Melbourne City Ballet are one of the country’s fastest-growing classical performing arts bodies. They are currently on a national tour presenting Romeo and Juliet and will be featuring emerging dancer Olivia Paine, a northern rivers girl. This is her first time dancing on home ground as a professional dancer. She spoke with The Echo.
How did your time dancing at the Karen Ireland Dance Centre in Lismore prepare you for your career in ballet?
Karen Ireland has an extraordinary eye for classical ballet and a unique gift for teaching dance. In most pursuits, some people are just naturally great teachers and others not so much. Karen has the right blend of expertise, humour and determination to make successful dancers in many genres. She pushed me and nurtured me and she believed in me. She remains a big part of my life and I owe her so much. I often wonder if I hadn’t been lucky enough to have Karen in my early years, could I have achieved as much, as poor early training can ruin a good dancer’s chances of a career. Karen is always looking to the future for her dancers and she has so many success stories.
Was being a professional dancer a long-held dream? How much dedication did it take to make it happen?
Yes! I had always loved dance, particularly classical ballet, and when I was about eight years old Mum took me to see the Australian Ballet perform Swan Lake in Brisbane. I was transfixed. I asked her how much does it cost to be in a performance like that? Mum replied, ‘You don’t pay to be in it, it’s their job and the ballet company pays you to be one of the ballet dancers – if you’re good enough’. I couldn’t believe that you could do that for a living and be paid. From that day all I ever wanted was to be a ballet dancer. At age 10 I was invited to be a child dancer in one of the Australian Ballet’s seasons of Sleeping Beauty and I got my first pay cheque! I wanted it very badly.
The dedication part – well that is the longest, and hardest, road and it never really ends. Countless hours of classes, driving or flying all over Australia and the world to attend competitions and auditions. Injury, surgery, recovery, physio, specialists! So much money, time, effort and dedication, but so worth it. To be able to do every day the thing that you adore is the most highly sought-after job in the world. But if you want it you have to fight for it.
What training and dancing did you do between Lismore and Melbourne City Ballet?
At age 10 I was accepted into the interstate training program (ITP) at the Australian Ballet School (ABS). These are casual classes and holiday schools for interstate and international children, so that the school can monitor your progress and you can get a feel for the school. At 13 I was offered a place in their full-time program. So at 14 I went to live in Melbourne. That was terribly hard to be away from the farm and living in a highrise apartment in Southbank, but so worth it. I was at ABS for five years and I loved it. High school is included in the training, as well as two diploma courses, so I graduated with my VCE, a Certificate III in Dance, an Advanced Diploma of Dance, and a Graduate Diploma of Classical Ballet. I won the Marten Bequest Scholarship for ballet ($20K) just as I was graduating from ABS. This scholarship was meant to take to me to Europe. Unfortunately just at that time I was injured and it has taken two years to get fully back to dance en pointe and build back up the strength that is required.
What is it about the company that you love?
The sense of camaraderie with the other dancers, being part of something truly great, new, and really exciting and, of course, performing onstage are the best parts of being in this company.
Melbourne City Ballet took me into their fold when I was still injured in September last year. They saw potential and invited me to do company class daily, which helped me gain back strength and confidence.
MCB is an amazing new ballet company doing very big things. They have just moved into brand-new purpose-built premises in Coburg. For students MCB also offers a junior extension program, part-time elite program, full-time elite program and a finishing year (whose students dance with the professional company at times) as well as Melbourne City Youth Ballet.
Tell me about your role dancing Romeo and Juliet.
I am one of three friends of Juliet. I am really excited to dance this role as it is a role generally reserved for a more senior dancer. My character is dedicated to her friend Juliet. She is very young and teasing and flirty. It’s so much fun!
How do you work up a show like this? How long does it take?
It takes a few months of rehearsals. After morning classes we rehearse all afternoon. Sometimes we are rehearsing more than one ballet at a time, depending on the performance schedule. We started rehearsals for R&J about three months ago but we were rehearsing other things at the same time. We have been concentrating only on R&J since late May.
And what about returning to your home area – is there a sense of nostalgia, or local girl made good?
This is really exciting for me. I haven’t performed in my home area for family and friends since I was 15. So yes it does feel quite nostalgic as a lot of people put a lot of time and effort into helping me. I am so happy to be able to dance for them and for them to experience a beautiful ballet. I love the northern rivers and I am hoping to spend a little bit of time between performances relaxing on the family macadamia farm.
What should we expect from the presentation of Romeo and Juliet?
Romeo and Juliet is a truly beautiful ballet, one of the classics. There will be romance, love, hate and death in a tragic Shakespearean tale told for you through wonderful ballet dancers. I am so blessed to be part of something as stunningly beautiful as Romeo and Juliet.
They perform at the Byron Theatre on Thursday 21 July at 7.30pm. Tickets start at $32. Bookings at byroncentre.com.au.