Cupcakes & Conversation with Vivienne Wong, Coryphee, The Australian Ballet
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday Morning?
With all the long hours that we train, dance and perform, having one day off can sometimes leave you feeling exhausted. But on those days or any other days of the week, what motivates me to get up in the morning is the thought and burning desire that I have to become a better dancer.
Dancing has always been a part of me and who I am, and it has been a passion of mine that has continued to grow and grow over the years. The fact that I can get up each day and do what I love doing makes me incredibly happy.
I also think I am a very lucky and fortunate dancer to be working amongst a company that is full of really great and supportive people, and when I look around at them all, I feel inspired by them to work harder and give everything 150% so I can become a better dancer.
What are you looking forward to dancing in 2010?
I am excited about dancing many things this year, but what I am gearing up towards at the moment is dancing a very cool contemporary pas de deux piece. It is a piece that has been choreographed by Alice Topp, a fellow dancer in The Australian Ballet, and it will be performed in an exclusive small season of shows in Sydney Theatre.
After that there are some great works by Steven Baynes in which I am cast to do a beautiful pas de deux in, and then also after that I am excited about being involved with a new work being created by an upcoming Australian choreographer Tim Harbor.
Later on in the year we will also be touring Japan, performing Graham Murphy’s Swan Lake and his Nutcracker. I can’t wait to re-visit Tokyo again!
Who would you most like to dance with and what would you dance?
Just for fun, I would love to be able to dance Romeo and Juliet with my Fiancée Tiago Brissos – who isn’t a dancer. I absolutely adore the music and I would love to dance the role of Juliet one day, and I think it would be truly special to dance a love story like Romeo and Juliet with someone who I feel I share a very special connection with.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre) where would you dance?
It has always been a dream of mine as a young girl growing up and watching The Australian Ballet to one day be dancing with them, so dancing with The Australian Ballet has really been a dream of mine come true.
How do you prepare you Pointe shoes?
I am quite particular with my pointe shoes and with the way they look and bend to my foot, so I tend to take a lot of care with how I sew my ribbons on and how I break them in. First I squash the toe block, so my toes feel nice and snug in the shoe, then I take a look at them and pick which one looks more like a lefty or righty.
Once I have decided which shoe belongs to which foot I put them on and point to see where it is exactly that I need to place my ribbons and elastic. I always have criss-cross elastics plus ribbons on my pointe shoes so I know there is no way the heel or shoe will slip around when I dance. Then, finally, once I have sewn everything on, I peel the sole of the shoe away from the board and pull it down to where my foot arches. I then bend and curl the board inside the shoe in the other direction, making sure that the shoe is nice and supple from my arch to the heel. After all that my final step in preparing a pair of performance shoes is to bend a slight demi-pointe in the sole and then I am ready to slip them on, have a little practise in them, then go on stage and dance!
What is your daily routine at the moment?
My daily routine at the moment involves waking up at 8am and making myself some Vegemite toast and tea. Once I have had breakfast I head into work so I can arrive there with an hour or so to spare before class. I dedicate the hour before class to stretching out my body and aligning it with some Pilates. Once I start class at 11am I don’t stop much until 3pm. We do an hour and fifteen-minute class followed by a fifteen-minute break and then we have rehearsals for the rest of the afternoon. We learn and rehearse our next season’s pieces during the day and once I am done rehearsing, I usually follow it up with some preventative ice for the sore joints and ankles. I take a break and eat, relax and sometimes have some physiotherapy or massage to get my body feeling good and ready for the show. Once again an hour before our warm-up barre at 6:30pm I do some more Pilates and exercises to strengthen and connect my body in the right way it needs so I am able to get on stage and perform at my best. I do a half an hour warm-up barre and then I have 30 minutes to do my make-up and hair. Once I am ready I am up there on stage going over steps and corrections before the curtain goes up making sure that I do a better show than the last. Once the show finishes at around 10pm I ice my ankles one more time, go home and make my cup of tea and have a little something to eat then head to bed.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – whom would you invite ?
Six famous people I would love to sit down with over dinner would definitely have to involve Keith Jarret and Jeff Buckley because I think they are amazing musicians, also Jiri Killian because he is still one of my favourite choreographers, The Deepak Choppra because I would love to listen to all the knowledge he has, David Attenborough for all the amazing stories he would have on the places he has been and all the things he has seen, and Salvador Dali
because his is an artist that intrigues me.
What would surprise people about you?
What people don’t know about me is that I have a huge passion for music – I play a little bit of acoustic guitar every now and then, and absolutely love listening to a wide variety of music. I love to take photos and had the pleasure recently of taking some photos for a classical guitar album and absolutely loved it! I also enjoy doing some Thai Chi and love the martial arts, and have an interest in massage therapy.
Who inspired you to dance?
I remember wanting to start ballet lessons after watching my older sister dance around in class one day. All I remember was that I wanted to get up and join in! I was always the first one to be seen dancing around to music playing on the radio, in the shopping centre or at home in the lounge room. Dancing has always been a passion of mine, and a love right from the start, and after that day I started ballet lessons I have never looked back.
What is your best piece of advice?
My best piece of advice I could give to someone would be to “believe in yourself.”
How do you prepare in the hours before a show?
In the hours before a show, I like to make sure that I take time out for myself and listen to what my body needs. Sometimes before a show the best thing for my body is to rest and take a power nap, other times it may be that I need to exercise and do some Pilates or even get a bit of physiotherapy or massage on it so I feel on top of my game, and other times it can be about me fuelling my body in the right way. Listening to my body and what it needs is my way of focusing and preparing for the physical demands it will undergo in a show. Closer to the performance, especially if there is a more demanding role I have to dance, I like to make sure that I have visually gone through the dance and corrections so I know my body and mind will know exactly what it is that needs to be executed.
Which role has tested you the most and how?
I would have to say an experience like no other that I have encountered in my years at The Australian Ballet and working with a huge range of choreographers, would have to be working with Wayne McGregor. He challenged the limits of my body in all the ways it could move and he worked with such enthusiastic intensity and huge mental capacity that I had to work incredibly hard to keep up with the pace he worked at. I was expected to chop and change, reverse, do half of the sequence, then a fifth of the sequence in reverse, then minus the left hand, and it truly had me exhausted by the end of the day.
If you were asked to design you own ballet costume, what would you create?
When I am dancing on stage I like to feel comfortable in whatever I am wearing so if I was designing a costume I think comfort would definitely be a main priority. I also enjoy the feeling of being able to move freely in a costume without the constrictions that sometimes come along with wearing a tutu. One of my favourite and most comfortable costumes that I have ever worn would have to be the costumes designed for Graham Murphy’s Swan Lake in Act 2. It is simple yet elegant and very comfortable to dance in.
What do you look for in a dance partner?
I love dancing with a partner that I can connect with and it is important to me to be able to do this with someone when performing on stage. When I find a partner I can interact with and bounce off energy with, it makes every emotion and step feel real and organic and natural, and for me this is where the beauty and magic lies. I also love being able to get to a point with my partner where I feel that I can co-ordinate the way I move and dance with him, making everything feel easy and effortless. I have also learnt over the years that performances can be pretty unpredictable. So when you’re on stage dealing with lights, nerves, and props, having a partner you can trust is also something I look for.
What is your favourite quote?
“Great dancers are not great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion.”- Martha Graham
Do you have a signature step – one that comes naturally to you?
I wouldn’t say that I have a signature step; I am a dancer that is more of a mover and groover I think. I do love to turn and jump but I still have those “off days” too where my turns don’t quite work.
A phrase I use far too often is…?
I don’t think I have one, but I think I might say, “cool” a fair bit. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up in the 80’s.
What’s been your best on stage moment so far?
A role I absolutely adored performing was one of the fairies from Stanton Welch’s The Sleeping Beauty. This was a very long ballet and one that involved me doing a lot of solo work that was very controlled. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and had a lot of fun with this role.
Do you have a secret skill no one knows about?
I can twist my tongue into a three-leaf clover!
In terms of your ballet career where would you like to be in a year from now?
When I think about all that I would like to achieve as a dancer and where I would like to be in a year’s time, my answer would still be here at The Australian Ballet company but as a soloist or senior artist dancing even more significant and demanding roles. There are so many opportunities that The Australian Ballet offers to its dancers, and I am also hoping in a year’s time I might have the exciting opportunity to possibly explore some choreography with The Australian Ballet in ‘Body Torque’.
And while we are leading up to our 50th Anniversary we will also be performing and revisiting some fantastic repertoire and iconic pieces that are very unique to this Company, and I am really looking forward to it!