Steven Heathcote, one of The Australian Ballet’s all-time greats, will be leading The Dancers Company’s tour of regional Australia this year. Behind Ballet got his thoughts on life on the road.
What was your first encounter with The Dancers Company?
I saw the company in Perth, at Her Majesty’s Theatre, a couple of years before I joined The Australian Ballet School. They did John Cranko’s Pineapple Poll, Kenneth MacMillan’s Las Hermanas – a frightening and powerful piece of theatre – and Jiří Kylián’s Symphony in D. Great program. It was important for me to see because even though the dancers were a few years older than me, they didn’t seem so far away from what I wanted to be. It felt more tangible, more attainable.
Did you ever perform with The Dancers Company yourself?
Yes, in my second year with The Australian Ballet School, in 1982. We did Robert Ray’s City Dances (I remember hitting the deck hard in this ballet, in Mount Gambier!). We had a couple of guest artists from Colombia, Yanis Pikieris and his wife Marielena Mencia, who did the pas de deux (“step of two” is a dance duet in which two dancers, usually a male and female, perform ballet steps together) from Don Quixote and knocked all our socks off. We also did Act III of Swan Lake, which we’re doing this year. I was a court gent in that. By the next year I had joined The Australian Ballet, so I didn’t tour with The Dancers Company again.
For the dancers, what’s it like being out on the road like this for the first time?
It’s hugely exciting. Suddenly you’re part of a company, which is what you’ve always dreamed about. There’s something galvanising and bonding about travelling on a bus together for so many hours! You get really really close (or really really sick of each other, but usually the former).
Performing to regional audiences is different, definitely. They’re more vocal, they’re not as constrained as a city audience. There are also so many ballet schools in regional Australia, so many kids learning dance, and for them it’s a window on what might be possible for them, just as it was for me in Perth. For them to see these young dancers at the beginning of their careers, bristling with potential, is important in an aspirational way.
For the graduate level of the School, it’s invaluable experience, because it replicates company life (albeit with a few more buses!). They get a sense of what it’s like to be interdependent on one another; they get to focus on what it’s like to build your energy towards the performance at the end of the day. As a student, most of your energy is centred around your day, and then in the evening you don’t have to do anything. So it’s a turnaround for their energy management. They also have to perform in so many theatres, to develop that adaptability to different spaces, which is very important for a dancer.
Apart from that, it’s just fun! The Dancers Company is fun, and it should be fun. You’re doing what you love doing, and it’s a really good shared experience.
What are your best “living out of a suitcase” tips?
Layers. Country towns get cold. You’ve got to keep healthy, so when you hit a town, hit the supermarket first thing and get your salads. And don’t overpack, because guess who’s going to be lugging it around? You are!
Discover the beauty of ballet with 3 spectacular works, when the Dancers Company perform Classical Triple Bill at Riverside Theatres 21 – 22 August.