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Name and role
Amber Scott, principal artist with the Australian Ballet
Tell us a bit about what you do?
My life as a ballerina is a combination of dedicated routine alongside a great deal of travel and performing. From the outside, a life on the stage and performing around Australia and overseas may seem glamorous, but in reality there is a hidden backstage world where all dancers work themselves to peak physical condition every day. Sweating it out in the studio for hours leads to the reward of performing when a new season opens.
When did you discover your talent? Did you always want to be a dancer?
When I was a young girl my mother noted my boundless energy and took me to creative dance classes. I loved these as it was such a fun way to express all that energy. I grew up on the Sunshine Coast QLD so being physical was such a huge part of my youth. I feel all the running, swimming and climbing I did as a youngster really helped condition my body for the life ahead. My parents took me to see Swan Lake when I was five and it was definitely an epiphany, I think that was my fated moment when I knew what I wanted to do. Along the way, the years of training and endless dedication occasionally became a bit tedious and I probably had ulterior careers such as a paediatrician or actress up my sleeve, but my true love of dance always won out!
Where do you find your inspiration? Who has had the most impact on you and your career?
I have been inspired by every teacher I have been lucky enough to learn from. My first teacher Anne Fraser was so important in teaching me the pure beauty of classical technique. Eileen Tasker from the National TheatreBallet school in Melbourne gave me the courage to go for it and try new steps and even if they weren’t perfect she gave me a real sense of joy in performing. Marilyn Rowe OBE, Gailene Stock CBE AM and Leigh Rowles picked me out from a room of eleven-year-olds to join their associate program and thus began my life within The Australian Ballet family. Marilyn Jones OBE directed me as young girl and taught me my first solo en pointe. I feel so lucky to have been inspired by these women from a young age. They all gave so generously of their time and shared their ballerina secrets with me. When I think of grace, kindness and humility I think of all these ladies. My mother is also a beacon of light for me. She gave up a lot of her dreams so I could have mine and we had so much fun learning together about this wondrous world of ballet. It’s always so special to perform when my family are in the audience. Thinking of them comforts me and makes me want to express all the joy of life when I’m onstage.
It’s not always bright lights and glory. How do you deal with the challenges and down times?
The toughest times have been when I have been off because of an injury, or having to dance through pain because of one. It is par for the course in our line of work and fortunately we have a brilliant medical team to guide us through these times and keep us strong. I certainly wouldn’t have lasted this long without their care! Sometimes early in my career the amount of shows our company perform each year (160+) would really wear me down and even though we would be performing beautiful works, the grind would be really hard to push through. Looking back I can see how all those years of pushing through endless corps de ballet roles really gives you the grit you need to have longevity in this career.
What role has had the most effect on you? Tell us a bit about your latest projects…
I think the role of Odette in both Graeme Murphy’s and Stephen Baynes’ versions of Swan Lake have had the biggest impact on my career. It was my first big break when David McAllister asked me to be Odette when I was 21. I still feel so grateful for that leap of faith he took in me, it was terrifying and wonderful all at once! I still am dancing that role and growing with the ballet each year we perform it. I think I will always be learning more about her character. The other special Odette moment was when Stephen Baynes said I would be in his premiere cast for a new traditional version. I was a principal artist at that point, terrified all over again but so humbled to be stepping into that iconic ballerina role. I love the score of Swan Lake and always find this motivates the emotions I feel for the ballet.
Your workdays are much more exciting than the average 9 to 5. When you’re preparing or performing, what does a typical day involve?
My workday is certainly not the usual 9-5 but it also varies a great deal depending on our performance schedule. Over years of late theatre nights I am certainly not a “morning person”! Because of this I tend to push back waking up until 8am and then dawdle over breakfast. chores and emails at home. After a stop off at a local café for a flat white I get to work about 9:45am to warm up for class.
Class is generally a similar affair each day. We begin at the barre to warm and stretch our bodies and gradually the intensity increases to include turns and jumping in the centre of the room. After a 15-minute break it’s back into the studio for two and a half hours of whatever ballet is coming up. At the moment there are four different ballets being rehearsed so it is a typically busy time at the Australian Ballet. If it is a show day we will stop at 3pm to rest, eat and maybe get some physio before heading to the theatre at 5pm to put make-up on and prepare for the 7:30pm performance. After a big show I like to jump in the ice buckets up to my knees to combat any swelling or muscle soreness the next day. Then it’s time to go home and have a late dinner, usually an omelette or leftover pasta, around 11pm. Not ideal dietary advice but I prefer to relax and eat dinner after the show so I don’t feel queasy during pas de deuxs! On the days when we don’t perform I keep rehearsing after lunch till 6:30pm and then head home to cook dinner or catch up with friends and family if I can. I love cooking, it’s one of my favourite ways to unwind at the end of the day. The Ugg boots go on and then it’s straight to the kitchen to try a new recipe out with my boyfriend. Actually he is more of a “recipe” person and a great cook. I tend to make up dishes depending on what we have in the house. Luckily he is always very encouraging of my experimentation!
What are your goals for the future?
My most immediate goal for the future is to give my all to performing Aurora and Lilac Fairy in David McAllister’s new production The Sleeping Beauty. I am loving revisiting both these roles and re-interpreting them with a more mature approach. There have been many rewarding hours spent with David and our Ballet Mistress Fiona Tonkin helping me develop my interpretation. The staff of the company spend so much time with us, they see us at our best and worst, I always feel so lucky to be able to be completely honest in the studio with them.
In the distant future, I would like to study health science and continue learning about human anatomy which is something I am currently studying online. I think it will tie in really well with my ballet background and hopefully enable me to give back to the artform in some way in the future. Of course, I hope to keep dancing as long as possible and hopefully revisit some of my favourite roles such as Tatiana in Onegin, and Manon. Beyond that, I daydream of travels to Europe, having a family, a garden, and staying happy and healthy.
What advice would you give to someone following the same path as you?
As advice for someone wanting to be a ballerina I can only offer advice based on my own experience. I think if I was speaking to myself as young person I would say, be patient and be kind to yourself. It’s natural for dancers to be very self-critical but if you spend so much energy focussing on the negative you lose that feeling of joy and escapism that dance can offer. I would also say to embrace your uniqueness. Forget about lack of physical symmetry, stiff joints, not being flexible enough, and celebrate your strengths. The audience doesn’t want to see all that worry, they want to be swept away into another world.
Amber will be performing in The Australian Ballet’s upcoming contemporary triple bill, 20:21. The show in Sydney will run from 5th – 21st of November. For tickets head to www.australianballet.com.au