Recent History – 1998
By Alethea Wiesner, Daily News Staff, Oct. 29, 1998
A talented local dancer is chasing his dream of professional performance all the way to Vancouver: 16-year-old Peter Gleeson has gone from recreational dance classes in Dawson Creek to performances in the lower mainland.
Dancing runs in the family, said Peter’s mother Nancy-her father-in-law dances, her 80-year-old mother line dances, and Nancy and her husband Gerry have been known to spin across the floor. Even Peter was bitten by the dancing bug (or perhaps the Jitterbug?) early on.
“Once we went to a wedding and he was about three,” she began, stifling a giggle. “As soon as the music started he would get out on the floor and do his version of breakdancing…” laughter starts seeping through the phone as Nancy remembers. “Everyone would laugh.”
That laughter has turned to applause. Now 16, Peter is pirouetting his way through 18 performances of The Nutcracker Suite with the Royal City Youth Ballet of Vancouver, which begins in mid-November. Roles rotate, and Peter will alternately be the Prince, the Snow King, a Spanish man, and a bear.
It’s the same kind of hectic life so many artists lead, seeking the balance between everyday obligations and the pursuit of art. Peter takes a full-load of academic courses at Langley Fine Arts School from 8:30 a.m. until noon in Fort Langley. From there it’s a bus ride, skytrain and car pool to New Westminster for an intensive afternoon of ballet classes with the Kirkwood Academy of the Performing Arts. Peter was supposed to study at Langley, said his mother, but the program wasn’t challenging enough.
Not even nights and weekends are free, eaten up with rehearsal time, homework, and the chores he does for the family he stays with in exchange for a little pocket money.
“I’m just trying to take time and get centered on what I’d like to do,” Peter says over the phone during a rare pause in his day. His father agreed.
“The important part is that it’s certainly motivating him and giving him an awful lot of direction,” said his father, Gerry. “I think it’s great.”
It takes a little coaxing to get Peter to talk about ballet, who said he was reluctant at first to get into it because “there’s the guy thing.” In fact, it wasn’t until last year that he got serious about ballet, focusing more on jazz and tap.
He began studying ballet at four or five with Heidy Kux-Kardos at the college until the program died. For years dancing was pushed aside in lieu of karate classes and lacrosse, until one day Peter happened to see his little sister during a dance rehearsal, said Nancy.
“He was sort of mumbling to himself, saying, “I could do that’ and I answered, “Well, you probably could if you wanted to,” she said. “So I finally asked him if he wanted to try it, and he said, “Yeah, I think so.'”
That meant sacrifice. Peter was able to study in Dawson Creek with Wendy Cox until he turned 13, but then traded recreational classes for competitive at Jellison Studios in Fort St. John. Leaving behind friends, family, and all his other recreation pursuits, he began two years of weekly commutes to the northern city, finally moving to Fort St. John temporarily.
“I thought, well, he just wanted to meet some new people and have some adventure in his life,” explained Nancy, who said she never expected Peter’s dancing to go as far as it has. “He said he was still doing this just for fun, for a hobby just like other kids play basketball and volleyball.”
But after two years when his instructor moved, Peter was starting to get hooked on ballet, much to everyone’s surprise. His parents, expecting him home, were baffled when Peter insisted on staying in Fort St. John to work with ballet instructor Sheila Murray.
“And that’s when everything sort of went kaputz and we had a bunch of fights because he didn’t want to stop,” Nancy said ruefully. The argument lasted for a week, she said, the parents finally caving in when they realized Peter was serious.
Murray was so impressed with the ballet potential of her young protégé that she pulled some strings, enrolling Peter in an intense five-week program at the prestigious Banff Centre for Fine Arts-without so much as an audition.
“He was so excited about that because he knew that it was going to be the turning point,” Nancy said. Indeed, it was. Even with 72 girls and 6 boys practicing 50 hours a week, Peter stood out. From there it was on to Langley Fine Arts School, where Peter now studies academics, and the Kirkwood Studio where he dances.
“I think for me now it’s starting to develop,” Peter said, talking about he exquisite levels of control required to raise ballet to its purest form. “There’s a real love for it, it becomes almost an obsessive thing.”
He searched for words, talking about the sensation of the art, its depth, the combination of willpower and good instruction that makes improvement exponential.
“It’s one thing to sit back and look at it, and it’s another thing to do it,” he finally said. “It’s not something you can explain too much unless you’ve done it.”