Kalman Warhaft has had an illustrious career as a dancer. He has performed with The Australian Ballet, Sydney Dance Company, Mod Dance Company, Opera Australia, Opera Queensland and Victorian Opera. But his latest venture is directing the new Melbourne Institute of Dance, a school dedicated to teaching classical ballet and contemporary dance to students of all ages – from young children to adults.
Melbourne Institute of Dance kicked off its Adults Programme on 2 January, and enrolment is currently open for students of all levels and ages, as well as the school’s Coaching Programme. Dance Informa recently caught up with Warhaft to hear all about what he has in store for the new Melbourne Institute of Dance.
Congratulations on launching Melbourne Institute of Dance! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your dance background?
“I started dancing at Camberwell District Ballet when I was five years old. A close family friend owned a dance school, and I’d go to their house where they often had ballet videos playing in the background. I’d always watch them, and one day I thought to myself, ‘I have to dance’. Soon after, I went to lessons and just loved it! Since then, I continued to dance and haven’t looked back.
During the course of my training, I had the privilege of being taught by the highly acclaimed Russian teacher Madam Janina Ciunovas, one of ‘Ten 20th Century Master Teachers’ (Gretchen Ward Warren’s The Art of Teaching Ballet).
Later, I was accepted into The Australian Ballet School, and post graduation I gained a contract with Sydney Dance Company (SDC) under the artistic directorship of Graeme Murphy AO and Janet Vernon, a family of like-minded, passionate artists. It was one of the most magical times of my dancing career. After I left SDC, it was a joy to dance with a wide range of Australian performing arts companies from The Australian Ballet to Opera Australia.”
Melbourne has a diverse and dynamic ‘arts and culture’ scene and has created some of Australia’s best talent – you included! How did the Institute come about?
“I believe there is a need for a school like Melbourne Institute of Dance. And by the way, I love your reference ‘the institute’ – where ballet and contemporary dancers, both children and adults, are supported in a safe environment where their passion for the art is encouraged and nurtured.”
What styles are offered at Melbourne Institute of Dance? Who are the teachers, and who can take part?
“We offer ballet styles based on the Russian method of training (Vaganova), adapted to best suit the needs of Australian dancers today. Contemporary dance is also offered to junior and senior children and adult students.
Drawing on a wealth of experience and knowledge, Melbourne Institute of Dance has an illustrious faculty of teachers: Laura Trevor, head of the Children’s Programme, will also teach adult classes; Dr. Jason Lam, resident sports medicine doctor, will teach ballet and contemporary dance to adult students, and his Coaching Programme will assist in dancers’ recovery post-injury; and Chimene Steele-Prior, head of Contemporary Dance, will teach children and adults.
We are thrilled to include an exciting range of national and international guest teachers: Reiko Hombo, Tzu–Chao Chou, Teagan Lowe and Stephen Agisilaou. Keep an eye on our website, as it will be updated as new guest teachers join the team.
We welcome students as young as three through to 83 and have a class for everyone! As a matter of fact, there has been an overwhelming interest from absolute beginners in adult ballet classes.”
What do you think is attracting adult beginners?
“Dancing is an outlet to enable expression, and it is also a form of escapism from the recurrent obligations of adulthood. For instance, instead of going to the gym, there is an opportunity for adults to escape for an hour-and-a-half into a ‘world of wonderment’ – a notion similarly embraced by The Australian Ballet – which allows one to explore space and a sense of movement that works the entire body, as opposed to only concentrated areas. It is re-exploring that freedom of movement that is ingrained in us as children, and often lost as we grow up in exchange for more cerebral pursuits. Our objective is to instill this freedom in children, and preserve it in adults.”
When and where are the classes offered?
“Melbourne Institute of Dance officially opens on 2 January 2017. Located in Melbourne’s inner east – Deepdene, Camberwell and Abbotsford – we are excited to offer classes all year round, as well as holiday programmes, too.
Our children’s classes are structured around four terms, and uniforms are required for ongoing dance etiquette. Each term is paid in full with a free trial class for new students. For adult classes, we offer drop-in classes or 10-class passes and package discounts, with dance attire being more casual.”
How would you describe the core purpose and focus of the Institute, and what can people expect from each class or teacher? The line-up of teachers as a collective has an amazing wealth of knowledge to offer!
“It’s all about nurturing your passion, one step at a time. Whether you’re pursuing a career in dance or simply wanting to express yourself through artistic holistic movement, our dedicated team of teachers understands what it takes to maximise your potential.
Students can expect a quality service in dance education, as all teachers have had extensive professional employment in the industry as dancers and have all undergone vigorous training. Students can expect wholehearted passion for dance from each and every teacher.”
Having worked with so many great choreographers — Graeme Murphy AO, Janet Vernon and Rafael Bonachela, to name a few — how has this expanded your knowledge and equipped you for the ever-changing artistic landscape?
“The fact that great choreographers are constantly searching for new ways to express themselves has taught me the importance of continued development in dance education to equip students with the necessary skills.”
Classical ballet has a long-running history and is culturally deeply ingrained. Although there are various styles and techniques, Russian methodology is one of the core attributes to your approach in ballet. Can you elaborate a little more about this, and how the Russian methodology may differ from an English or American style?
“I believe the Russian method beautifully combines the romantic style of French ballet with the athletic virtuosity of Italian ballet. This combination is why most professional ballet companies (and their associated schools) throughout the world use it as their preferred method of training.
The English style has been known to be more contained and very perfectly placed. Interestingly, the style we see today has been influenced by the Russian method, especially since post-World War II, as we now see more épaulement (gentle twist of the spine and shoulders) and allongé (elongation). Balanchine’s training is underpinned by Russian Methodology (Vaganova), which later evolved to be more Americanised.
Living in the globalised and technological world that we exist in today, although training systems are different, you could now say that there is a very unified look with companies and schools being more adaptive.”
With the industry knowledge that you hold, how has the landscape changed from when you started out until present?
“Dance and art are constantly evolving. Improvements have been made in the training programmes to ensure safe dance practice and technical prowess. Results from studies and research by major dance companies and groups (such as IADMS) are assisting dancers to achieve greater heights.
When I started ballet, the number of boys participating was extremely low. Fast forward to today, and the landscape has changed dramatically, with most dance schools having numerous boys in attendance. However, I do feel that some still get lost in the sea of girls! In this changing landscape, Melbourne Institute of Dance allows boys to dance like boys in specialized boys-only classes.
Adult ballet has grown greatly over the past few years, allowing those who have danced in their childhood to return and reconnect in an enjoyable way. It also allows those who didn’t get an opportunity to dance when they where younger to now express themselves whilst exercising to beautiful music.”
How do the young Australian dancers of today need to be equipped?
“Those dancers wanting a career must be versatile. No true classical ballet company performs only 19th century works anymore. Internationally, ballet companies have new and exciting contemporary works in their repertoire. Dancers today need to be trained and equipped in both ballet and contemporary styles and adapt to the choreographers’ vision.”
Through your immense experience and exposure to dance, how would you describe the benefits of dance to those interested in starting?
“Where do I start? Our ballet and contemporary dance classes enhance posture, coordination, flexibility, strength, anaerobic and aerobic fitness. Taking dance classes builds self-esteem and is an outlet to express yourself. Strengthening muscle memory and the cognitive ability to remember dance steps, routines and enchainments, adults and children can benefit immensely from dance.”
Who most inspired you growing up, and what words of wisdom do you have to offer to young, aspiring dancers?
“One of my favourite teachers once told me, ‘Resisting change is like holding your breath; if you succeed, you die’, a statement I feel reflects the arts in general and dancers specifically. Family inspires me the most. As my dad always says, ‘Do what you love, and you will be successful.’ Every day, I do what I love – teach and dance.”
By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.