By Brian Nolan.
If there is one person who exemplifies a true Classical Diva of Dance then Audrey Nicholls is it. She hails from Townsville in north Queensland, but after training in Sydney and then furthering her training in London, our second diva made her home in Victoria. (If you didn’t catch my interview with our first diva, Carole Oliver, click here)
In the world of RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) and in the performing arena Audrey Nicholls stands pointe shoes and tutus over the rest. She is renowned throughout Australasia and internationally for her contribution to the RAD and in 2010 was honoured by the board of trustees at the Academy headquarters in England with a Fellowship in recognition of her contribution and remarkable, dedicated service to the Academy.
With a career spanning 61 years, Audrey, along with Colin Peasley, is one of the longest serving and dare I say one of the more ‘’mature’’ dancers still performing in Australia. As a valued guest artist of the Australian Ballet Company (where she has been guesting since 1992), Audrey is not only constantly performing character roles with them but still has roles created on her!
Audrey has had a very illustrious career and in her day she graced some of the world’s best stages. A soubrette, with a sensitive lyrical and artistic quality, coupled with assiduous attention to detail and a resounding technique, enabled Audrey to perform and portray a huge variety of roles.
Audrey commenced her career in 1950 where at the very young age of 16 she joined the Borovansky Ballet (now the Australian Ballet) as a member of the corps de ballet. In 1951, she won the inaugural Frances Scully Memorial Scholarship and travelled to London to further her studies. In 1952, she joined the Rambert Ballet as a soloist and in 1953 was promoted to a principal dancer. In 1955, she returned to Australia and rejoined the Borovansky Ballet as a senior soloist. In 1958, the Ballet Guild of Victoria (Ballet Victoria) was her next stepping-stone with some outstanding principal roles especially in Giselle and Coppelia.
A career in television from 1958 – 68 saw her immortalized on the small screen with both Channel 7 and Channel 2 (ABC). During this time Audrey commenced teaching the RAD Syllabus.
In 1973, Audrey Nicholls was appointed as a Graded Examiner of the Royal Academy of Dance. From 1982 to today, she has taught RAD teaching courses and classes throughout Australia. Audrey instigated the Victorian Grade Awards and was honoured when the awards were named after her this year.
Audrey is a truly remarkable lady, who is forever smiling. Her warmth and passion for the people around her and the art she loves is evident. When taking workshops or courses, teachers specifically ask for Audrey as they know that the students all come out of class beaming.
Audrey Nicholls FRAD ARAD
What influenced you to become a teacher?
I had been a professional dancer since the age of sixteen and continued until I was about 36. During this time at around 23, I was passionate about teaching ballet and wanted to give back to aspiring young students my love and experience in dance. Along with professional dancer Eve King, I began what was to become a long and rewarding journey of teaching ballet.
When you first started teaching what were your aims and ambitions?
To give the students a pure classical technique and to inspire their love of music. When I hear music, I immediately have a physical reaction to move and express myself and to bring out the artistry of the dance step. I also wanted to offer knowledge of other influential teachers and use the expertise of Martin Rubinstein (Maestro), Lynn Golding, Jack Manual and Christine Howard. We were very privileged to be a part of their education.
Have you achieved these goals?
I do feel a sense of achievement and feel rewarded to have trained many students who have gone on to wonderful professional careers not only as classical dancers but also qualified examiners, teachers, actors and stage managers. I have also trained Genee gold medallist Holly Smart and bronze medallist Pamela Smith, as well as several soloists in the Australian Ballet and Royal Ballet Companies including Delia Harrington and James Newman. One former student of note is Christine Howard who is the Character teacher at the Australian Ballet School (30 years).
What is your proudest moment in all your years of teaching?
Being recognized by my peers and having the honour to be awarded the Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Dance (2011). Also the achievement of 40 years of collaboration with Eve King and our teaching together in our ballet school.
Where do you think ballet is headed in the next 10 years?
Supply & demand – we have the supply of many talented dancers, choreographers, designers, composers and of course teachers! Dancers today have the opportunity to receive excellent training with technical ability being pushed beyond their boundaries. Contemporary and classical demands the utmost from the dancer- today there is no limit to where and what will happen in the next 10 years.
What do you think is the most important thing that has happened or influenced dance in the last 10 years?
Televised live broadcasts of performances reach thousands of people who might not normally have the opportunity to see a ballet. In addition, one of the biggest of all: YouTube
What is your favourite ballet?
I am a bit of a traditionalist, so I will say Giselle. I love the first act, the communicative story telling in the demi character style, told with drama and heartfelt emotion especially with Giselle’s acting in the ‘mad scene’. Then the pure classicalism of Act 11, the choreography raises so many sentiments and reactions that enable the dancers to put their hearts on the line. It is a wonderful vehicle for the dancer.I grew up on Giselle, starting in the corps de ballet, then Pas de Six, Peasant Pas de Deux, Queen of the Willis and eventually the title role of Giselle.
Who is your favourite dancer?
There are three exquisite women and it is impossible for me to choose between them, they are: Natalia Makarova, Darcy Bussell and Natalia Osipova – for me they are the epitome of dance.
You are an RAD examiner. Why did you choose RAD and do you still examine?
My original teachers were Gwen Hardie and Ann Roberts FRAD, ARAD who both taught the RAD syllabi. I found the syllabi structure and exam preparation beneficial and certainly challenging. Therefore, when I commenced teaching, the transition to RAD was a natural progression. Becoming an RAD examiner seemed to follow automatically.
I will always be grateful to Martin Rubinstein for his mentoring and guidance when I was becoming an examiner in those early days and to this day. I loved examining, meeting the different teachers and exchanging ideas. I enjoyed helping to sort out problems and addressing the needs of the country teachers where little access to examiners or experienced teachers was available. I have travelled internationally and throughout Australasia for 33 years as an examiner. As an examiner, we all were continually updated with education in dance, psychology, syllabus and new methods. It has been a very rewarding career and I continue as an RAD tutor on different faculties for courses, workshops for teachers and students, and as a Juror for RAD events.
How would you like to be remembered?
Fondly – I hope! But also for my lifelong love of dance and my devotion to my husband David and my family.
Top photo: Audrey Nicholls in the Pas de Trios from Swan Lake – Ballet Rambert 1954.