International Ballet Workshops (IBW) is pleased to be bringing three of Australia’s ballet greats to students across the country this winter. Teaching duo Mary Renouf and Adrian Fryer, who have both danced with The Australian Ballet as well as various companies across Europe, will return to the IBW faculty, delivering workshops to students in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth, at the IBW Winter 2021 Series. They will be joined by another former Australian Ballet dancer, Justine Miles, who will be teaching the Melbourne workshops alongside Fryer.
Dance Informa recently caught up with all three teachers to find out more about their experiences, teaching styles and what students can look forward to at the Winter 2021 workshops.
What are some of the classes you will be taking at IBW, and what can we expect from them?
“Mary and I will be taking ballet for all levels. We will be focussing on technique, including correct placement, posture, and why and how to do the exercises to get the most benefit and strength from them. We encourage students to overlay on this basic foundation work the importance of style and artistry. In conditioning classes, we will teach students a wonderful set of exercises taught to us while at The Australian Ballet School by Australia’s iconic ballerina, Lucette Aldous. In boy’s coaching, I will be working with the intermediate and advanced males with light weights for upper body and core strength as well as barre exercise for strength and placement specific to male steps like grand pirouettes and tour en l’air. I love to encourage boys to dance with masculinity and breadth of movement. We will also be teaching repertoire for the different levels; however, the actual content will have to be a surprise! We will of course be tailoring the classes to the level of the ages in each class, while challenging them with new steps they may not have tried yet. It’s fun and exciting to try new things!”
“I will be taking open classical ballet technique classes along with repertoire and pointe classes. We will try to cover as much of the technical aspects of ballet class and pointe work with a concentration on correct detail, quality and style, and learn some classical ballet repertoire from some of the famous ballets as well as focusing on the history, the music, the artistry, quality and style of the repertoire. There will also be a little ‘fun’ involved.”
What sort of principles and ideas do you incorporate into your teaching?
“I believe in hard work, discipline, intelligence and concentration all wrapped up in a strong passion for classical ballet, and to show the love of it when doing it — not to be boring or have a bored look on the face. I will give my all, and I want to see that in my students. We are always drawn to an animated passionate dancer, not a withdrawn, shy one.”
“We believe that learning should be fun, and although we insist on hard work and concentration, we also like to keep our classes inspired and light hearted. We will be asking a lot of questions about why you are doing certain exercises and about music from the famous (and not so famous) ballets!”
“I like to teach the artform as a complete package. I love to include music and history knowledge, share my own experience as a professional dancer, discuss terminology, why we learn the steps and for what reason. I love to inspire young dancers to accept new challenges and accomplish new steps, improve and gain confidence to be better dancers so they can pursue their dream to have a career in whatever shape or form they desire in the dance industry.”
What is your favourite piece of repertoire? Have you had the chance to perform it on stage?
“One of my favourite pieces would be Onegin, a beautiful dramatic ballet by John Cranko which I am proud to say I have performed in many times, both for the Queen in Australia and with the legendary Russian ballerina Natalia Markarova in the leading role in Munich, Germany.”
“That’s a tricky one! I love Cranko’s Onegin and have performed many parts in that ballet in both Australia and Germany. But also, a good traditional Swan Lake — both Anne Wooliams and Sir Peter Wright’s versions are simply divine to perform. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being a Swan, the way you have to use your arms, to run like you are about to take flight, the swirling of the dry ice as you do so! It gives me shivers remembering.”
“One of my favourite pieces of repertoire would be the two white acts from Swan Lake. I have performed the role of one of the four cygnets many times in my career both here and overseas, and it was both technically demanding and extremely rewarding. Tchaikovsky’s musical score still to this day gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.”
Which of your career achievements to date are you most proud of?
“Highlights include dancing for the Queen in Onegin at the Palais Theatre Melbourne with The Australian Ballet, dancing with the great Natalia Makarova in the stunning Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. We are also enormously proud of creating City Dance Centre, an adult studio for beginners to professional. Our next achievement is the creation of our online teaching business: Enhance – Online Classical Coaching.”
“I have many special times in my career both as a dancer and a teacher that I look back on with pride; however, a few stand out. As a dancer, being chosen to portray St Fancis of Assisi in a ballet choreographed on me for an arts festival in Vienna, and being selected to perform as part of a gala in Munich, in which Sylvie Gilliam also performed. As a teacher, some career highlights would be creating two dance schools that are still in existence, as well as teaching many students to the professional level.”
“I have been fortunate enough to have a wonderful exciting career with The Australian Ballet, travel the world and perform many roles in my favourite ballets and now can bring that knowledge and experience to the studio as a teacher to pass onto the next generation of dancers. I consider the fact that I have been able to continue in the industry that I love for this long, doing what I love as my biggest career achievement and am proud to be part of the dance world and continue on this journey.”
In today’s competitive world, how can dancers stand out in auditions?
“I don’t care how many people you might see on social media with their legs up around their ears at any cost, when it comes to standing out in auditions it’s still the same as it always was. You need to show as beautiful, pure technique as possible, musical expressiveness, and a look of ease, grace and elegance in the movement. Be a dancer who is versatile and responds to the varying tempo and style of music, has a complete understanding of style and uses his/her face. Look like a dancer who is willing to do as they are asked.”
“My advice to students/dancers is to make yourself appealing, meaning use your face, feel the music and show your love of this beautiful art form. Remember, if you truly listen to the music, it will always tell you what to do, what expression you need and what movement quality to perform. You are the embodiment of the music; let it move you both emotionally and physically!”
“My advice for dancers attending auditions would be to be impeccably groomed and presented, well prepared, have a genuine, honest, positive ‘can do’ attitude toward their dancing, have an enthusiastic approach with a true desire to show expression and feeling, to be the best dancer they can be and not sweat the small stuff (not to panic if you make a mistake, stumble or go the wrong way).”
Who was your most influential teacher, and what is the most important lesson you learned from them?
“My most influential teacher was the great Kathleen Gorham O.B.E. She taught me from the age of five until 15, and she was tough. I was terrified of her most of the time, but somehow I loved her very much. The thing I took with me most is what she wrote in my autograph book when I was about seven. She said, ‘Never stop working hard, darling, as this alone is the secret to success.’”
“That’s a really hard one because so many teachers contribute to forming a dancer, but I would say that the Russian teacher/dancer Asaf Messerer who was a guest teacher while I was at The Australian Ballet School was pivotal for me. After his classes, I felt like I had strengthened that little bit more. He couldn’t speak English, but he conveyed his message so clearly to us. So is the universal language of ballet!”
“Joan and Monica Halliday would have been my most influential teachers. They taught me at an early age that ballet is a discipline — you have to work hard, be dedicated, put in the effort consistently if you want to achieve your goal of being a professional dancer.”
You each have a wealth of ballet teaching experience. What advice can you give to dancers transitioning into the world of teaching?
“The first thing I would say is you need to develop patience! It takes time for students to ‘get it’, to understand your corrections and for them to change. Also important is that you need to simplify your exercises. I have noticed the vast majority of professionals who have just stepped off the stage set exercises at a pace and standard similar to what they have just been doing themselves, and the exercises are usually too fast and sophisticated for students to comprehend and execute well. Try to break steps and exercises down. Teaching can be frustrating, but it can also be very rewarding when the right student comes along who shows intelligence, respect, a good work ethic and who is a ‘sponge’, retaining corrections from one lesson to the next.”
“The transitioning from stage to teaching takes a while, so be patient. Many dancers who wish to teach will take courses or do certificates as an introduction which is fine, but the real learning happens in the studio. Breaking down technique to pass on is not easy, as most dancers, particularly professionals, get to a point of doing things so naturally that they forget how they actually make them happen to be able to pass it on. Learning to be patient is a very important part of being a good teacher, and remembering how you were at different stages of your training is vital. It makes you more empathetic and relatable. Tell your students stories of how you were at their stage. Your students will love it. Also to inspire, be inspired yourself. Tap into the reason you love to dance, too. Gailene Stock once said, ‘Talent will always find its way.’ You are only a part of the process it takes to make a dancer. Teach with passion and detail, and the rest is really up to the student.”
“Transitioning into the world of teaching can be quite daunting after a dance career, but it is a rewarding role in many ways. I would say don’t be too hard on yourself, be patient with the process, watch other good teachers that you admire, ask lots of questions, and reference good ballet technique books and DVDs. Believe in your experience, knowledge and what you have to offer, go with your gut, and don’t be afraid to show your love of dance and how much it means to you. Remember how you were as a student and that your aim is to inspire the next generation of dancers.”
IBW’s Winter 2021 Series will be held in Sydney (27 – 29 June), Brisbane (1 -3 July), Melbourne (6 – 8 July) and Perth (14 – 16 July). To find out more and to register before it sells out, visit www.internationalballetworkshops.com.