On moving countries, dreaming big, and daily gratitude
One of the most fulfilling moments in Libby-Rose Niederer’s career occurred in August 2023, unexpectedly. Remi Wörtmeyer (multi award-winning choreographer, dancer and artist) was in town choreographing Miroirs – a challenging new neo-classical work for the Bespoke season. About 72 hours before the first show of the second week, Libby-Rose got a call.
“One of the dancers was injured and I found out on a Saturday that I would be dancing her role on the Tuesday. So I came in on the Sunday to learn the choreography by video with my partner Edison,” she recalls.
“To be thrown in like that was an intense experience that I’d not had before. There just wasn’t any time to learn it, and learning from a video is hard. The choreography wasn’t conventional, like pirouettes or en pointe - it’s the type you have to work out with your partner like ‘now you give me this hand, we go this way’. But in the end, it was so fulfilling to do it onstage and I was so proud of that performance; because it was fresh it felt so authentic. It was a really special moment in my career.”
This intense style of focus has been honed over a lifetime: New Zealand-born Libby-Rose began dancing at her local ballet school in Auckland at four years of age. From the moment she stepped onto a stage, following in her cousin’s balletic steps in a tiny tutu literally cut from the same cloth, she had one goal: become a ballerina. Musicality runs deep in the Niederer family.
The cousin that inspired her went on to perform in big musical theatre productions in the U.K.; Libby-Rose’s twin plays the guitar and piano; her 80-year-old grandmother still takes tap dancing classes. So she joined the Cameron Ballet Academy, began winning competitions at 10-years-old, and at 15, dared to dream bigger.
“In 2014, I was doing quite well, I won all the major New Zealand competitions that year, and I thought if I actually wanted to be a ballerina, I needed to think about training full-time,” she says.
“But I also wanted to finish my schooling and that was a big benefit of Queensland Ballet Academy’s Senior Program. I travelled here to do the Summer School and to get a feel for Brisbane and the Company. I really liked it. And with Li (Cunxin AO) as Artistic Director, it seemed like the Company was on an upwards trajectory so we decided, as a family, that this was the place for me.”
Libby-Rose auditioned for the Academy and a day later, Li rang her mother personally to offer a scholarship.
“That was the kicker,” she says, smiling. “Queensland Ballet ticked all the boxes.”
She moved to Brisbane by herself, leaving her twin sister and family back in New Zealand. She says it was a challenging year.
“I’m close to my mum and sister, so the first year alone was really difficult. But once my sister finished school she followed me over, turning down the top scholarship at Auckland University to live with me and study in Brisbane, which was amazing.”
In 2015, Queensland Ballet implemented its own training programs to meet a new artistic vision under the direction of Artistic Director Li Cunxin.
“It was incredible to be one of the founding students,” she says.
“Then after finishing the Academy Senior Program during Year 12, I did one year in the full-time Pre-Professional Program where I had so many amazing opportunities. Christian (Tàtchev, Academy Director) and Zenia (Tàtcheva, now Company Ballet Mistress) really nurtured me as a dancer, and we had a lot of time with the Company – weekly classes and performing roles in productions like The Nutcracker and Strictly Gershwin.
“It’s one of the reasons why I didn’t apply for any other companies and why I started training here: I knew there was a pathway I could follow.”
What followed was a contract to become a Jette Parker Young Artist, then a Company Artist. She found the transition from student to professional an interesting one.
“As a student you’re training every day, working on technique, getting feedback and corrections, and in the first year with the Company you’re trusted to act as a professional and do your job.
And if you need to work on yourself that’s up to you and that trust is given to you,” she says.
“I had some amazing opportunities. One of the highlights was the Bespoke program – I got to dance the lead role in one of the pieces. Then as a Company Artist, I’ve been to China, Canberra, and Melbourne, as well as all the regional tours. These have been incredible experiences.”
2022 was another milestone year: Libby-Rose was promoted to First Company Artist in August, and she was chosen as a recipient for the annual Khitercs Hirai travel scholarship fund, which sees two dancers undertake a study tour across Europe. Her travel diary with fellow Company Artist Luke Dimattina over the 2022- 2023 holiday period reads like a dancer’s dream: highlights include company classes with The Royal Ballet, Ballet Zürich, and the Vienna State Ballet; and attending performances by Paris Opera Ballet, the Dutch National Ballet, and the English National Ballet.
“I was taking classes with dancers that are my idols,” she recalls.
“It’s so interesting to see the different working environments and cultures and company lifestyles, but at the same time it was also really humbling because ballet is so universal – everyone has the same issues, like sore feet. It was so inspiring. I remember getting to watch Marianela Núñez, who’s one of my idols, perform Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty which is one of my favourite roles – that was a perfect dream come true.”
Of dreams, Libby-Rose agrees she is living it.
“I get to dance for my job. That’s my passion and my dream and honestly I feel so lucky. There are always hard moments but I’m working each day feeling fulfilled because I’ve worked both my body and my brain, and achieved something, like I’ve got more choreography down or fixed this step – I always finish my day feeling fulfilled.”
Gratitude is a trait instilled not just by the years of training and working with a beloved artform, but also from Li.
“It’s funny, when he announced he was going to retire he had an intimate meeting with all of us dancers to say thank you, a conversation to tell us he really appreciated working with us, and one of the things he brought up was gratitude,” she reflects quietly.
“He says he honestly and truly feels gratitude coming into work every day and standing in this amazing building. And that resonated with me. He said if you keep that in mind, you’re going to have a positive outlook to your day, and you’re probably going to work better and be a better person and have more success. It’s a mindset shift. I feel like that’s a really important piece of advice, and I’m so grateful for it.