There are few professions where each and every workday begins with a class to further perfect one’s skills, but that is what the Queensland Ballet’s 26 full-time dancers do every morning at 10 o’clock.
“Classical ballet is so steeped in tradition, which I think is so admirable,” says Queensland Ballet CEO Anna Marsden. “The tradition and its rigour and discipline have been kept over hundreds of years. Every day, for any classical ballet dancer, will begin with taking class so without fail the whole company turns up … then they do rehearsals or development or acting classes to hone their craft and prepare for the show that’s coming up.”
Based in the Thomas Dixon Centre on Montague Road at West End, the Queensland Ballet Company was started by dancer Charles Lisner and his wife Valerie in 1960. “It was a real labour of love for them,” says Anna. “We lost Charles a few years ago but Valerie, his widow, is still very much involved in the company. For me, it’s lovely to go back to her every now and again, and touch base that Charles would be proud of the company as it is today. We’re very connected to our history.”
Queensland Ballet’s headquarters also has a strong history, but contrary to what you might expect, Thomas Dixon was not some famous ballet dancer. “No!” Anna laughs, “he was a boot maker!” The heritage-listed red brick building was built in 1908 as a shoe factory and operated as such until the 1970s. “We sort of have this thing that we used to be the place where they made boots but now there are ballet shoes happening all over the place,” says Anna. Beyond the building itself, Anna says they love their West End location. “There are a lot of cultural organisations that are based in the South Brisbane area, but I think when you’re in more the suburban reach of West End, you feel so much more connected to the community. All the dancers live within walking distance. Everyone has their favourite coffee shop. We feel very much part of the West End neighbourhood.”
The company is poised to enter an exciting new chapter in its history with the announcement that Li Cunxin will take over as artistic director in 2013. Cunxin is well known for his award winning autobiography Mao’s Last Dancer, which was adapted into a feature film in 2009. Anna says he has an ambitious vision for the company.
“He really wants Queensland Ballet to be one of the best and I think that on stage and off stage, all of us are really looking forward to that remarkable journey. Everyone knows his story, so they know he’s very passionate and disciplined, but you know he is a really lovely man. He gets flown around the world to do motivational and coaching speeches so I think for all of us we’re going to get a really phenomenal leader.”
Words by Leah Carri | Images by David Kelly & Ken Sparrow