When Daniel Kempson watched from side-stage as international guest artists Carlos Acosta, Steven McRae and Tamara Rojo performed with Queensland Ballet (QB) in 2014, he told himself one day he would be on stage, performing with the stars himself. Fast-forward six years and Daniel is front and centre stage as Company Artist for QB, preparing for Season 2021’s shows, including the highly anticipated 60th Anniversary Gala.
Performing on the world’s stage seemed like a faraway dream for a young boy growing up in regional Queensland. But at the age of 16, one successful audition in Gladstone set him on a path toward a professional ballet career with no turning back.
“My teachers in Gladstone told me I had to make a decision, whether I was going to take ballet seriously and pursue it as a career, or not,” says Daniel.
“I decided to bite the bullet and I haven’t looked back.”
When he got the news he had successfully auditioned for a place in the Queensland Dance School of Excellence(QDSE) and would be moving to Brisbane, it was the start of an adventure of a lifetime.
“Moving to Brisbane was scary, but the good type of scary. I was nervous but it was an opportunity I knew I couldn’t pass up. It made me step out of my comfort zone and grow as an artist.
“Moving from the country to the big city felt like the scene in the movies where the kid moves to New York City and everything is new and the possibilities are endless,” says Daniel.
“I was one of only three boys that took ballet lessons in Gladstone, so coming to Brisbane and realising how many boys were also pursuing ballet was a real eye-opener. I was no longer the only boy in class with the teacher’s attention on me, I had to prove my worth.”
“It also made me feel like I was part of something. I now had other guys in class who knew exactly what I was going through and could relate to.”
Having an unconventionally late start to the artform, at 11-years of age, Daniel’s formal introduction to ballet began after a trip to Sydney to watch Billy Elliot live. It was a defining moment, and on return to Gladstone, Daniel ventured to the Wendy Barker Dance Studio (now called Adagio School of Dance) to find out for himself what dancing was all about.
Initially disinterested in the art of ballet and the thought of wearing a tutu (something he’s since realised is not worn by ballerinos), Daniel instead opted for tap shoes. Despite his love for jazz numbers, he couldn’t fool his teachers, who knew immediately that he was destined for ballet.
“One year later, I was training ballet full-time in Gladstone. From 3:30pm in the afternoon to 9:00pm at night, I was in the studio dancing.”
After moving to Brisbane, Daniel quickly rose through the ranks and from QDSE, he joined the Pre-Professional Program (PPP) at the QB Academy for two years before successfully auditioning to become a Jette Parker Young Artist within the QB Company.
“Being in the PPP didn’t feel like your normal training program. We were so close and so involved with the Company that you felt you were part of something special,” says Daniel.
“We were involved in Company productions, mentored by Artistic and Academy staff, and had our own performances. By the time my experience as a PPP was over, I was ready to be part of the Company.”
Having solidified his place within QB as Company Artist in 2018, Daniel has travelled nationally and internationally, performing in London and China in theatres thousands of miles away from the small studios in rural Queensland where his journey all began.
“When I first started ballet, I used to travel far-andwide across remote towns, from Biloela all the way up to Rockhampton just so I could participate in eisteddfods and auditions,” says Daniel.
“I was one of two students in the PPP selected to go on tour to London with the Company in 2014. It was such a surreal and unforgettable experience that I’ll treasure forever.”
Such opportunities for students in regional Queensland aren’t as abundant as those in cities, but Daniel took every single opportunity available to dance and recalls a childhood of music and movement.
“From a young age, I remember dancing. There was always music in the house. When I was three-years-old I used to climb up to the stereo to listen to the music and tap my feet along to the rhythm.”
“Dance taught me to not be afraid of who I am.”
Daniel’s journey from rural Queensland to the world’s stage will come full-circle this year when the Company tours to his hometown of Gladstone for Tutus on Tour, hopeful to inspire the next dancer to follow their passion.
“If you are dreaming of a career as an artist, you have to take every opportunity. If you don’t take the shot you will never know where it leads,” says Daniel.
“I told myself I would do my best and see where it takes me.”
By Ellen Gilroy
photo by David Kelly