Cupcakes & Conversation with Ty King-Wall, Principal, The Australian Ballet
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
Absolutely nothing! I get up at 8.30am….Not a morning person!
If ballet chose you, as many dancers say it did, what is it that has made you stick with it ?
Insanity, and a certain level of masochism! But mainly I like the challenge. It was the right fit for me from the outset, I think. When you find yourself sacrificing other aspects of your life to pursue something, you realise how important it is to you.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
Well you’d have to go with the best, no? Alina Cojocaru in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet would be hard to top.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
I like the idea of dancing at the Crusader castle Krak des Chevaliers in Syria, because right now you just couldn’t. I think it’s so sad what is happening in that country at the moment. Or the ancient fortress of Masada in Israel. Somewhere remote, spectacular, and open to the elements.
What is your daily routine at the moment ?
Right now we’re on tour in Sydney, in the middle of our triple bill Vanguard season: George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura and Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929. I’m in all three works, so the evenings are quite busy, but during the day I don’t have any rehearsals. I’ll do our daily class in the morning, then use my free afternoons to catch up on some university study, before heading in to the theatre for the show. I’m also choreographing a piece for our Bodytorque season at the end of the year, so I’m trying to use a bit of the down time I have now to make a start on that.
What do you eat during the course of a typical working day ?
I like to have a big breakfast: porridge with milk, honey, banana and sultanas at the moment, and a green tea. I’ll have a Gatorade, with some nuts, a muesli bar and an apple before rehearsals, then for lunch I usually go for Mexican or some sushi. I was brought up as a vegetarian, but finally made the switch to carnivore last year; I felt it would be easier to get the energy I was after, and also to put on and retain muscle bulk. I’ve definitely noticed a big difference in performance since I started eating meat. So, the night before a big show, I like to have a steak with some potatoes and greens. However, on an actual show day I prefer to carbohydrate load: pasta usually does the trick there.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
I’ll come into the theatre a couple of hours before curtain up, have a shower and a shave and put my make up on. Then I’ll do a few targeted Pilates exercises, depending on whatever niggles my body has currently; right now it’s VMO strengthening for my knees. After that I’ll do a warm up barre, before getting my costume on and running through a couple of steps on stage. I don’t have many superstitions, but I hate it when I don’t get the chance to set foot on stage before the show! Just before the show starts I’ll have a GU, which is a carbohydrate/electrolyte gel shot. It gives you a sustained release of energy, which usually lasts one act. After that, I’m ready to go!
What are you looking forward to dancing in 2013 ?
Well we just finished a season of Don Quixote, during which I had the chance to dance Basilio for the first time, so that was definitely a highlight for the year. In the second half of 2013 we have La Sylphide and Paquita coming up, I’m looking forward to both of those. We also have a new Cinderella by Alexei Ratmansky, so it will be fascinating to see that come together.
How do you deal with the stresses of performing?
By embracing them! I always feel nervous before a show, no matter what I’m doing, but I see that as a positive reaction, it helps me concentrate. I like to put things in perspective: I remember the most high pressure situations I’ve been in over the years (on stage and off) and tell myself ‘ok, this isn’t as scary as that!’ We do a lot of shows per year at The Australian Ballet, which is beneficial for performance stress – you get very used to being on stage, it becomes a second home.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?
I think I would need two lists: one for those who’ve passed and one for those still here today. For the former: Epicurus, William Blake, M.C. Escher, Fernando Bujones, Jim Stynes, Apirana Ngata. For the latter: Sachin Tendulkar, Paul Banks, Fernando Meirelles, Christopher Nolan, Neal Stephenson, Willie Apiata. The chef would be Ben Shewry from Attica restaurant in Melbourne.
What would surprise people about you ?
That I’m left handed, perhaps? I’ve learnt to do most things to the right.
Who inspired you to dance ?
One of the first memories I have of wanting to become a ballet dancer was watching Ou Lu perform the role of Prince Siegfried in the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s production of Swan Lake, so I would have to say him.
How would someone else describe you ?
Stubborn! And shy.
What is your best piece of advice ?
For dance or for life? They might be contradictory! My best piece of advice would be that it’s not just about working hard, but working SMART. I wish someone had told me that at the start of my career.
Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Pinkerton in Stanton Welch’s Madame Butterfly. It didn’t just test me, it broke me! I herniated a disc in my lower back during that season and spent seven months recovering. But the lessons I learnt during my rehabilitation from that have been invaluable moving forward. Madame Butterfly isn’t a long ballet, but during the first act you are on stage dancing the whole time, finishing with a ten minute pas de deux of non-stop lifting and jumping. There’s also more to it than the physical demands. Pinkerton is not a particularly nice character; what he does to Cio-cio San is unforgivable, really. He’s an antihero, so the challenge was finding a way to make him somehow sympathetic to the audience.
What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
Too many to list, each more embarrassing than the last! I’m going to try and retain a little dignity and keep them to myself.
If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
Costumes for classical ballet should always, I believe, be first and foremost complimentary to the dancers line; otherwise, what’s the point? They should also allow absolute freedom of movement. For a guy’s costume, it’s hard to go past tights or slim fitting pants, flesh or coloured ballet flats, and a loose, flowing shirt. I like monochromes, so black or grey, possibly a darker shade of blue or scarlet/burgundy. I thought the costumes for Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows were very cool, so perhaps something along those lines.
A phrase I use far too often is …
My [insert body part here] is sore! I also say ‘wicked cool!’ a lot. And quote the movie Anchorman incessantly.
Who would play you in the film of your life ?
I think Tom Hardy or Michael Fassbender would make a good fist of it.
What is your favourite quote?
‘Pay no attention to what critics say. A statue has never been erected in honour of a critic.’ – Jean Sibelius.
What’s on your iPod ?
Ha! I’ve resisted the Apple empire, so you won’t find me carrying an iPod around, but my MP3 player has a bit of Interpol, Brand New, Chevelle, the National, Muse, System of a Down, Fair to Midland, Bombay Bicycle Club, Bat for Lashes, Incubus, Taproot. I’m also pretty keen on supporting local Australian and New Zealand artists, so there’s a bit of Blindspott, Blacklist, Decortica, Battle Circus, Art of Sleeping, Black Cab, Children Collide, Dead Letter Circus, Karnivool, Oliver Tank. Now and again I’ll dip into some older stuff: Joy Division, the Pixies, Rage Against the Machine, Jeff Buckley, the Rolling Stones. I like my rock, but I’ll listen to anything that resonates.
Who would you most like to dance for, and why?
I think it’s a sad state of affairs that the Prime Minister of Australia has not seen the national company perform, so perhaps Julia Gillard. But more broadly, I’d dance for anybody who says they don’t like ballet, because the challenge of trying to change their opinion is something I’d enjoy.
What makes you a good dance partner ?
Who said I was good! Partnering is not something that came naturally to me, but it’s integral to what we do so a few years back I made it a conscious priority of mine to improve, and since then I’ve come to really enjoy it. I think my work ethic, and my willingness to always put the needs of the girl first are my best attributes as a pas de deux partner.
Do you have a secret skill which no one knows about ?
Ahh, nice try. For it to be a secret skill, it will need to remain secret! But if you must know, I’m actually a ninja.
Describe yourself in just three words.
Determined, thoughtful, inquisitive.
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be this time next year ?
Injury free, so I can be absolutely pushing myself to the limit. Dancing new and fulfilling roles in a diverse repertoire: there are so many ballets I haven’t done yet, especially full lengths, that I can’t wait to sink my teeth into.
Who would you like to have a conversation with ?
The Dalai Lama.
What is your exit strategy, for the time when you stop dancing, and how did you plan it ?
My exit strategy is flexible, it’s not set in stone. I hope to continue dancing for a long time, so my career after dance will ultimately depend on the timing and nature of my retirement. I do have some ideas though, and certainly I would like to stay in the industry. Ballet is so inherently self-absorbed, to be successful you have to spend so long concentrating on yourself, that there is a nice symmetry to the idea of using your knowledge and experience to give back to the next generation. I have my university degree, which I will finish in the next couple of years, but I’m also at the point where I’m starting to look outside the rehearsal studio, to learn about subjects and concepts completely foreign to me. I’m finding this very interesting and exciting, and wherever it takes me, I hope it will stand me in good stead for the future.