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Alexandra Wilson
Dancer Alexandra Wilson has performed in Störling’s "Underground" twelve times, each new performance pushing Wilson to delve deeper into the story. | Photo by Christopher Smith

A strong performance means tapping into vulnerability for dancer Alexandra Wilson

The end-result of taking artistic risk often yields the reward of more emotionally complex stories.

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Alexandra Wilson said that a career in dance was the only career she considered. “To me, there was no other choice. Dance brought me the most joy out of all the options of what I could do.” For many dancers, such a decision would be a financial gamble, but Wilson was positioned for a life in the arts better than some; by the time she began her career, her spouse worked in a stable field. For her, the risks she takes are purely artistic – though no less frightening.

Wilson is a senior company member with the Störling Dance Theater out of Olathe, Kansas. “Taking risks as an artist is very important,” Wilson said. But taking risks can be complicated – and many-sided.

“You have to be vulnerable to be able to take risks and taking risks makes you vulnerable. Artistically, you want to push yourself; physically, you want to push yourself to create the best-looking piece of art and also the most emotional piece of art.”

Alexandra Wilson
A close-up of Alexandra Wilson’s ballet slippers. | Photo by Christopher Smith

But, she said, the end-result of taking artistic risk often yields a reward in the form of a more emotionally complex story or, in the case of dance, a challenging physical maneuver executed well. Wilson is currently performing Störling’s show Underground for the twelfth time. The performance will take place at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. She’s kept her performances fresh over the years by dancing different parts, working with a variety of dancers who come in from other companies, and delving deeper into the story, which is about the Underground Railroad. She said the performance asks the audience to go out on a limb by showing them racial inequality and injustice that can feel very personal.

“There are different characters that you see yourself in, and maybe you don’t want to see yourself in them,” she said. “It’s definitely a risk to make people toy with their emotions and actually have to think about something other than just go through daily life and never be confronted with anything.”

“The Risk Optimistic” is about belief: the assurance that taking a chance is worthwhile, even without knowing the outcome. It’s also the belief that if we value and support risk – in policy, community, and culture – we benefit from each person’s ability to make choices to achieve success. With this initiative, Kauffman kicks off 2020 with insights, stories, and opportunities to explore what it means to take risks, and own your own success, however you choose to define it.


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