ABS Director Lisa Pavane on the school’s legacy and growth

Students of The Australian Ballet School. Photo courtesy of ABS.

In 2015, The Australian Ballet School (ABS) celebrated 50 years as one of the country’s leading dance training institutions and welcomed Lisa Pavane as the school’s new director. Pavane was a graduate of the ABS and a former Principal Dancer with The Australian Ballet and English National Ballet, and since retiring from the stage she has been busy teaching and adjudicating, as well as running her own business. Pavane was the perfect fit to succeed Marilyn Rowe as the school’s director and remains in the hearts of audiences as one of our most beloved dancers.

Students of The Australian Ballet School. Photo courtesy of ABS.

Students of The Australian Ballet School. Photo courtesy of ABS.

For half a century, the ABS has been home to Australia’s elite ballet students who auditioned against hundreds of other hopefuls for a place in the full time program. This was previously the only way to obtain a contract with The Australian Ballet, and while the ABS still feeds graduates into the company, The Australian Ballet has more recently also started sourcing its dancers from other full time schools and companies, both locally and internationally. Similarly, many ballet students are now choosing to further their training overseas rather than staying in Australia. 

Dance Informa spoke with Pavane about the changing role of the ABS and maintaining the legacy of the school’s past.

You are into your second year as Artistic Director of ABS. What is your vision for the School, and what changes have you already implemented?

“I am so excited for the future of dance in Australia and can’t quite believe how quickly that time has passed since I commenced as Director in 2015. My vision passionately supports the legacy of the dynamic leaders who have been gone before me, in continuing to strive for excellence in elite vocational classical ballet training and education. My vision is of an organisation where conditions are created that form the foundation for life-long learning, with a strong focus on the holistic development of our young people. Every day, I am motivated by that objective to create an all-inclusive learning environment, where they are challenged and nurtured in tandem. I am passionate about supporting choreographic development, by providing opportunities for our students to work with established choreographers but also in developing their own creativity. Enabling and encouraging our students to develop their choreographic skills enhances their creative thinking, creative curiosity and, perhaps most importantly, to experience interpreting and exploring music. The present and future is so exciting in this space!”

The Marilyn Rowe House is a wonderful and much-needed addition for international and interstate students. Do you think this accommodation will provide talented students with the opportunity to train at ABS where they wouldn’t have otherwise?

The dining room at the Marilyn Rowe House. Photo courtesy of The Australian Ballet School.

The dining room at the Marilyn Rowe House. Photo courtesy of The Australian Ballet School.

“Yes. It has been so exciting with the addition of Marilyn Rowe House this year, as we can now stand tall and proud alongside the top international ballet institutions that provide not just accommodation but a boarding programme for their students. Not only is Marilyn Rowe House a beautiful home, we have a dedicated staff that provide 24/7 care, supporting our students in a positive learning environment as they pursue their dreams. Marilyn Rowe House really is a ‘home away from home’, and we are extremely grateful for the so many, who for so long never gave up on this vision, of providing this invaluable necessity for our students while training at our school.”

This year saw the Inaugural Scholarship Awards celebration. Tell us about how this came about and what the awards involve.

“The Inaugural Scholarship Awards were born through a conversation I had with David McAllister in my very early days as Director where we both wanted to attract and offer scholarships and training opportunities to promising students here to the School and thus the Company. I also really wanted to offer young dance students a chance to display their artistic and technical abilities through masterclasses and performance, as well as bring students together to advance their skills, increase understanding and enthuse and inspire passion for ballet. The Scholarship Awards did just that! We anticipate this will become an biennial event. In the meantime, as I travel around Australia during our National Masterclasses, Specialised Coaching Classes, Auditions and Intensive Training opportunities, I will be considering students for scholarship and training opportunities, as an ongoing commitment to supporting our dancers staying on our shores.”

The School has changed a lot in the past 15-20 years with a new emphasis on student well-being and health. Do you think that the demands placed on past students was unhealthy and that current students are better placed for successful careers in dance?

Students of The Australian Ballet School. Photo courtesy of ABS.

Students of The Australian Ballet School. Photo courtesy of ABS.

“Dance science and medicine has developed rapidly, in the same way that elite sports science has, and with this has come increased knowledge and learning. I think one of the amazing benefits of this learning is that dancers today have a greater understanding of their bodies in terms of conditioning and strengthening and, therefore, can take steps toward injury prevention, minimisation and recovery, and this now enables many dancers to have much longer careers.”

Class sizes and graduate numbers are smaller than in previous years. Is this due to students going overseas or choosing other local institutions? Will the new Marilyn Rowe House encourage more students to audition and train at ABS?

“We would be foolish not to acknowledge that now more than ever we are competing in a global marketplace. We are now competing in an environment where there are a myriad of opportunities for prospective students, so it is my task to effectively engage with that market and continue to ensure that the School is at the forefront of the minds of aspiring students, staff and the community at large. Yes, I think that Marilyn Rowe House can now fill that charter in providing residential accommodation to support students and families who aspire to train and dance in Australia. I have the energy, commitment and vision to continue to move the School forward to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.”

The School is now holding classes for students of all ages with no audition required. Is the School striving for inclusivity rather than the exclusivity of the past?

“Our new Early Learning Programme (for children aged three to eight years) and Boys Programme (nine to 15 years) were both opened this year to offer a learning environment that inspires and builds passion for ballet in the younger generation. Certainly whilst there is a place and need for elite vocational training, we do wish to be inclusive and open our expertise, facilities and opportunities to the wider dance community. To promote this beautiful art form and ensure its future for generations to come.”

The School has been around for over 50 years now. What makes the School so special, and what do you attribute its longevity to?

Students of The Australian Ballet School. Photo courtesy of ABS.

Students of The Australian Ballet School. Photo courtesy of ABS.

“Fifty years is actually very young in the wider scheme. At the international level, schools like Paris Opera Ballet School and Vaganova Ballet Academy have been operating over 200 years! But I think that both our close relationship with The Australian Ballet and also the dedication and passion of our staff make The Australian Ballet School a very special place to be. Students, staff and alumni alike always refer to it as their family, and coming through the doors for many feels like coming home, and that says so much to me about its longevity.”

What does the future hold for the ABS?

“Teaching and learning at the School must set the standard for the world’s best practice, with teaching methods and approaches that are progressive and consistent with the best teaching practices. My vision is of a school that is dedicated to building staff capabilities and commitment in the best interest of students and is recognized as a school where the quality of teaching strongly influences the level of pupil motivation, raising achievement levels to success. Remaining relevant, yet exploring all possible organisational futures, is in line with my hopes and the School’s vision to ‘Honour the Past, Achieve in the Present, Create the Future’.”

By Rebecca Martin of Dance Informa.

Photo (top): Students of The Australian Ballet School. Photo courtesy of ABS.

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