By Brian Nolan
In the Australian dance world, there is a very privileged assembly of leading and influential teachers. In Victoria, we are fortunate to have three standout Divas of Classical Dance. Over the next three issues Dance Informa will be highlighting these talented teachers who have helped shape ballet in this country.
In our first interview we’ll be going 120 kms north of Melbourne, to the home of Sovereign Hill, the Gold Rush, the Royal South Street Competitions, and our first Classical Diva. In the Cecchetti world there is a lady who stands heads and shoulders above the rest – Carole Oliver. Carole is renowned for her indubitable and assiduous attention to detail, her stunning routines, her signature tutus, her students’ flawless eye make-up and the incredible ‘ballon’ that is synonymous with her pupils.
Carole or ‘Miss Oliver’ is known for the standard she has achieved in her Cecchetti based school in Ballarat. Supporting Carole is her sister Cheryl who choreographs many of the wonderful routines we see performed in competitions all over the state. The propinquity of these two sisters is what has made Carole Oliver and her school so very successful. Carole has trained many successful students from the Australian Ballet Company to Stuttgart Ballet in Germany and many of her past and present students represent Australia in Cecchetti and International Ballet competitions all over the world.
This year in August 2011, Carole celebrated her 50th year of teaching. In a reception honouring her 50 years, Carole was flattered and thrilled when past student, Amy Harris, who is currently a Soloist with the Australian Ballet, paid tribute to her.
Carole Oliver FISTD, FCBA – CICB, CERT V1 Examiner, Life Member
Who influenced you to become a dance teacher?
It was my mother and her passion for ballet. She had studied for many years herself as a girl, and because I grew up before the days of television, I recall spending most Sundays choreographing dances for my sister (Cheryl). We would perform in the living room for our family that evening.
When you first started teaching what were your aims and ambitions?
In my early years I really only taught students under the age of about 12, as I wanted to develop my own style and I constantly found it difficult with older children as I had to strip away too many technical problems before I could even begin.
Have you achieved your aims?
Let me just say that I feel very, very proud when I am watching my students perform on the stage.
What is your proudest moment in all your years of teaching?
There are so many, but I think one of my proudest moments probably came on the evening of my 50th anniversary celebration. Throughout the evening it gave me the opportunity to reflect back on the past 50 years and to see what I have managed to achieve.
What is your favorite step and why?
There are many. To select just one would be too difficult. However, a correctly placed pas de chat is high on my agenda, as well as a beautiful and sensitive port de bras, an exquisite arabesque or attitude. A fabulous jump will certainly lift my emotions!
If you could meet anyone in history who would it be and why?
The last Tsar (Nicholas II) of Russia. I would love to have received an invitation to one of his Grand Balls held at the Winter Palace (the Hermitage) in St Petersburg.
What do you think is the most important thing that has happened or influenced dance in the last 10 years?
YouTube, because it brings the world of dance right into your home!
What would you like to see happen in the next 10 years?
I feel there is a great need for us to offer and provide more opportunities for our aspiring and many talented dancers – more ballet companies would help.
What is your favourite ballet?
La Fille Mal Gardée. I just love Ashton’s choreography, it has so many beautiful moments. Also, Graham Murphy’s Swan Lake. I adore his work and his modern take on it.
What is your favourite piece of music?
Vivaldi and his Four Seasons. It has the passion and emotion to transcend me to a very happy place. Raymonda by Glazunov is another. All that beautiful music in one score – heaven!
You have produced many wonderful dancers throughout your career, is there one that stands out?
There are so many and for so many different reasons, but, two stand out. One is Amy Harris (Soloist Australian Ballet) because of her commitment and the determination that she showed from a youngster and still shows today. The other is Andrea Briody (ex Sydney Dance Company) because she never gave up. When classical opportunities didn’t happen for her she changed her focus and became very successful.
Do you think ballet competitions are necessary?
Yes, I think they provide a wonderful opportunity and foundation in stage performance. On a more personal level, it also allows students to deal and cope with disappointment and/or success, which are skills they will need to carry through life. In addition, children love to dress up and perform. It can also provide many friendships from within their peers. Just as long as it is not taken too seriously and for the wrong reasons.
Tell us about your role as a Cecchetti examiner.
Like my mother, my training was in the Cecchetti method of classical ballet. I was appointed as an examiner 30 years ago and today I am a Senior Examiner as I examine all levels within the Cecchetti system.
How would you like to be remembered?
I hope that I will be remembered as a passionate lover of ballet. Classical ballet has been my whole life and I am honoured and grateful to have been able to share my dream – especially with my family!
Next Issue: An Interview with Audrey Nicholls.
Photo: Carole Oliver and Amy Harris of The Australian Ballet at Carole’s 50th anniversary celebrations