Melbourne-born Rani Luther has recently joined Queensland Ballet (QB) in the role as Ballet Mistress and Creative Associate. Luther has danced with Nederlands Dans Theater 2 and Nederlands Dans Theater 1 before returning home to dance with The Australian Ballet, then Sydney Dance Company before retiring from the stage with Melbourne Ballet Company. She first collaborated with QB on its 2018 Synergy, an ongoing program that brings together short contemporary and neo-classical works. Here, Dance Informa speaks with Luther on what she’s looking forward to in her new role.
Your bio and experience is really diverse in both location, roles and companies. What experiences prepare you for being QB’s ballet mistress and creative associate?
“I am thrilled with my new appointment as Ballet Mistress and Creative Associate for Queensland Ballet. I feel very lucky to have had such a diverse career working in six different companies around the world for nearly 20 years. My experiences working in many different styles of dance and with a huge range of world class choreographers has shaped how I approach my role with Queensland Ballet.
It has been hugely inspiring over the years to work with, create with and observe those very talented and passionate people, and to a certain extent I have adopted some of those lessons and unique characteristics into my own.
I now love being on the other side of the studio where I can put all this information and experience into action daily. It is important to understand what a dancer needs in both their daily rhythm and overall curve of their career.
As a dancer, I always watched the choreographer creating the work or ballet mistress or master who was setting a ballet, in order to pick up on the nuances and qualities required to really keep true to the style they wanted. This, I feel, has given me a very keen eye, which is necessary for the role of being a ballet mistress. My job is to maintain the precision, unity, musicality, spacing and likeness in style but also having the ability to bring out the individual quality and artistry for each dancer. From working in both classical and contemporary companies and dancing roles in works ranging from very pure classical repertoire to some quite abstract contemporary works, I have experienced many styles of movement, which is useful for a company that performs such a wonderfully varied repertoire. Over the years, I have come to believe all dance stems from the same quality and intention with the distinction in styles not so vast. By dancing such a broad range of movement, I can now hopefully draw upon these experiences to help guide and show where new ways of movement are possible.”
Why is a role like Ballet Mistress important for the company ethos and goals?
“Not only does a ballet mistress conduct day to day rehearsals for many different productions coming up through a company’s year, but they act as a bridge between the dancers, artistic staff and management so that the running of a company functions with maximum effectiveness, productivity, brilliance and smoothness. A Ballet Mistress or Master needs to offer guidance, support and, at times, constructive criticism to the dancers. Finding this balance can sometimes feel like wearing the hat of psychologist, diplomat, mediator and mentor, but I love this component of the role. I find it extremely fulfilling to be a mentor to the Queensland Ballet Jette Parker Young Artists in which this very special program nurtures 12 young dancers on their development into professional life. With matched values of tireless work ethics, unyielding passion dedicated to the art form and unwavering love for the company and its feeling of family, I believe the role of Ballet Mistress or Master helps to keep projecting company and individual goals further and further whilst providing the stepping stones to do so.
I would love to think that the role of Ballet Mistress/Master is someone who the company looks up to not only for their past professional careers, experience and knowledge we have to pass down, but for the feeling of security and guidance we aim to provide, knowing we have the dancers and company’s best interests always at heart.”
What does your role ‘look’ like day to day?
“Being a busy mum to beautiful five-year-old twins, I sometimes get to work feeling like I have already lived a full day, so I always try to start my morning with a few moments of quiet breath or meditation and thoughts of gratitude which help set me up to feel as grounded and positive as possible. Once arriving at work, I usually attend to any emails that need writing or replied to, then if I am teaching company class, I find a quiet spot to run through my class, which I prepare the night before, and do my Pilates exercises, a good stretch and my calf rises (you can take the girl out of dance but not the dancer out of the girl). My goal is to stay as fit and strong as possible to assure I don’t get injured but also to be able to demonstrate when it is needed. I find it useful in the more contemporary style of movement or for when I am choreographing myself.
There is usually a meeting scheduled that I need to attend either before morning class or during it if I am not teaching, so I like to be as prepared as possible. Usually for the remainder of the day, I will be in the studio either assisting a choreographer on his/her piece, teaching repertoire to the company, giving contemporary class to our Pre-Professional Program Students, or rehearsing existing works to keep them fresh and practiced. If we are performing a season in the theatre, the artistic staff and I take turns to give warm-up barre to the dancers before we watch the performance and take some notes. Part of being a Ballet Mistress is to take constructive notes during a rehearsal or performance so that corrections can be made to ensure top quality performances on stage.
At times, we need to be aware of specific injuries that a dancer may have in order to keep a watchful eye to make sure that person is protecting this injury during rehearsals or on stage. We regularly liaise with the medical team, so that the entire artistic staff are made aware of certain injuries that may be more prevalent during a particular ballet or just to touch base and know how everyone is progressing.
In my role as Creative Associate, I oversee and drive the Bespoke season alongside Li [Cunxin], so there are many people to meet with regarding future seasons, budgeting and programming. I find it important to make some time throughout the day to connect to my imaginative and creative thoughts, allowing me to breathe life into the images I see in my mind or link new works or ideas I have about my own choreography. I sometimes sort through different music for this or go outside to be in nature where possible.”
What part of the QB 2019 season are you most looking forward to, and why?
“All of it! I am just so happy to surround myself with this art from that I love so much, and we are lucky enough that the entire QB 2019 season is an absolute treat for all. Seeing the superbly talented Liam Scarlett creating Dangerous Liaisons is awe-inspiring. I am really looking forward to the lavish and dramatic season of this ballet. I am also very excited the company is performing Macmillan’s Romeo and Juliet. I love this production, and who can go past the stunning score. I may also be returning to the stage to perform a walk on role in Romeo and Juliet, which will be really special. True to my heart is the incredible ballet, Soldiers Mass, by Jiří Kylián, in which I will be assisting Roslyn Anderson, who will be out here from The Netherlands to set the ballet. I love the beauty of Balanchine’s Serenade, and I always hold a special place in my heart for the more contemporary seasons like Bespoke. It’s so wonderful and inspiring to see brand new and innovative works being created from the ground up.”
Again, you have had such a diverse career! What are your tips for young dancers wanting to make the move from tertiary training/secondary school to Europe and those wanting to audition for ballet companies, whether it be QB or those internationally?
“It can be quite a scary time for a young dancer to embark on the audition process. Being prepared is the key! Not only does this mean preparation in terms of having an updated CV and show reel but by being mentally prepared in really knowing where you want to audition for and just as importantly why! Know your goals and dreams, including which companies, works, choreographers and dancers inspire and excite you. I find that successful people have had very specific dreams and goals, which seem to almost propel them toward their dream with purpose and determined energy rather than settling on a broader search that encompasses too much.
Directors and artistic staff of dance companies are very busy people, so a well written and clear email can draw the attention to an individual well. I would suggest knowing the name of whom you are writing to rather than ‘To whom it may concern’. Do your research! When on an audition circuit, I believe it is possible to keep fit even if on a limited budget or having little access to classes. A hotel or lounge room can be enough space to do a mini class. Be creative with your space by angling your barre work and doing enough jumps to get cardio work in. Take your own personal physio set with a tennis ball, TheraBand and all the knowledge of strengthening exercises to sustain you. Try to stay in a place long enough to see a performance by the company you are interested in, and ask permission if you can take company class so that the staff and hopefully the director will get a chance to see you outside of an audition.
Whether you are auditioning for a company in Europe or for Queensland Ballet, know the repertoire and type of dancer within the company. Knowledge is power, so use it to your advantage!
As difficult as it can sometimes be, remain positive! Sometimes finding a contract can take a while or require repeated attempts, and at other times all the stars seem to align making the fit work out immediately. Stay true to your talent, drive, passion and love for this incredible art form; it’s the reason you are doing it all no doubt. The world of dance can be the most rewarding and fulfilling of careers, so dream big!”
See the full Queensland Ballet 2019 season at www.queenslandballet.com.au.
By Elle Evangelista of Dance Informa.