Australian Ballet School Director Marilyn Rowe OBE speaks briefly with Paul Andrew about what it was like to be a student at the school as a young dancer and something about a high necked blue cape with a long and rather glamourous train.

Marilyn RoweIt’s that time of year when the adrenals are working overtime, when Australian Ballet School students from levels five to eight are busy completing final assessments and dancing their best for the School’s “completely sold out” end of year production. This year Students are preparing their slippers, their minds, bodies and spirits for their 2010 showcase - The Snow Queen.

Australian Ballet School Director Marilyn Rowe OBE is clearly very excited for her students as she outlines what student life is like in November in the lead up to the showcase. Rowe is particularly pleased that it is the Playhouse Theatre for the student’s production of Hans Christen Andersen’s classic fairy tale. “Last time we performed The Snow Queen in 1993 it was at the State Theatre”, she adds, “a very large venue that sort of overshadowed us. The Playhouse is a lovely small theatre and with eighty dancers on stage it will be much better for the dancers, it will be a snug fit, but definitely much better.”

“The Snow Queen is a delightful story,” begins the director in her mellifluous storyteller voice recounting the fairy tale that was first published in 1845, “it’s about two young people overcoming the evil and distortion in the world. That mirror that cracks, the glassy shards that fly into Kay’s eye. Gerda then follows him and along the way she meets up with a band of gypsies. Gerda gives her shawl to a young gypsy girl, and it is her grandmother’s most prized shawl.”

I am transported to a magical world of snowflakes, trolls and gypsies; Rowe’s is a captivating version of the tale. Looking at photographs of the students, we chat about the dazzling costumes, in particular the elegant blue high necked cape worn by the Snow Queen.

“There is a bit of a story about this beautiful cape”, notes the Director, “all the costumes for this production are in our wardrobe department at the school, and when it came time to prepare the costumes for ‘The Snow Queen’, we couldn’t find this rather gorgeous blue cape. So we contacted Hugh Colman who is its designer, thinking we would need to ask him to make another from scratch. Well, thankfully, the original costume finally reappeared. There is so much fabric and detail and love that have gone into the making of this costume.“

I mentioned that I had been gazing very intently at this photograph just before our interview, trying to imagine being a Prima Ballerina and making this cape and its vast train of blue fabric dance and flow too.

Rowe laughs politely. “Yes, that cape is very, very long, and as she moves, the train trails behind her and sort of billows outwards, lots of billowing in fact, it’s quite spectacular to watch, and it feels lovely to dance in. I have worn it myself. It feels wonderful to dance in and it can be a great challenge for a dancer to move gracefully and have the cape trail so it doesn’t get caught awkwardly on your seat. This is all part of a young dancers training.”

Learning to navigate costumes is one of many techniques that a showcase like this presents for an audience of proud families, school peers, teachers and mentors and prospective industry employers. Students demonstrate years of hard work with Pointe studies, pas de deux techniques, health training and business management knowledge.
{xtypo_quote_right}We have increased the training from three levels to eight levels, for this is how long it takes now for classical vocational training to be of world class standard{/xtypo_quote_right}
Showcase’s like this year’s production of The Snow Queen are also a testament to the vast heritage of one of the world’s best ballet training institutions and to the passion and dedication of Rowe and the teaching staff at the school for “a holistic training” approach. Rowe acknowledges how grateful she is to the choreographer of this particular event Petal Miller-Ashmole.

Under Rowe’s directorship the Australian Ballet School has implemented a holistic approach to a dancer’s education and well being that encompasses an alertness to mind body spirit and the imagination.

“Yes, there has been an enormous change with the schools approach while I have been here at the school, we have been very mindful of what has been before. It is very different now to when I first began with the school a long time ago. It has also taken a very long time to have this holistic approach for dancers to come about. We have increased the training from three levels to eight levels, for this is how long it takes now for classical vocational training to be of world class standard.“

“We also now have the marvelous Dream Team with us now. They help us provide the duty of care that is so important today for a school of young dancers. This team is led by a psychologist alongside specialised health professionals. We now have Dance Medicine and Nutrition for example. Part of this change is to recognise things like injury, and just how injury can alter a dancer’s vocational choices; they may need to rethink the way that their training can be used. We are very fortunate to have the best health team at the school, to provide the best care and importantly an informed overall view of the industry in both the short and long terms.”

Australian Ballet SchoolWe end our brief and lively discussion on the topic of the School’s vision – Honour the past, achieve in the present, create the future. I ask the Director about her own time as a young student at the school and about Dame Peggy Van Praagh who started the Australian Ballet in 1962 and the Ballet School two years later.

“Dame Peggy was really my mentor at the time, and she really helped me enormously. To understand everything that I needed to understand and to do everything I needed to do. The school is very much about this recognition for our past, for the dancers, for the teachers, for the artistry and for the care provided during the years of such intensive study. I am very grateful to be introducing a Teacher Training Program at the school - with many people like Dame Peggy in mind - a program that focuses on succession planning, so that we have the very best teachers and mentors to continue this heritage and knowledge and education well into the future, so these things are not lost forever.”

For more information about the school:

The Australian Ballet School presents
The Snow Queen
based on a fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen

The Arts Centre Playhouse
26 -27 November, 2010
Season Sold Out

Image Credits:-
Top Right - Marilyn Rowe
Bottom Right - The students of the Australian Ballet School and THAT blue cape

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