- Simon Piening
After recently completing a stellar performance in Elegy for the Australian Ballet, principal dancer Kevin Jackson is preparing for a highly anticipated season of Merry Widow in Melbourne and Sydney.
“It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to transition from performing a classical ballet to a contemporary one” says Jackson who is now looking forward to flexing his muscles (both creatively and literally) in the lead role as Danilo.
“It really is a simple story", explains Kevin “the state of Pontevedro is nearly bankrupt and the citizens have decided that the best way to keep the spoils ‘within the family’ as such is to play matchmaker. They’ve decided to set the stage for the the rich widow Hanna Glawari to fall back into the arms of the lover of her youth Count Danilo. But as you would expect the the path of true love is far from smooth."
After an absence of over ten years this Sir Robert Helpmann and Ronald Hynd production is set to dazzle the Australian stages with magnificent sets, costumes and performances. Created in 1975 the Merry Widow is based on the Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehar’s operetta and is the first full length production ever created for the Australian Ballet, offering a distinctly Australian style and aesthetic to the global community.
As a performer who believes that acting and dancing are intrinsically entwined, Jackson is eager to embrace the depth of play involved in performing such a character. A journey that began as a child learning Scottish highland dancing and then progressing to tap and jazz, young Jackson says he kept his dancing activities "a bit of a secret at primary school" but as he grew older was fortunate enough to have very supportive friends throughout high school who knew that in "between attending class and preparing for exams, the rest of my life revolved around ballet."
"When I was thirteen I decided that I wanted to specialize" says Jackson "and today the classical ballets are still a favourite.” In particular Don Quixote is at the top of list and when the opportunity arrives he looks forward to making it a performance to remember.
In what promises to be an inspiring production Jackson is particularly thrilled to have the original Danilo on site to inspire and assist. John Meehan, now director of the Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre in New York was the original Danilo in the 1975 production and like the rest of the company Jackson is delighted to have him present at the 2011 season.
Gradually expanding his repertoire Jackson has guested with several different children's ballet companies, choreographed his own work and is currently undertaking a teaching course at the Australian Ballet so that when he "retires" he is able to continue his passion by sharing it with others.
When not dancing Jackson enjoys watching movies and relaxing and while he doesn’t go out of his way to watch ballet style films he found Mao’s Last Dancer and Black Swan to his satisfaction. "I really did enjoy watching these two movies. Knowing Lee (from Mao’s Last Dancer) personally and seeing him around very often naturally allows for a personal interest but the film itself was very good. And for different reasons I found Black Swan very enjoyable as well.
But what inspires the 27 year old dancer to keep doing what he loves?
“Performing is heavenly” breathes Jackson, “it gives me such a thrill to be able remove myself and explore some one’s fantasy land and there is no other feeling like it."
Who knows, maybe the world will one day see a film about Kevin Jackson too, but till then the Merry Widow is a good place to acquaint yourself with this rising star.
The Merry Widow opens in Melbourne at the Arts Centre – Thursday 23 June 2011, and Sydney at the Opera House – Thursday 10 November, 2011
Top right – Kevin Jackson. Photo – James Braund