The Royal New Zealand Ballet are gearing up for their first season of the year, the narrative classic Don Quixote (pronounced don key-oh-tee). The ballet will open in the St James Theatre, Wellington on March 4th. First performed by the RNZB in 2008, the ballet is based on Miguel de Cervantes’ epic tale of the blundering but loveable Don and his somewhat relaxed grasp on both reality and his fortune. This week I caught up with company dancer Loughlan Prior to talk ballet, Don Q and the life of a professional ballet in dancer in New Zealand.
Q. How did you decide that professional ballet was the career for you?
A. I always had a strong connection with music, and dance was the physical embodiment of that. I was always a hyper child, and my parents needed to do something with my energy levels. They put me into ballet to get some disclipline – it worked!
What do you like most about your profession?
Two things; I get to be creative and I love that. Also, the physicality of ballet – I love being very active and very fit. We don’t have to do other extra work to be fit, it’s just part of our job.
What’s the most challenging thing about being a male dancer in NZ?
Socially, there isn’t a big challenge any more. The stigma of being a male dancer has broken down a lot over the past ten years. TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance have helped make male dancers a more accepted thing. In ballet, we don’t get the same public recognition as sports stars like the All Blacks, but we don’t do this job for public recognition.
What’s one secret the public doesn’t know about ballet dancers?
Ballet is sometimes still considered an elite and closed world. Ballerinas especially can be put on pedestals. Actually, we’re just normal people. We enjoy a Friday night as much as the next person!
Who are your heroes?
Wayne McGregor as a choreographer. He’s a huge inspiration to me – what he does with choreography and cognition, his career trajectory, everything. I adore his work.
The other person is Bob Fosse – a big contrast to McGregor! I just saw All That Jazz (the stage show based on Fosse’s the 1979 semi-autobiographical film) in New York with the original cast interviewed at the screening. It was incredible to be in the audience. Fosse made dancing sexy – he’s such an inspiration to a lot of dancers.
If you could dance any role in any ballet, what would it be?
Infra (Wayne McGregor, 2008) – one of the pas de deux (dance for two – traditionally with one male and one female dancer).
You’ve worked with the RNZB since 2009. How have you changed during your time with the company?
This is my sixth year with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, so I’ve really grown up within the company. As a young person I’ve learned a lot. I think this reflects in your performance and maturity onstage. You can be a fantastic technician when you’re young, but many roles require more artistic depth. In this company we get to tour a lot and experience many different roles. The company gives us the opportunity to learn contemporary as well as classical work. It’s in the last few years that I’ve felt I’m mature enough to potray the roles that carry a lot of depth. You go in young and you get all this experience along the way to help you tackle these bigger roles.
What’s your advice for an audience member seeing ballet for the first time?
Be open. The story will be told through mime and dance – read the dancers bodies and the story will unfold before you.
What roles will you play in Don Quixote?
I play a waiter/matador. The role has been adapted for this production and reconfigured so the matadors are waiters at a café where Kitri (the feisty female lead) works. We help the story to develop. I also play a gypsy in Act II.
It’s nice to play both because they’re very different. The matadors are very much in-line, controlled, and quite pompous. The gypsies are free, expressive and wilder in their movement style.
As well as being a dancer, you’re working in choreography and dance film. How do you manage both roles?
I set myself small projects and try to find time on days off or weekends to grab some of the dancers and a studio to work in. Usually my choreographic projects are for small performances or for film, so it’s easier to manage and to capture.
Your dance film Memory House has just screened in New York at the 43rd Dance on Camera Festival. What did you bring home from this experience?
It’s a crazy world out there and there are so many amazing people working in the field – filmakers, dancers, choreographers. The energy of NYC and the way that everyone there is really wired and driven was fantastic. I want to be able to harness the energy and passion of the people there, and bring it here to New Zealand.
Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
I created my second dance film, called David, in 2014. This year I’m looking at sending it to festivals in Europe and distributing it.
The RNZB regularly tour throughout New Zealand, so your recommendations come with plenty of research. What, in your opinion, is NZ’s best;:
- Place to grab a coffee?
Fidel’s in Wellington
- Brilliant activity that costs nothing?
Akaroa – walking around seeing the sites. It’s my favourite little village in New Zealand; cute buildings and lovely people.
- Place to buy a killer outfit?
Zambesi, the Britomart store. I’m a big fan.
Catch Loughlan in the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s production of Don Quixote onstage in Wellington, Christchurch, Invercargill, Dunedin, Auckland and Palmerston North from Wednesday 4th March to Wednesday 1st April.