By Rain Francis of Dance Informa.
When you’re at the top of your game, what is life in a ballet company really like? Queensland Ballet’s principal dancer Clare Morehen tells her story.
“I have always loved dance. It began as a hobby and something I shared with my friends, but by the end of primary school I was dancing six days a week, including before school, late Friday nights and all day on Saturdays. At age eleven I was accepted into the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School. I couldn’t understand why my peers hated going to high school – I loved it!
After VCASS I trained at the Royal Ballet School in London, and at the end of my final year, auditions were being held in Germany for Queensland Ballet. I flew to Hamburg and auditioned for the Artistic Director at the time, François Klaus, his wife and artistic associate Robyn White and then Principal Dancer Rachael Walsh.
I remember the day that I was offered the contract; I was called into RBS director Gailene Stocks’ office and she shared the amazing news. I jumped for joy and gave her a hug. I graduated in London on a Saturday night, caught a plane on the Sunday morning, arrived in Brisbane at 10:00pm on Monday and started training with QB at 10:00am on Tuesday! It was a whirlwind, but I wouldn’t change a thing.”
A Career of Highlights
“I have had so many amazing experiences during my career with QB. I have had the privilege of touring all over Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania and also to Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Singapore, Japan and China. In Japan the company managed to time it perfectly so that we were there during cherry blossom season, which was incredible.
Performing the roles of Juliet and Lady Capulet in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet this year was a huge highlight; I won’t forget the compliments I received from Lady Deborah MacMillan any time soon.
Performing alongside the leading companies of Australia in the 2012 Melbourne Gala performance of Let’s Dance was another. It was an honour sharing the stage with so many of Australia’s best talents, including my childhood idol, Justine Summers.
Opening the 2013 Brisbane Fashion Festival with fellow Principal Dancer Matthew Lawrence, and meeting one of the most amazing designers, George Wu, and then wearing one of his runway pieces afterward was also a highlight!”
A Typical Day at Work
“I aim to start my day training at 8:00 am. I head to the gym and begin with a light warm-up, like cross-training, to get my muscles activated and in check. I spend some time doing some tailored Pilates, strengthening work and stretching, before class begins at 9:30am.
The Company trains for an hour and a half and have 15 minutes to prepare for our scheduled rehearsals at 11:15am. We then work through until 5:30pm preparing for our upcoming seasons, with an hour for lunch and a short break in between afternoon rehearsals.
I try to find time to see our physio Zara Gomes for some maintenance of injuries or to evaluate anything that is bothering me. I also like to find time in my lunch hour to visit the other departments within the organisation. I love to see what they’re up to and excited about.”
“I love the relationships and connections that develop within the artistic environment. So much of what we do and give is extremely personal. You cannot help but form close connections to the people you share your experiences and passions with. The sensation of being able to read your partner’s thoughts through their eyes is a truly special and unique experience.
I also love interacting with our audiences and seeing what our performances bring to them. Knowing that our audiences have had a positive and uplifting experience because of something we love doing is truly motivating.
The development of a role throughout a season is the thing I most enjoy. Every time you step onstage you are expressing the characteristics, nature and story of someone or something else. It is different every performance, and hopefully developed and deepened with each. I find nuances and tiny subtleties that I hope will enhance my portrayal and the performance. Often the beginning of a season can bring on the nerves and anxieties, but once you settle in, a sense of freedom to push the boundaries takes over.
There are a couple of particularly challenging aspects to the job. Ballet requires complete commitment and focus all of the time; onstage and in the studio. It can be particularly difficult to bring your A-game when you’re feeling ill or fatigued. Finding the energy and enthusiasm can be tough during those times.
Injuries are a struggle for me. I love my job, and love to push and excel. When an injury requires me to hold back or take time off, I find it emotionally challenging. I have learned to focus on the positives of recovery; giving my body time to heal itself, learning through observation from others and hopefully returning stronger through correct rehabilitation.
The final one is sewing! Performances that require one or more pairs of shoes are the death of me! My mother hated the sequencing required for my costumes when I was a child and I’m pretty sure it must be hereditary.”
In My Down Time
“I have recently taken up Argentinean Tango. My dance partner, Hugo Fernandez, was one of the first to introduce the form to Australia. It is a very different technique to ballet and something that is quite challenging. The intricate leading style and footwork is so different to the technique and partnership within classical ballet.
I also enjoy painting and spending time relaxing with my partner and family. Sunday dinners and movies are a good pastime for the weekends. If I’m sewing, you can be pretty sure I’m watching a documentary on space, the universe or the cosmos. I find the subjects of special relativity and quantum physics extremely fascinating. I’m excited to see the progress of String and M-Theory!”
Coping With Nerves
“Usually if I’m nervous pre-show, it disappears the second I step on stage. You can only do your absolute best. We can only perform within the parameters we are presented; the allotted preparation time and the circumstances.
I used to get anxious about performing perfectly, but the truth is, we are all human. There are things that are out of our control and are pointless fretting over. We make mistakes and we must adapt and go with the flow. If the tempo is faster, your partner holds you differently, you slip, your costume rides up or falls down you just have to accept it and move on.
Any time you let your focus lapse or spend a millisecond on reflection, you’re not living, or dancing, in the moment. And that is what dance should be; a living, breathing art to enjoy in the present.”
Before a Show
“Time is precious to me pre-performance. I hate to be rushed. I need a few hours to do my hair and make-up, choose the perfect pair of pointe shoes, warm-up, collect and pre-set my costumes for quick changes, review some of the choreography on stage and find a quiet space to centre myself and find my character.
I like to go into a performance relaxed, level-headed and focused. Once I get through that, I feel prepared physically and emotionally for the journey ahead. This process allows me the freedom to let go and truly enjoy the experience.”
A Life After Dance
“I think it is very important for all dancers to think about life after the stage. It can come suddenly for some, and more often than not, sooner than dancers would have liked or expected.
In recent years, I have loved engaging with the community and sharing the unique and demanding nature of being a professional ballerina. I enjoy sharing my experiences and passing on the knowledge I have acquired over the years. Teaching is something that I have grown to love and thrive on. I would love to help young dancers excel through personal engagement and writing, so I will definitely work within the spectrum of community engagement and education.”
Advice to Recent Graduates
“If you truly love dance, and the physical and emotional beauty you can create with your body, it will show through in your performance, technique and auditions. Dance is about being uninhibited and open to what choreographers and directors ask of you.
Some of the best advice I have ever been given is to not take myself so seriously. I have always been a perfectionist at heart, but once I allowed myself to let go, be human, and embrace freedom of expression, my love and enjoyment grew and so did the response from my peers, coaches and the public. Don’t be afraid to let loose, be wrong and look silly. Your capacity to grow will have no limitations and your artistic expression and developmental improvement will be immeasurable.”
Clare will be performing numerous roles in ‘The Nutcracker’ throughout December at QPAC. For tickets visit www.qpac.com.au.
Photo (top): Queensland Ballet’s Swan Lake 2011 Principal Clare Morehen. Photo by Ken Sparrow.