After much ado, the Australian Ballet School full-time student residence Marilyn Rose House is finally open! Situated opposite Royal Park — just a five kilometre tram ride from the School — it boasts 10 principal rooms, a large study lounge, activity lounge and fully-licensed commercial kitchen. It will house full-time students aged between 13 and 18 from all levels of the School who come from all across Australia and overseas.
The boarding house is named after former School Director Marilyn Rowe, who secured the property at auction in May 2014.
“While it has all come together now, Marilyn Rowe House has been an aim of the school for a long time,” explains Head of Boarding Steven McKee. “The National Ballet of Canada has a boarding house, the Royal Ballet has one, and the Bolshoi does, too. We were, in fact, one of the few companies of our type that didn’t have a student residence. Obviously, like any organisation, we want to offer world-class facilities to our world class students, and now we can do that.”
“We’re aiming to create a nurturing environment where the students will have the opportunity to live in a community with other dancers, have access to fully-trained staff and professional school carers and full access to the Health and Wellbeing team,” he shares. “While we don’t want to live on top of the students, we’re now in a position to extend the school’s duty of care in a relaxed and caring way. If a student has a problem at the School, for instance, they can maybe talk to an adult member of staff about it instead of ringing home to Queensland or wherever, where it might be difficult to discuss things or get things happening over the telephone. We’re here to help out in that way.”
One of the conditions McKee agreed to when he joined the staff of the Australian Ballet School was that he would meet with each dancer individually and answer their questions and concerns. “A lot of those concerns were based on an uncertainty about what the experience of boarding entails,” says McKee. “Most of the students have never experienced that, and so they just really needed reassurance that it would be the right thing for them.”
He intends to use the feedback to create the best living experience for the dancers. “I hope I’ll be able to create a nice blend of what I saw that the students needed and what they told me that they wanted,” he adds. “Not everyone is going to get along, of course, but we want them to learn to nurture each other as dance students, and we also want to teach them life skills that will serve them well in their careers as professional dancers.”
It is still early days yet for Marilyn Rowe House’s new residents, who only moved in during the last week of January. If first impressions offer something to go by, though, the boarding house is off to a good start.
“I lived at home with my mum, dad and little brother in a more regional location, so moving into the city has been really exciting,” says Level 4 student Benjamin Anderson of Lake Macquarie, New South Wales. “Marilyn Rowe House is very comfortable, and it’s like living in a home away from home. The food’s great, and the other students and carers are wonderful. It’s like I have a bunch of new big brothers and sisters, which is great because I’m the youngest in the house and they have all made me feel right at home.”
Brisbane’s Lillian Easterbrooke, a Level 5 student at the School, confesses that her living situation last year was tough. “As grateful and appreciative I am of the lady who stepped in to be my guardian last year, it was still difficult,” she explains. “I lived in an apartment on Kavanagh Street (the same street as the Australian Ballet School). Coming from a family of three loving brothers, it was loud at home, and that is what I missed dearly.”
Marilyn Rowe House proved to be just the scene change she was looking for. “I’m surrounded by like-minded friends, and we already feel like one big family,” Easterbrooke enthuses. “We laugh, play games, stretch, eat and support each other through everything. I can’t begin to explain how lucky I am, as without this I may have had to return to Brisbane.”
It is fortunate that the students are getting along, as they already spend most of their waking hours together. “We get to travel into the ABS every day as a group, and at dinner we all chat about the day,” Anderson says. “Everyone is supporting each other, and that makes it so much easier to cope when you are living so far away from home.”
The boarding house has also proved to be a hit with parents, so the students explain. “Mum and Dad are so happy for me to have this opportunity, but they weren’t expecting to lose me to Melbourne so soon!” says Anderson. “They thought that Marilyn Rowe House would be the best option for me, where I could be in a family environment but have the support of lots of other kids who would share this journey with me. With all the meals nutritionally prepared and a great health and wellbeing team, they feel like I am in the best place possible.”
“Before Marilyn Rowe House, I lived with Mum and Dad,” Izabella Kriek, a Level 4 student from North Bridge, New South Wales, remarks. “It’s a little stressful at the moment because Mum and Dad aren’t around, but I know I can ask staff and other students if I’m not sure about things. They’re sad to see me leaving but are happy that I have this amazing opportunity, and I think they’re happy that I can live in the boarding house because I will be looked after and supported.”
While time will tell if the positive feedback from students will continue, McKee and the rest of the Australian Ballet School team are committed to making the residence a success and will no doubt continue to develop their pastoral care programmes to suit the needs of students tackling the demands of elite ballet training. If, for the moment, Marilyn Rowe House remains simply a place where its inaugural students share rooms, dancing tips and plan trips together to explore Melbourne on the weekends, it may one day become an institution as strongly linked in public imagination to the School as the White Lodge is to the Royal Ballet in London.
By Grace Gassin of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Students at the Australia Ballet School’s Marilyn Rowe House. Photo courtesy of ABS.