How did you discover dance?
When I was younger, I did karate on and off for 6 years. I noticed one of the guys I’d been training with was improving – his flexibility got better, his kicks were higher and all his moves were a lot crisper. I approached him and asked him what secret training he was doing on the side, and he said ‘don’t tell anyone, but I’ve been doing jazz and limber classes’. I decided I wanted to go with him.
One of the girls in these classes asked if I’d dance with her for a local production, so I agreed, thinking nothing of it. After my first performance I was asked to do it again, and that’s where the notion of doing ballet came into my head. At the time, I was very anti-ballet, but I was convinced to give it a try. There was a teacher at my ballet class, Neil Walker, who started talking to me about all these successful male dancers he’d taught. That’s when I knew there was something to this.
18 months later, at age 17, I moved to Melbourne to train full-time.
How was your training experience?
I didn’t like living in Melbourne for the first six months. How I handled situations in my hometown of Ayr wasn’t tolerated in Melbourne – I was used to speaking my mind, so I had to learn to keep my mouth shut!
I attended National Theatre Ballet School in St Kilda. When I started, I was used to being the only male dancer in a ballet school, but on my first day I met all these other male dancers. To suddenly be in a room where everyone was better than me was a really big thing. I decided to treat it like a competition – I picked my targets and went for them. Rural kids in the 80’s didn’t get many opportunities. I knew there was nothing for me back in my home town, so I needed to give this my best shot. The other guys in my class were my motivation. We were terrific friends in 1986 and are still great mates now.
A year later, I was accepted into the Australian Ballet School, where I trained for three years.
Did you end up sticking with the karate?
That’s the funny thing! My parents sat me down and said something had to go. I was also playing rugby league, golf, cricket, gymnastics… I pretty much gave everything away for dance. I played a lot of other sports and was good at them, but when you made a national team that was it. With dance I couldn’t identify the end point – It was a matter of asking how far I could actually push myself, and that really appealed to me.
Who were your mentors during this time?
While I was training at ballet school I naturally picked up an ability for pas de deux. I was fortunate to have a great teacher and mentor in Kelvin Coe, and I looked up to Stephen Heathcote in studying his rehearsals and performances. I absorbed all they could offer me and then left Australia to work in Europe. I ended up being the first dancer Francois Klaus ever employed in his first directing job! He had a great reputation as an actor / dancer, but also an incredible partner. I was also fortunate to work with Paul de Masson, who had been with the Australian Ballet and was also a fantastic partner. All these artists really got behind my passion to be the best I could be at partnering, and I eventually built my career on that ability.