handsome features of Harry Alexander might appeal to a multitude of audiences, from theatrical to fashion and advertising. Being coveted for one’s beauty is flattering, but during the course of our conversation, Alexander reveals a startling side to himself that’s far deeper and more interesting than any superficial imagery could hint at. Aged 14, whilst at Italia Conti Academy, he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis; his large intestine was removed and a colostomy bag attached in its place. He had to wear the bag throughout his training and into his professional career. “I danced with it for five years. I stopped only for a couple of months to have the operation. It made me less confident, I was extremely aware of it when I was dancing. I would mention it to people I trained with but some of them hadn’t noticed. People I talked to didn’t know I had a bag and all of my friends had forgotten it... but it felt very real to me. I found more confidence in what I could physically do as soon as I got rid of it.”
Is there any residual discomfort, regarding show costumes? “A bit. That’s why I absolutely loved the trousers from the [Wylde] shoot. Coming from a past of always needing to have my stomach covered, I felt automatically comfortable in high-waisted trousers. But it’s more of a physical memory. I was never judged.”
He is out, publicly since 21, and claims not to have experienced any prejudice regarding his sexuality. “No, never. Being gay has not affected my career. But I’m a dancer; I find it distressing that it’s not the same for everyone. Women’s rights, gay rights; it doesn’t make sense to me how anybody would oppose this, or see it any differently. It’s 2017, but in some countries nothing’s changed. It’s still unsafe.”
This thoughtful, realistic approach to life reminds me I am talking to the son of an Essex builder. Decidedly unaffected, he is a beautiful, friendly giant. At the shoot in a hot Shoreditch studio a few days before, he made me laugh when he told me he shaved off his Afro at 15, “because I looked like a microphone!”
Our conversation turns to diet, with his previous revelations fresh in my mind. “Actually, I eat constantly,” Alexander tells me. “I always want to break rehearsals for food. I eat tons of pasta, butter, occasionally cheese. There is this one thing everyone in the company knows: I only eat yellow food! Everything has to be a shade of yellow or brown. I love Yorkshire puddings, bread, bananas, potatoes. Occasionally I’ll treat myself to some air-dried pappardelle. I also like truffle oil, but I don’t like truffles. I don’t like any type of mushrooms. Of course not… they are grey!”
At last! I’ve unearthed Alexander’s hidden ballet dancer’s neurosis…There had to be one. Glancing down at the Scandinavian oven cake we have both picked at this past half- hour, it is definitely a yolky shade of golden brown. He has supervised our meal silently the entire interview. When you are this charming, such finicky eccentricities only make you more exotic, I suppose, but never basic, of course. “No, just lacklustre!” Harry scoffs, ever the comedian.