Meet The Australian Ballet's protégé: dancer and choreographer Richard House
As the only boy at his local dance school, he quickly learnt to keep his lessons quiet from his classmates. But now that he's performing for a nationwide audience, he's compelled to create works that appeal to both the people back home (including his two brothers, both tradies) and season ticket holders.
The incredibly gifted dancer, who has the Graeme Murphy Award for Excellence in Contemporary Dance under his belt, cites British choreographer Wayne MacGregor as one of his biggest influences. "He's doing what I think ballet needs, he's helping it to evolve into something new," he says. "That's what we need - new ideas to bring in new audiences. We can't just do 100 Nutcrackers."
To that end, when House choreographs a ballet, he doesn't just focus on the dance moves, but the whole shebang, from the lighting plan to the costume design. "I want to make sure I connect with as many people as I can," he says. "I like to be really hands on deck with the whole creative process - I'm talking to everyone right from the start so all our ideas mesh."
House is one of the Australian Ballet's protégés - at just 24, he's somehow juggling both performing and choreographing full time - rare for a professional dancer - and excelling at both. After starting jazz and tap classes - his best friend was doing them - at the age of 12 in Sunbury, rural Victoria, House quickly found his feet, so to speak, accepting a place at the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School before winning one of just four contracts to join the Australian Ballet School. "I realised when I was 17 or 18 that if I wanted it, I had to work for it," House says. "It was then that I fell in love with the work ethic and the artistry of ballet - before that I was more into hip hop and the commercial stuff and I never really appreciated ballet as I wasn't ready for it."
Now, the power of ballet to convey and evoke emotion is a constant source of inspiration. "You need to explore the whole range of adult emotions in ballet," House says. "It's not like commercial dance where you just smile and try to look hot!"
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His latest work, the breathtaking contemporary ballet From Something, To Nothing, is a case in point. Staged for The Australian Ballet's 2015 Bodytorque Up Late, it delves into the sense of loss experienced after a relationship breaks up - and unbelievably, it was put together in just three weeks. "It's been very intense. A lot of ballets get 90 hours rehearsal time; I had 36," reveals House. "It's been a challenge but it's been great fun to see what I can do in that time." What he can do is staggering - From Something, To Nothing is nothing short of exquisite. True to form, House's lighting plan enhances the performance without distracting from it, creating a captivating whole. It's being staged three more times this year - visit australianballet.com.au to book.
What does a typical day look like for a dancer in the Australian Ballet?
Our days start at around 10:30am for general class for an hour and a half, then rehearsals go until 3pm. At the moment we're rehearsing Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Giselle. Then we have a dinner break until 6:30pm, then warm-up barre and then the performance. You learn to love coffee! But having people clap you is a pretty good way to end the day!
Before the 10:30am class I'll spend the morning at the gym - we all know what works best for us, some do pilates, I go to the gym and I swim. Since I'm a taller dancer I get given the tall girls, so I need to keep my strength up.
What do you eat?
We're constantly fuelling our bodies with the right foods. You can't survive on sugar. You'd be surprised - we eat pastas, steaks - we need food that keeps us going the whole day. I do love my McDonald's, but that's my treat.
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Are male dancers under the same scrutiny to keep their weight down as female dancers?
It can be a struggle to keep on muscle. We have to stay lean but we don't want to look like bean poles in our tights - we need muscle so we still look masculine on stage and can pull off the roles. It's about building the right muscles that work for the ballet physique but also the muscles that allow you to lift the girls.
How do you juggle dancing and choreography?
I work 100 per cent in both. I'm performing in Monotones the same night From Something, To Nothing makes its debut. It's fun and exciting and creative. Often my dinner breaks are filled with meetings with designers and stage crews and I have a very full schedule, but I enjoy being busy.
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