Interview Kirk Truman
Portraits Si Melber
“…It seems a leap, but the habits that I learnt as a dancer still apply.”
A distinctive looking and impeccably dressed redhead with a wicked smile, Ann Wixley can usually be seen making her way through Fitzrovia, the neighbourhood she now calls home. But long before she was the Executive Creative Director at media agency Wavemaker UK, Ann was a ballet dancer, born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. Taking elegant puffs on a cigar, she told me about these two very different careers and the unexpected qualities that connect them…
Tell me about your upbringing back home in South Africa and how you ended up becoming a ballet dancer
I remember when my mother suggested that I grow my hair. I was about eight years old, with a thick bowl cut which offset my fat cheeks unflatteringly. It was after winning a prize at the annual ballet eisteddfod in Cape Town, where I grew up. This was the start of a 17-year calling to become a ballet dancer.
My hair finally in a bun and stubbornly hairsprayed earned me the short-lived nickname at primary school of ‘Ethel Hairspray’. I realised then that peer pressure simply wasn’t for me. The notion of wanting to be a part of a large group in order to pick on a smaller group that was slightly different seemed ludicrous even then.
My career as a principal ballet dancer was relatively short but rich, if not in earnings. I joined CAPAB (Cape Performing Arts Board) at 17 as their ‘baby ballerina’ to perform solo and principal roles. After four magical years I moved to Pretoria to join PACT (Pretoria State Theatre) to enjoy their diverse repertoire of Balanchine, Sir Ronald Hynd, Roland Petit and a favourite Fokine classic, The Firebird. I performed a soirée for President FW De Klerk’s wife Marijke’s birthday, for Nelson Mandela’s Inauguration Ceremony at the Union Buildings, and for Princess Caroline of Monaco in Lausanne, alongside Darcy Bussell as a fellow Prix de Lausanne winner.
How did you transition from your career as a dancer to working in media?
I now work in advertising at Wavemaker UK where I create and direct ideas and content that work with media and technology to solve marketing problems for clients.
It seems a leap, but four habits that I learnt as a dancer still apply. The drive for finding empathy with a character and my audience; the knife edge of performance under pressure; a love of context – the bigger picture of a narrative within which one, or one’s ideas, can play only a part. And stamina.
The hops and skips in between make the leap less dramatic. I created events as a freelancer, joined a creative PR agency to work on clients like Levi’s and Smirnoff, followed by a media strategy agency where I started up their ideas division. From Africa’s big sky I moved to the Big Smoke of London and joined a large media agency where I created this current role and have been practising it for the last eight years.
It still gives me pleasure to wear ‘normal’ clothes not ballet togs every day. I like to bend them to my will; after all you should wear the clothes, not the other way around. Colour, line and clothes that move appeal to my senses. I have an archive of treasures that I rotate: my favourites are usually Vivienne Westwood and Y3, mixed with vintage pieces found by my mother when I was 17.
What does the Fitzrovia neighbourhood mean to you as your home?
I live in Fitzrovia now with my partner, a fashion photographer. From this thin sliver of town, we can glimpse the green of Fitzroy Square and stroll through the seasons in Regent’s Park. We are regulars at Bobo Social for their simply delicious burgers, caffeinated at Charlotte Place’s Lantana and stay sane thanks to the friendly Fitness First on TCR. A stone’s throw from the Virginia Woolf blue plaque, I’m proud and grateful to be in a room of my own.