Melbourne-born dancer Mia Heathcote, who joined Queensland Ballet in January 2014, was surprised at a curtain call of Peter Pan, during which Artistic Director Li Cunxin announced her promotion to soloist in front of the audience.
Heathcote is a former dual recipient of the Energex Rachael Walsh Artistic Award (2015). A graduate of The Australian Ballet School, she also received the Graeme Murphy Award for Excellence in Contemporary Dance and the Award for Excellence in Classical Ballet during her time there.
The talented performer’s repertoire highlights include Titania in Liam Scarlett’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, American Girl in Derek Deane’s Strictly Gershwin, Odette in Ben Stevenson’s Swan Lake, Paulina Quinteros’ Wings of Love pas de deux, Fairy of Grace and Fairy of Beauty in Greg Horsman’s The Sleeping Beauty, Effie in Peter Schaufuss’ La Sylphide, George Balanchine’s Serenade, and Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet.
Dance Informa recently congratulated the red-headed wonder on her success and discussed with her the trials and tribulations of moving from Company Artist to Soloist.
Congrats on your promotion! What does this promotion mean to you, and what did you do to celebrate after the announcement?
“Thank you! I feel very humbled to have received this promotion. It feels nice to have my work and passion recognised and to be supported by this wonderful company. To celebrate? Well, after getting the biggest hugs from my parents, I went out for a bite to eat with them and some close friends. My dad also kindly shouted the company drinks at a rooftop bar in Brisbane so that we could also celebrate the other promotions of the season, Lucy Green and Camilo Ramos to principal artists.”
How is life as a soloist different to life before?
“It’s actually much the same, so far! Apart from having a few different private rehearsals for things here and there, I still work the same hours. The work never stops really! While it’s nice to be recognised in this way, the title doesn’t really mean absolutely everything to me — whether you are in the corps de ballet, a soloist or principal, ballet is constant and continuous work, and I am honestly just happy to be doing what I love.”
You were thrown into a lot of lead roles in the lead-up to your promotion. How did it feel knowing you were being ‘tested’?
“Yes, I was! I have to say, as terrifying as it felt at the time, I am so glad that it happened. I really seized those opportunities because I know that in moments like these, you have a choice — you can be brave and say, ‘Yes I can do it’, or you can freak out and back out, and backing out simply wasn’t an option for me…or for the ballet staff! I wanted to prove to myself that I had the ability and courage to take on any challenge that was thrown my way. It was also, of course, a chance to dance, and I will never take that for granted.”
Which of those roles did you find most enjoyable? Which one was most challenging?
“I think the most challenging role was Swan Lake. It took as much mental strength as it did physical because I’d never been a corps de ballet ‘swan’ before, let alone Odette! At least I had a couple of weeks to prepare.
The most enjoyable experience would definitely have to be when I was thrown on as Lise in La Fille mal Gardée. This time, I had two days’ notice, which was probably one of the most stressful things to go through, trying to put together a three-act ballet with multiple pas de deux and musical/theatrical cues without having rehearsed prior. Despite the stressful lead-up, I ended up having the most euphoric and unique experience on stage, and I think that was because I let go of all expectations due to the situation being what it was. I simply had no choice but to let go, enjoy and give it my all. That experience taught me some very valuable things, and I believe I now perform with a different mindset. I ended up really enjoying the rest of the season and developing the character of Lise with the wonderful support of my fellow dancers and friends, who helped me immensely.”
What has it been like having such a well-known Australian ballet icon, Steven Heathcote, as your father? Did he have much to do with your training? Offer you advice?
“To me, my dad is just my dad — and the most amazing one I could ask for. He has definitely played the ‘dad’ role more than any type of ballet coach role throughout my life. In saying that, it is great to have someone who understands this industry, and there have been times throughout my training and career when he has offered me the most valuable advice, and I’m very grateful for that.
I think, though, that there’ll be people out there who understand that somehow even constructive criticism coming from your loved ones is the hardest to take. I don’t know why it is like this, but it just is!”
What has been your greatest challenge as a student and professional dancer, and what would you tell younger dancers?
“I think my greatest challenge as both a student and a professional dancer would be the everyday mental battle of self-doubt and self-worth. It’s just as important to have your mind in a positive state as it is to have your body functioning well. I am constantly trying to work on keeping myself in a healthy state of mind, both in ballet and everyday life, and on believing that what I can give to this art form is good enough.
The advice that I’d give young dancers, therefore, would be to not waste your energy on trying to be perfect. Everyone knows there is no such thing and, in any case, imperfections can be beautiful; they can be the things that make you uniquely ‘you’. Also, I’d tell them to learn to play to their strengths and, most importantly, to remember and know why it is that you dance.”
What’s on the cards right now, and what are you looking forward to most in the coming months?
“Right now, we are rehearsing for a number of things coming up. We will be performing The Nutcracker at the end of this year, which I am excited to revisit and improve, and are currently working with the ever-wonderful Liam Scarlett on his Firebird for our 2018 season. I am waiting in eager anticipation for that season!
But most of all, I’m looking forward to a good rest to rejuvenate for an exciting 2018!”
To find out more about the Queensland Ballet, visit queenslandballet.com.au.
By Grace Gassin of Dance Informa.