The final bow: Husband and wife dancers Kelley and Reilley McKinlay announce retirement from Alberta Ballet

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In 2017, Kelley and Reilley McKinlay danced the lead roles in Alberta Ballet’s production of Dangerous Liaisons. Kelley played the scheming and amoral Valmont, who attempts to seduce Reilley’s chaste and religious Madame de Tourvel in the company’s adaptation of the classic tale of sexual and romantic manipulation.


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They were juicy roles, for sure. But it was not the first or last time the Calgary couple would dance together in an Alberta Ballet production. Yet, when asked, both say it was one of the most memorable experiences in their impressive careers with the company.

“I had done Dangerous Liaisons twice before Reilley had a chance to do it and then Reilley and I did the two leads together,” says Kelley. “Doing it then was an unbelievably special moment for us because we were the only ones who knew that Reilley was pregnant with our daughter at the time. The company didn’t even know.”

“That one takes the cake because it was such a special thing for the three of us,” he adds with a laugh.

Daughter Jules is now three years old. Their son, Remy, was born a year ago. On Tuesday, the McKinlays announced they would be retiring as dancers for Alberta Ballet at the end of the season, with both citing their children as the main reason to close this chapter in their lives.


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Reilley, who joined the company in 2008, has accepted an administrative, behind-the-scenes role in the company as artistic co-ordinator. Her final performance will be in March in the world premiere of Phi, which will also feature her husband dancing in the lead role.

Kelley, who joined the company in 2002 at the age of 17, will finish his Alberta Ballet career in April in Cinderella.

Kelley and Reilley McKinlay rehearsing 2016’s Futureland for Alberta Ballet. Photo by Paul McGrath.
Kelley and Reilley McKinlay rehearsing 2016’s Futureland for Alberta Ballet. Photo by Paul McGrath. jpg

Based on the music of David Bowie, Phi also marks the swan song of longtime artistic director Jean Grand-Maitre, who also announced he would be retiring after this season after 20 years with the company. This means Grand-Maitre and Kelley’s respective careers in Alberta Ballet began at the same time and will end together.

But this is just a coincidence. Kelley says it was the time he spent with his young family during the pandemic that convinced him to take his final bow as a dancer.


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“During the pandemic, to be honest, I didn’t miss dance at all,” he says. “At the time, getting to be home for the entire first year of my son, I think every parent will agree that is something that is rarely able to happen unless you don’t work. But to have both parents home was such a silver lining, it was such a special year for us. I definitely enjoyed coming back. I don’t want to say the passion wasn’t there that I had in the past, but the hours were a big part of it. We’d get up in the morning, we’re rushing our kids out of the house, we get to work, we have a full day, we’re rushing to make dinner, we’re rushing to get the kids bathed and into bed and then we repeat it all five days a week. Then the weekend happens and we have to clean the house, we have to do the laundry. It was ‘Wait, we need to give time to ourselves, to our kids and do something that is healthy for our mental state.’”


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“It sounds like every other parent,” Reilley adds. “And it is. It’s just that our hours are long and odd. When your three-year-old says ‘Mommy, Daddy, stop talking about work,’ it’s a reality check.”

The couple first performed together in 2008 in a production of the Nutcracker. It was Reilley’s first role for the company, while Kelley was already a six-year veteran. The two performed the Waltz of the Flowers together and clearly, something clicked.

“The relationship just developed from there from talking a lot, sitting with each other on the bus, sharing music,” Kelley says. “It just evolved from there.”

The two married six years ago.

Kelley McKinlay with his wife Reilley McKinlay during a dress rehearsal for Dracula at Alberta Ballet in 2016.  Postmedia Network
Kelley McKinlay with his wife Reilley McKinlay during a dress rehearsal for Dracula at Alberta Ballet in 2016.  Postmedia Network Photo by Lyle Aspinall Lyle Aspinall /Lyle Aspinall/Postmedia Network

Born near Seattle, Reilley rose quickly through the ranks to become a First Soloist after joining Alberta Ballet in 2008. Grand-Maitre says her lines and technique set her apart and that she was a “blessing to the company.”


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Kelley’s first performance for Alberta Ballet was also in a production of The Nutcracker in his hometown of Edmonton. He was three years old at the time. Fourteen years later, he joined the company full time and became what Grand-Maitre calls “the single most important male dancer in our 53-year-old history.”

Both have been integral to the evolution of the company. That includes participating in all of Grand-Maitre’s signature portrait ballets, which includes works based on the music of Joni Mitchell, Elton John, The Tragically Hip, Gordon Lightfoot, Sarah McLachlan and k.d. lang.

“You go on stage and really feel like you have accomplished something special,” Kelley says. “Fostering that environment allows the audience to feel it as well. That’s what makes Alberta Ballet so special in Canada and for the productions we put on. That’s been a huge reason why I stayed as long as I have. I’m constantly being challenged after 20 years with Jean’s work and the other choreographers that have come in. Every dancer who comes in embraces that vibe and energy. It’s such a special place to be and that’s why I lasted 20 years here.”


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Phi will be the last time the two will dance in the same production. While they admit they aren’t sure what they will be feeling when the curtain falls, both expect it to be emotional.

Reilley said it already struck her while playing Tsarina in The Nutcracker this past December.

“I’m sitting in the giant sleigh in the wings waiting for the wolves to push me on,” she says. “As I’m sitting there, I’m looking up and it’s the entire fly system with all of the guys up on the rail waiting to pull the wings and the sets and everything. I’m sitting there looking at it and thinking ‘This is amazing. This is the life I’ve been able to take for granted for the last 14 years.’ It’s just very cool.”

Phi will be performed from March 10 to 19 at the Jubilee Auditorium.

Reilley and Kelley McKinlay are retiring from Alberta Ballet. Courtesy, Paul McGrath
Reilley and Kelley McKinlay are retiring from Alberta Ballet. Courtesy, Paul McGrath jpg



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