How a visit to Bunnings received ballet stars by way of ‘devastating’ lockdown

Husband and wife team Chengwu Guo and Ako Kondo are thrilled to be back in rehearsal.

Husband and spouse group Chengwu Guo and Ako Kondo are thrilled to be again in rehearsal.Credit score:Simon Schluter

What they actually wished to do, although, was sweat. With no performances to rehearse and extra time on their palms, they taught themselves Latin dancing by way of a YouTube tutorial – which they cherished – and Guo began boxing, which he significantly loved and continues to do even now, when they’re again dancing and rehearsing full-time.

Whereas the primary lockdown was tough, the dancers had thought it wouldn’t final lengthy, and so remained optimistic. However then, having returned briefly to work in mid-Might, slowly increase their health, going right into a second, extra restrictive lockdown was an enormous blow. “I used to be devastated … I believe everybody was,” Kondo says.

This was when Guo actually began to fret in regards to the impact of an inconsistent workload on his again. However ultimately he opted for pragmatism – there was little level despairing at whether or not he would have a future in ballet; as an alternative he checked out what he may do, proper now. And there was one different motivation for each dancers: the thought that, on the finish of the 12 months, there could be a brand new creative director on the helm of the corporate, and it could be among the finest male dancers on this planet, David Hallberg.

“Regardless that it was such a tough time for us, everybody knew that after we had been again within the studio it was a brand new director, it could be thrilling,” Kondo says.

Hallberg, who arrived in Melbourne from New York on the finish of November to take over the reins from David McAllister, is aware of how exhausting the COVID lockdown has been for the dancers, and never only for their bodily health. “By way of their psychological well being, they’re performers – they’re charged with adrenalin, they’re motivated by adrenalin and nerves,” Hallberg says. Lacking out on that’s taking away a key purpose they ask a lot of their our bodies day in and time out.

David Hallberg with principals Chengwu Guo and Ako Kondo: the new artistic director says his dancers are “charged with adrenalin”.

David Hallberg with principals Chengwu Guo and Ako Kondo: the brand new creative director says his dancers are “charged with adrenalin”.Credit score:Simon Schluter

He additionally had his 12 months trashed by the pandemic. With COVID rampaging throughout Europe and his native United States, Hallberg out of the blue had his hectic efficiency schedule cancelled and his likelihood to farewell adoring audiences taken away. However he, too, is pragmatic. “I didn’t get it,” he shrugs. “So be it. What’s subsequent?”

Hallberg is now settled into Melbourne – a metropolis he names as one in all his high three on this planet alongside Milan and Tokyo – and is busy getting ready the dancers for his first season as creative director. However earlier than that, the corporate will carry out Summertime on the Ballet at Margaret Courtroom Enviornment, a sort of gala spectacular made up of excerpts from a number of the best-known ballets, a Balanchine work that’s new to the corporate, and a number of items from Australian choreographers Alice Topp, Tim Harbour and Stephen Baynes. The corporate has by no means carried out in such an enormous area in Melbourne, and with the viewers in a horseshoe and no wings for dancers to face in, it is going to be a brand new expertise for everybody.

“I believe performing in an area like that gives a unique sort of viewers and it gives an viewers that normally goes to the ballet for the prospect to see issues very stripped again,” Hallberg says.

Actually, in rehearsals for Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, there is no such thing as a trace the skin world has been turned the other way up. It’s led by Sandra Jennings from the Balanchine Belief, who has travelled from California – pausing, in fact, for a two-week lodge quarantine in Melbourne – to show the work.

Jennings is affected person and type, taking the dancers by way of the standard exacting calls for of a rehearsal – are they in a straight line right here, is the arm up or down there. With the dancers nonetheless freshly again as an organization and the prospect of lastly – after a 12 months caught at dwelling – having the ability to carry out, there’s a frisson of pleasure within the room.

David Hallberg in the studio with Robyn Hendricks in preparation for Summertime at the Ballet.

David Hallberg within the studio with Robyn Hendricks in preparation for Summertime on the Ballet.Credit score:Simon Schluter

Hallberg, tall and lean with blond floppy hair that he typically flicks away from his face, perches on a tall chair on the entrance of the room, sometimes leaping down to supply a correction to a person dancer or the group.

“Dancers,” he says at one level, because the excited chatter continues. “DANCERS,” he says extra firmly, and silence falls instantly. “The polonaise is trying a bit of superficial,” he says, displaying them how he desires it completed. They do it time and again till everyone seems to be glad.


Earlier within the day Hallberg joined within the males’s each day class – taking his place on the barre alongside the opposite male dancers beneath the steerage of ballet grasp Steven Heathcote. It’s exhausting to take your eyes off him. He has probably the most stunning ft when they’re pointed, excellent turn-out, and the sort of flexibility most dancers would kill for. At 38, he effortlessly flicks his leg to the facet so it’s virtually parallel along with his head.

Regardless of his fame inside the ballet world, there may be nothing of the diva about Hallberg – he dances as a result of he desires to, he must, and likewise as a result of there might but be a farewell efficiency. He’s hazy on whether or not it is going to be within the US or some place else – plans can solely ever be made in pencil within the COVID world – however “to be sincere, I believe it may be the suitable factor to do,” he says. “⁣Individuals in ballet actually love a goodbye.”

David Hallberg guides Callum Linnane in the studio.  “I just want to nurture them with repertoire, with coaching,” Hallberg says.

David Hallberg guides Callum Linnane within the studio. “I simply need to nurture them with repertoire, with teaching,” Hallberg says.Credit score:Simon Schluter

However he’s unlikely to carry out with the Australian Ballet. There was discuss of doing a bit within the Summertime present, he says, “however the highlight has shifted, and I’m so at peace with that”.

He additionally is aware of that him being within the class, or in a rehearsal – to not point out on the stage – impacts the dancers. “The power modifications,” he says. “You’re feeling it.” The opposite evening he had been watching the dancers rehearse the ballet Raymonda till late into the night. They had been exhausted, and Hallberg is aware of that is when accidents typically occur. Watching them dance, he had felt fairly overcome with emotion as a result of they “simply appeared so good”, however he determined to go away the rehearsal and allow them to get on with it, “for everybody’s sake”.

When requested about his plans for the corporate and its dancers, the phrase Hallberg makes use of time and again is nurture.

“I have a look at these dancers and I simply need to nurture them with repertoire, with teaching, and I really feel such endurance for that,” he explains. “It’s not like ‘do it now’, this can take years, which I really feel so motivated to do.” He desires to “assist them realise their potential, not my concept of what their potential is, I believe that’s very completely different”.

I believe that Australian ballet can afford to … present a grittier facet in repertoire in the best way artists categorical themselves.

David Hallberg

Audiences, too, can count on to be challenged by his applications. He believes strongly within the traditional “bums on seats” ballets resembling Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet, he says – however he solely desires to stage the very best variations of them. They’ll sit alongside new works and concepts.

“My style in up to date repertoire is fairly avant-garde and I generally need to catch myself and suppose of what’s acceptable to the place I’m at. However I believe that Australian ballet can afford to … present a grittier facet in repertoire in the best way artists categorical themselves.”


Whereas his job retains him busy more often than not, he’s additionally settling in to Melbourne life, attempting to get his head across the dry, ironic Australian sense of humour that so typically baffles outsiders.

As he fixes his sights on shopping for an inner-city terrace home, he’s additionally having to come back to phrases with Melbourne’s suburban politics – the query of which facet of the river he’ll select to reside. “In New York it’s extra like ‘oh the place do you reside?‘, whereas right here it’s extra ‘WHERE do you reside’,” he chuckles.

He loves Melbourne beer – Furphy and Carlton are specific favourites – has fallen in love along with his morning bowl of Weet-Bix, milk and honey, and has even discovered to say “owareya” all as one phrase. “I really feel like I’m in the suitable place,” he says.

Kondo and Guo suppose he’s in the suitable place, too. They discuss enthusiastically in regards to the 12 months forward, with Kondo significantly trying ahead to dancing Juliet in John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet.


“The entire 12 months is [like] Christmas for our firm,” Guo provides. “We’ve by no means had this many productions which can be so thrilling for a very long time, model new.”

He’s additionally trying ahead to introducing ballet to the brand new buddies he’s made by way of boxing. “I’m so excited to have boxers come and watch ballet,” he enthuses. “It used to solely be footy gamers!” after which he lets out his large chortle.

The couple normally dance collectively as nicely. Whereas some ballet have strict guidelines about not taking their work dwelling with them, he and Kondo want to type issues out on the spot. “The advantage of us, relating to ballet, is we don’t let go any issues. If we see one downside, we kill it. TWICE,” Guo laughs.

When they’re dancing with their colleagues the relationships are typically extra well mannered and fewer blunt. However he and Kondo don’t care in regards to the niceties, he says. “What we care about is how good we’re.”

Summertime on the Ballet is at Margaret Courtroom Enviornment, February 25-28.

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