On 5 and 6 December 2008, a cast of 120 students of the Australian Ballet School will be performing a Christmas favourite, Nutcracker – The Gift of a Dream, at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Anna Lozynski interviewed two star students from the graduating class: Valerie Tereschchenko and Brett Chynoweth, both of whom have accepted positions at the Australian Ballet commencing in 2009.  

Valerie Tereschchenko 1. The story of The Nutcracker is a timeless romantic and fantastical ballet classic. How did each of you react when you found out it would be this year’s Australian Ballet School production, given it’s your graduating year?
Valerie: I was very excited, Nutcracker was the first ballet I ever saw when I was very young and only just starting ballet. It inspired me to pursue dance, so it is amazing that I am finishing my years as a student with the same ballet that first made me fall in love with dance.
My initial reaction upon finding out that The Australian Ballet School’s end of year production for 2008 was The Nutcracker, was ‘wow, this is strange!’. Having been a part of its creation back in 2002, I immediately thought that this would be quite surreal and weird to see yet another cast experience the ballet that I know inside and out!

2. Valerie, you have the lead role in the production, playing Clara, who receives the Nutcracker doll as a gift from her godfather in return for a magical gift of a dream. What excites you most about the role?
Firstly I am very excited to be working with Leigh Rowles (Choreographer and head of training at the ABS), as she has such a strong vision of each of the characters, and she has helped me immensely in making the character of Clara as realistic as possible. It is so exciting to be dancing a character with a story and a persona. Some ballets have no plot, and the characters are fairies or swans etc, not real people. Clara is as close to a real girl as you can get.

3. Brett, after playing the Nutcracker Doll in 64 performances at age 11, you are now, at 18, mentoring Brodie Linford for the role. How has your interpretation of the role changed since you performed it 7 years ago?  
Obviously, after 7 years, my thoughts and perspectives of the ballet and the role of The Nutcracker Doll are vastly different. Especially after performing the role for 4 consecutive years and going through the different experiences that come with such a time frame, I found it really interesting to see the role in a new light, and the nuances Brodie would bring to it. Naturally, we are different dancers and so some things had to be changed accordingly, but I enjoyed mentoring Brodie and found it fascinating to compare his experiences to mine.
4. Are you each graded on your performance?
No, all of our assessments are over so we can completely relax and enjoy the performance without being stressed about grades.
We completed our last exams in October for the Advanced Diploma in Dance.

5. Tell us about the costumes you will be wearing during the performance.  
: I have only one costume in this production. Fortunately it is an extremely beautiful one. It is supposed to be a “nightie”, but don’t be fooled, this nightie is one of floaty chiffon and lots and lots of sequins and beading. It’s stunning, a girl’s dream dress.  Brett: I have three costumes in this show, all very different in style. My first is for the Shadow, one of the dolls seen at Young Clara’s Christmas party. This costume is head to toe black, so I end up breathing the same air with limited vision for a few minutes in Act I. In contrast, next I wear an all white costume in the snow scene. My last costume in Act II is a sophisticated outfit reflecting the style of the French.

6. When did you commence rehearsals for the production? Describe your rehearsal schedule in the lead up to opening night.
We started rehearsals about two weeks ago. They first started off slow with everyone learning the choreography but now it’s all quite intense with us running the full ballet almost every day. We still have another two weeks to go before the performance so hopefully it will be close to perfect by then.
For most of the ballet, we began rehearsals after our final exams in October. We started by heavily breaking down the ballet into small sections in order to learn and polish as we went along. Now, just under two weeks left, we’re starting to run the whole ballet and try our costumes to see that we’re able to dance comfortably and that they fit properly.  

7. Describe your pre-performance ritual.
Valerie: I don’t really have a ritual before a performance, I just do the usual things any other dancer would do before a show: apply my makeup and do my hair, do a quick warm up barre, check that my costume is ready and that my props (if I use any) are in the correct place side stage, add any finishing touches to my hair and make-up, put on earrings, re-apply lippy etc, go through my notes and corrections, say a quick prayer and then just enjoy the performance.
Before a show I am usually calm and not stressed at all. I like to talk and listen to music as I put on my make-up and warm up. But just before the show begins I take a moment to compose myself and think about what I’m about to do. But I’m pretty relaxed for the most part.

8. How old were you when you first started ballet?
I was about seven years old when I started ballet.
I was five years old when I began dancing. I used to do gymnastics, jazz, tap and ballet, but as I got older, I moved towards classical ballet and contemporary, which is what I do at The Australian Ballet School.   

9. What attracts you to this dance form?
The beauty, the emotion, the difficulty and the feeling of accomplishment when you achieve that for which you have been striving. The never ending pursuit of ‘perfection’, and of course dancing on stage, in a great theatre in front of hundreds of people and trying to make them get lost in the story you are telling.
The power to convey thoughts, feelings and ideas without words, just movement and music is unbelievable. The effortless effects the human body can have on an audience are incredible, and performing on stage with a live orchestra every night, with a boundless array of characters and styles is particularly what draws me to ballet.  Anything can happen when it’s live so it’s very exciting.

If you had to stop ballet tomorrow, what other career path would you pursue?  
Wow, had you asked me that five years ago I probably would have had a back up plan. I think I was very interested in doing something that involved writing. I remember I really enjoyed History in year 10. Now I really have no idea, as ballet has consumed so much of my life that I’m not even sure of what else I’m good at anymore! Though if I had to stop dancing I think I would further my education and go to university and study.  
If I had to start a different career path tomorrow, I would have to do something ‘artsy’. Visual arts like photography, film and drama interest me. But I also like the business side of things like management etc. I love learning so anything with room to push the boundaries and gain knowledge is interesting.

11. What has been the highlight of your studies at the Australian Ballet School?
Valerie: There have been so many, but I think the ultimate was dancing on the State Theatre in this year’s Graduate Exhibition. It was so surreal. A dream come true!
I’ve been at The Australian Ballet School for nine years and have had many highlights, so it’s hard to choose one.  But a major one would have to be the Exchange Programme I was a part of in 2007, where I went to New York and Toronto to visit the School of American Ballet, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and the National Ballet School of Canada. The trip lasted just over a month and was an amazing opportunity and experience.

Brett Chynoweth12. Congratulations on both being offered a contract with the Australian Ballet commencing in 2009. If you could be one of the dancers from the Australian Ballet for a day, who would it be and why?
Valerie: I really don’t know, there are so many people in The Australian Ballet that I admire and am inspired by, each for a different reason. To be any one of them for a day would be amazing, there is so much to learn from each person.
Brett: I would want to be a Principal Dancer for a day. They can be Romeo for a rehearsal in the morning and then the star of an abstract ballet that night. Their versatility and balance of technique and artistry is most admirable and would be very enjoyable to experience for a day.

13. What are your plans for the Christmas break?
Valerie: My plan is to relax, catch up with family and friends and prepare for the year ahead as a new member of The Australian Ballet.
Brett: As I have only had a few days off intermittently over the past year, I am looking forward to having a relaxing holiday, based mostly in Melbourne (because I love Melbourne in summer) and spending time with friends and family. I hope to roam the city, sit in cafés and enjoy the weather at the beach.

Nutcracker – The Gift of a Dream performs Dec 5 & 6 at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Further information»

Image Credits -
Top Right - Valerie Tereschchenko
Bottom Right - Brett Chynoweth
Photographer - Jim Hooper

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