The language of ballet - Regional News | Connecting Wellington
 Issue 217

Photo by Stephen A'Court

The language of ballet by Alessia Belsito-Riera

After spending the last 21 years as a professional ballet dancer with The Australian Ballet, Ty King-Wall is overjoyed to return to Aotearoa as artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB). Though he loved performing across Australia and beyond, his Kiwi roots have always been an important part of his identity and taking up his new position with the company that inspired him to become a dancer is an incredible full-circle moment in his life. With the RNZB’s mainstage production of Swan Lake premiering on the 1st of May, I picked Ty’s brain about all things ballet.

How did you begin dancing?

As most boys tend to do with ballet, I fell into it by accident when I was about seven. A friend of mine was going to classes, and he was the only boy, so he wanted someone to come along with him for moral support. I said sure, having no idea what I was getting myself into, and the rest is history. My mum saw that I was enjoying what I was doing so she took me to see the RNZB’s performance of Cinderella. That was it for me; I was captivated, and I never looked back. You find something that is your spark, you connect with it, and that’s what ballet was for me.

What do you love about it?

It’s always been a challenge. You never conquer it; ballet is very difficult to do well, and I think there’s always a different way of doing things. It’s a combination of how physically challenging it is while making it look effortless. At the same time, you’re putting it at the service of the story that you’re telling – what you’re trying to say through the vocabulary and the language that you’re speaking. To combine all of those things together at once is no mean feat and you never master it. That’s what has always kept me coming back for more.

What came next?

I left New Zealand and I went to Australia where I trained at The Australian Ballet School for three years. Then I was offered a contract with The Australian Ballet and spent my whole professional dancing career with them. I feel very fortunate for the opportunities I had and loved my time there. It wasn’t always easy, but I’m very, very lucky to have had this career.

Your new role has brought you back home to New Zealand. What was going through your head when you were offered a position with the RNZB?

A great many things – all of the emotions! Mainly I was just really honoured and grateful for the opportunity. It’s the company that made me want to become a dancer, so I’ve always had a really strong connection to the RNZB. I think what comes upon you very quickly is the weight of responsibility to act as a custodian for the company. With an incredible 71-year history, I feel the responsibility to pay respect to that history, but also to really care and look after everyone that works for the organisation. I think that sense of responsibility comes on quite strongly right from the get-go and it doesn’t lift, nor should it.

It was a full-circle moment then?

Yeah, but the real full-circle moment came from one of the first performances I saw the RNZB do shortly after Cinderella, which was Russell Kerr’s Swan Lake. I remember as a kid just being transfixed by it and very vividly going ‘That's what I want to be doing, I want to be up there when I grow up’. The full-circle moment came back in 2013 when I had the opportunity to guest with the RNZB together with my wife who was also a dancer with The Australian Ballet. We came back and guested, which was the last time the RNZB performed Swan Lake. That was a very out-of-body experience. I could see seven-year-old me up the back of the gods watching myself 20 years on and that was quite a surreal moment. So Russell’s beautiful production of Swan Lake is really special to me, and we’re performing it again this year. I think so many people have a strong connection to that ballet and particularly with Russell's passing recently, it’s even more important that we pay homage to one of the greats in New Zealand dance.

What a neat thread through your career. What does a typical day look like for you now?

Ha! A typical day – what is that? It depends whether we’re in a performance season, we have shows in the evening, we’re on the road. One of the balancing acts of this role is you’re constantly in three or four states. There’s the immediate plan, there’s midterm planning for what’s coming up later in the year, and then you’re also looking further afield to next year and beyond. It’s constantly a state of flicking between all of those horizons. It’s one of the great things about it, actually; you come in on any given day and you don’t know where it’s gonna lead or what’s going to come up. When you see a performance on stage, that’s the final product. What it takes to get there is huge and every single department contributes massively. It’s a team effort, it’s collaborative, and it’s shaped by everyone.

What plans do you have for the RNZB?

I’d love us to be a company that Kiwis are really proud of and that’s relevant to them. We’re very creative and I think we need to remain responsive to the evolution of the artform and the world around us. I’d love us to be proactive and on the front foot with what we’re doing, not reactive. I’m passionate about dancer wellbeing and for the dancers to have a positive mindset, belief in what they’re doing, and confidence. It’s important to build people up and I’d love for the RNZB to be an environment instilled with that mentality.

What can audiences look forward to in 2024?

Everything! Please come to absolutely everything! I feel very fortunate that RNZB had interim artistic director David McAllister last year – who coincidentally was my old boss at The Australian Ballet. He was able to plan the 2024 season for us, but I was so excited when he let me know what the plans were because it was very much in line with where I was hoping we would go. We start with our Tutus On Tour – we’re doing 23 performances in 12 centres across both islands. It’s a programme that shows what’s possible with classical ballet as an artform and how versatile it is as a language. Making ballet accessible, reaching as far and wide as we possibly can, and taking it out to communities is a really important part of what we do.

We’ll follow that up with Russell Kerr’s Swan Lake. I know the dancers are so excited and I think you’ll feel that energy on both sides of the curtain. Then we have a really contrasting season called Solace which is a triple bill. We have a work called Infra created for the RNZB by visionary choreographer Wayne McGregor, alongside two premieres: High Tide by Alice Topp and To Hold by Sarah Foster-Sproull. We finish with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s been a couple years since we’ve done it and the world really transports you, so it’s great for all ages. Lots to look forward to this year!

View more articles from:
« Issue 217, April 9, 2024