Cupcakes & Conversation with Rachael Walsh, Principal Dancer, Queensland Ballet

February 16, 2012

Cupcakes & Conversation

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Cupcakes & Conversation with Rachael Walsh, Principal Dancer, Queensland Ballet

ballet dancer stands at the barre

Photograph David Kelly

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning?

The aroma of espresso coffee and my two energetic puppies waiting for their morning walk help me out of bed early, but it’s my work that continues to motivate me each day. The work is varied and interesting; there is always so much I want to achieve and perfect before a performance reaches the stage…there’s rarely a dull moment!

Why ballet?

It has always challenged me and continues to reward me with the greatest experiences. I have an immense respect and love for the art and feel fortunate that it is such a big part of my life.

What are you looking forward to dancing during 2012 & what are the big challenges likely to be for you?

Francois Klaus’s Cloudland, which we’re touring around regional Queensland in June and July. I love the 1920’s pas de deux that I dance. The ballet is based on the real-life stories of romance, friendship and war-time relationships centred around the iconic Cloudland ballroom in Brisbane. I love telling such a human story.

I’m also really looking forward to Francois’s Don Quixote, which I last danced in 2003. It’s technically challenging and such a energising, vibrant ballet. Audiences love it, and dancers love dancing it.

The other event I’m really looking forward to is the Australian Ballet’s Let’s Dance in July, which will see dance companies across Australia come together to collaborate as part of the Australian Ballet’s 50th Anniversary celebrations. It’s an exciting time for dance in Australia at the moment.

Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance?

The Argentinean Tango with the man of my dreams, until we are old and grey. Ballets I would like to dance are Manon, Onegin, and a few of the beautiful works created by masters Jiří Kylián and Nacho Duato.

ballet dancer in flamenco costume

Photograph : Ken Sparrow

If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance?

I love the romance of the outdoor theatres in Europe. Verona in Italy would be lovely!

How do you prepare your pointe shoes?

I recently returned to dancing in Bloch pointes. I cut out a portion of the back and shave the sole down a little to prepare them.

What is your daily routine at the moment?

When performing I like to enjoy a morning walk in the sunshine with my dogs to warm the blood and ease any stiffness from the previous evening’s performance. I then usually potter around home doing a little housework listening to some music. It is around this time that my thoughts drift to the evening ahead. Class is around midday at the theatre, followed by rehearsals until 4.45 pm. Before warm up barre at 6.30 pm, I have time to have a bite to eat, organise and check costumes and sometimes a quick massage. I begin my make up before barre, so that in the last half hour before the curtain rises I can quietly dress and apply my lipstick, and wish my fellow dancers chookas.

After the performance I enjoy a small supper and try to get a good sleep to do it all again the following day. I enjoy the free days at the beach and sharing time with my partner and good friends, and catching the latest offering of theatre on offer.

What do you eat during the course of a typical working day?

A fruit smoothie made with a combination of protein rich grains and nuts might start the day. I enjoy a sandwich for lunch, a nut/grain bar pre show. Dinner after the show could be anything that includes a some protein and carbohydrates. On a free day I enjoy food with much freedom and flair!

ballet dancer on stage

Photograph : Ken Sparrow

You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite?

Audrey Hepburn, Oprah, Margot Fonteyn, Robert Helpmann, Dick Van Dyke and Johnny Depp. I think the conversation and spirit would be lively and inspired. Imagine…such fun!

What would surprise people about you?

I also run a transport company with my partner, and have many dreams for weird and wonderful projects in the future. I can waste a great amount of time day dreaming – I am mostly light hearted but also like to indulge in moments of melancholy.

Who inspired you to dance?

No one person inspired me to dance, I think it was dance itself that inspired me to embrace it. Now many different artists inspire me to continue dancing.

What is your best piece of advice?

Look after the health of your body and learn to love and accept yourself as a unique individual.

How do you prepare in the hours before a show?

I love listening quietly to some music – Massive Attack inspires me and calms any nerves before a show.

How do you deal with the stress of performing?

By smiling and reminding myself that it is I alone who chose this path. I try to live very much in the present moment and deal with each challenge as it rises. I could try to relax a little more to recharge the batteries – I have a habit of trying to fit too much into a small time frame.

Which role has tested you the most & how?

Black Swan. The battle for me was self belief – I had to wage war against all the doubt and insecurity in my own mind. Fortunately I was dancing with an incredible artist and once immersed in the story, I found it to be an incredible experience.

If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create?

I generally love clean, modern lines that are minimalist and beautiful to move in – Yumiko Takeshima’s designs are always stunning. However, if given the chance to design a costume, I would probably wish to create something quite elaborate such as a ball gown for a Queen.

What do you look for in a dance partner?

Someone who cares as much as I do about telling a good story. Someone who loves and respects their art, and who takes their work seriously without taking themselves too seriously.

ballet dancer on pointe

Photograph : Ken Sparrow

What is your favourite quote?

“Always be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else.”

Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you?

A fast travelling bouree that runs across stage, and perhaps an attitude pirouette.

A phrase I use far too often is…?

What time do we start? Our times sometimes vary and I am hopeless at checking the schedule!

What’s been your best on-stage moment so far?

The bliss and agony of the bedroom pas de deux in François Klaus’s Romeo and Juliet. Also, the final breathtaking moments in Natalie Weirs’ Wuthering Heights. And just recently it was a dream to perform Short Dialogues, a new piece created on us by Dutch choreographer Nils Christe for our International Gala 2011.

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about?

I can`t think of anything, hopefully I am yet to discover it …

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now?

Still enjoying each opportunity I am offered. I wish to continue to be fit and healthy.

What is your exit strategy, for the time when you stop dancing, and how did you plan it?

My plans seem to be in constant motion. I do not wish to plan in too much detail as I love to be open to the many opportunities that are always popping up. I have started studying this year. I enjoy learning new things and I am always looking for ways to increase my skills. I am excited about my future and about the chance to work on different projects. One thing is certain…dance will always be my greatest passion.

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