The Australian Ballet School’s Simon Dow
Now an annual tradition, The Australian Ballet School’s performance opens Art Centre Melbourne’s 2021 Morning Melodies program with En Pointe – a wonderful repertoire filled with energy, athleticism and the refined skills of the School’s young dancers; celebrating the art of ballet with new works from Stephen Baynes and Simon Dow along with the romance of Paquita.
Simon graduated from The Australian Ballet School where he went on to dance with The Australian Ballet. He was the first male dancer to win the Australian Cecchetti Junior Medal. After building on his repertoire, Simon ventured overseas to take up positions with the Stuttgart Ballet and Washington Ballet. He eventually returned to Australian to dance as a Principal Artist.
Highlights of Simon’s career have included making frequent guest appearances at some North America’s prestigious dance festivals including the Spoleto Festival, the International Festival of Danca in Cuba and the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Simon has also danced the leading roles in major classical ballets and has worked with renowned choreographers including George Balanchine, Maurice Bejart, Glen Tetley, Jriri Kylian and more over the years.
Notably, Simon has acted as the Associate Artistic Director of the Washington Ballet for two years and the Artistic Director of the West Australian Ballet where he commissioned a number of new works.
Dance Writer speaks to The Australian Ballet School’s choreographer Simon Dow.
You were the first male dancer to win the Australian Cecchetti Junior Medal before you graduated from The Australian Ballet School. Describe your own experience as a student at The Australian Ballet School.
I loved my time at The Australian Ballet School as I finally felt that I was with my ‘tribe’. Growing up as a young male dance student in Australia, at the time, I was not accepted at regular school and struggled with the taunting and bullying. My entry into full-time training at The Australian Ballet School, among many peers, was so inspirational. I felt safe and free to express myself. Great teachers during my time were Dame Margaret Scott, Bruce Morrow, Leon Kellaway, Marina Berezowsky, Jurgen Schneider, Jack Manuel and wonderful academic teachers. I made lifelong friends at the school and it is humbling to be able to give back now to today’s young artists.
You’ve worked with The Australian Ballet School as Master Teacher / Resident Choreographer for several years now. Since COVID-19, what have you particularly noticed with the dancers going through that experience of isolation? How did it affect their performing skills and technique? How important is it for them to be back on stage?
Any time away from daily training for a dancer at any stage of their training or career is challenging. At The Australian Ballet School, we continued our training program but modified it for delivery over Zoom technology. We had to take into account the home practice space for every student, with the utmost care and concern for their safety. We could not deliver our usual schedule of classes, including elements crucial to a dancer’s training such as turning and jumping which we had to seriously modify. I found other ways to engage and inspire my students, including exposing them to many contemporary choreographers, excerpts of international dance company repertoire, we shared favourite paintings, photographic works, poems, books, films, etc. I asked them to write a short story and we spoke a lot about arts, artists, and development of artistry that when we did manage to return to in-person teaching they had matured and brought more to their work. During the Melbourne lockdowns, we worked a lot on clarity of lines and awareness of simple placement, which was very effective. I also shared weekly mindfulness classes for the graduate year students.
Describe the piece you have created for Morning Melodies – En Pointe. What was your inspiration and stimulus? How did it evolve from there?
My work ‘A Little Chaos’ was actually created during the latter part of 2019, pre-Covid, and was originally intended to be a work for both female and male dancers from that year’s Level 7 students. The original concept was drawn from the children’s nursery rhyme ‘Ring around the rosie’, which many have said was a song relating to plague times in the Middle Ages. This now seems quite prescient given our worldview has since changed. The work was shortened and developed for only male dancers; given the 2020 lockdown situations, and social distancing requirements once we returned to the studios. The exploration of order and chaos in this piece results in the material being more contemporary in movement style with elements of improvisational spatial and relational shifts for the dancers. We have worked very deeply on this piece, asking each dancer involved to make it personal on some level and to bring a brave and edgy quality to their physicality. No two performances will be quite the same, although the skeletal structure remains. In chaos, anything could happen!
What can audiences expect when watching this year’s En Pointe?
Audiences will see dance works that move from the purely classical poise of ‘Dance of the Hours’ from Coppélia, to Stephen Baynes’ new work ‘White Nights’ with style, humour and neo-classical movement including challenging partnered work through the contemporary feel of ‘A Little Chaos’ culminating with the classic ‘Paquita’ which brings flair and stylish energy to this challenging classical work that gives some dancers the opportunity to display their solo virtuosic abilities. This is a program for all tastes and a wonderful way to experience the beautiful young emerging artists of The Australian Ballet School.
Date: 18 May, 2021
Time: 11:00 AM, 1:30 PM
Venue: Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
Running Time: 60 minutes (no interval)
Tickets: Standard $25.00, Child $18.00, Group 10+ $19.00