By Rebecca Martin of Dance Informa.
Loved and admired by audiences and dancers alike, Queensland Ballet Principal Dancer Rachael Walsh announced her retirement in July.
A graduate of The Australian Ballet School, Walsh commenced her career with Queensland Ballet more than 16 years ago and finished on a high, performing the role of Lady Capulet in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Romeo and Juliet in front of a full house at the culmination of a record-breaking season of the production. She joined Queensland Ballet in 1998 and was promoted to Principal Dancer in 2002. Rachael has performed both classical and contemporary works during her luminous career, as well as had original works created for her.
“Rachael has made the most amazing contribution to our company over the last 16 years,” said Queensland Ballet Artistic Director Li Cunxin. “She is a true artist, whose dedication and passion for her art is an inspiration not only to her colleagues within the company, but to our audiences as well. Rachael has incredible technical ability matched by a great dramatic gift. She will be very much missed from our stage.”
Dance Informa recently spoke to Walsh as she was settling into life post-dance.
Congratulations on a wonderful career as a dancer! Was it hard making the decision to hang up your dance shoes?
“Thank you, the profession has been truly generous to me, returning all the love and more that I have devoted to it.
In my heart, I will always be an artist, and finally hanging up my pointe shoes after a long career in classical ballet is a choice to keep moving forward into new experiences and knowledge. A part of me would keep dancing forever if given the physical powers to do so, but I now need to acknowledge the part of me that wants to learn new things and challenge myself in other arenas. I want to keep allowing my world to grow bigger, whilst caring for my body which I have punished physically 50 weeks a year for the past 19 years.
I’m expecting my transition to have some emotional up and downs, but I’ve always looked on change with optimism and a sense of excitement. It is a time that is ripe with opportunity. I’m fortunate to have access to incredible mentors. Their support is so important in a dancer’s transition. I hope to one day be able to share that with dancers.”
Your last performance with Queensland Ballet was in Romeo and Juliet. Tell us a bit about that night.
“It was an incredible evening… the final performance of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet in the Lyric Theatre. Romeo and Juliet has always been my favourite story to tell as a dancer and during my career I have enjoyed Juliet many times, having had the role created on me by Francois Klaus in his production. The young lover’s story and Prokofiev’s haunting score never grow old for me. It is so special to be wrapped around that music.
MacMillan’s production, one of the world’s greatest, was monumental for Queensland Ballet. It was a stunning success for the company and breathtaking to be involved in. The whole week in the theatre was super charged with excitement, especially as joining Queensland Ballet across the performances were international guest artists Tamara Rojo, Carlos Acosta, Steven McRae, Steven Heathcote and Daniel Gaudiello.
On this evening, I was Lady Capulet, a role I cherish and absolutely loved performing alongside one of my personal heroes, Steven Heathcote as Lord Capulet. Carlos Acosta was Romeo that evening and it was announced it would be his last performance as Romeo. I was very calm and I just wanted to live in each moment of the evening, soaking in and absorbing all the emotion of the ballet, the theatre and the dancers. I was onstage with many dear friends and in the audience were many ex-dancers, family and friends.
I was deeply humbled by the farewell given to me during the final calls that night and was so deeply touched by the love from all the company and the public both in the audience and afar. I will never forget how they made me feel.”
What will you miss most about dancing?
“The very special relationship a dancer shares with other dancers, from the camaraderie and creative atmosphere in the studio to the magical experiences on the stage. I will miss especially the powerful storytelling that two dancers can share in a dramatic pas de deux; it can often speak much louder than words of the human spirit and speaks all languages at once.”
What will you miss least about dancing?
“Pain, ice baths… also preparing pointe shoes every evening.”
What are you looking forward to doing that you couldn’t do while you were a dancer?
“I didn’t really restrict myself from anything I wanted to do whilst dancing. During the years, I have attempted skiing (poorly), karate, riding a motorbike, diving… but now I may have more time to travel with family and friends, and I would also like to experience more of the Argentine Tango or Flamenco and possibly some theatre.”
What are your plans for the future?
“I have many short and long-term plans that I am having fun shaping and considering. I hope to always remain active and have a voice in the arts world, and will be involved in Queensland Ballet’s future under the direction of Li Cunxin and CEO Anna Marsden.”
What has it been like seeing the Queensland Ballet transform in the last few years under the guidance of Li Cunxin?
“After many years under the direction of much loved choreographic directors Francois Klaus and Harold Collins, Queensland Ballet is now running very differently artistically under Li’s direction.
Li’s bold vision to build the company’s presence in the community and to bring the world to Brisbane with international repertoire and guest artists has brought to Queensland Ballet a new energy, confidence and an excitement that has certainly engaged the dancers as well as the public.
With new partnerships and initiatives in the community, it feels like Queenslanders are embracing the company as their state treasure and the dancers feel proud to be here. Ballets such as MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet are such a gift to dancers and our audiences. It is wonderful to have been a part of this journey.”
For more information on Queensland Ballet visit www.queenslandballet.com.au.
Photo (top): Rachael Walsh and Zac Chant in Francois Klaus’s Cloudland in 2005. Photo by Ken Sparrow.