Dancer on a mission

06 January 2014 | By Chloe Gordon

Jake Mangakahia. Photography James Braund
Jake Mangakahia. Photography James Braund
Jake with Ella Havelka in Warumuk: in the dark night. Photography Jeff Busby
Jake with Ella Havelka in Warumuk: in the dark night. Photography Jeff Busby
Jake in rehearsal for Monument. Photography Lynette Wills
Jake in rehearsal for Monument. Photography Lynette Wills
Jake takes a bow after receiving the Telstra People's Choice Award in 2012. Photography Jess Bialek
Jake takes a bow after receiving the Telstra People's Choice Award in 2012. Photography Jess Bialek

Corps de Ballet member Jake Mangakahia goes on a hiatus in 2014. He’ll travel to Toronto, Canada, as a missionary for the Church of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons.

What will your mission involve?
Basically it’s looking for opportunities to serve people and communities. And while you’re doing that, they’ll ask you why you’re there and what you’re doing, and that’s when you can teach them about the values and ethics of Jesus Christ and what we believe in, if they want to hear it. For me, having the church in my life has been really awesome. I want to share that with people. Going on this mission is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities where you can forget about bills and all the mundane things, and totally focus on people.

I was walking in Sydney with a friend who had been on a mission, and we walked past this community school. It was all grown-over, and I said to him, “So if I was on a mission, could I walk up to them and say, ‘Could we help? Could we mow your lawns?’” And he said, “Yeah, that’s what it’s all about.”

I love being able to contribute to a community and make it beautiful – that’s what I love about the arts. It contributes to society in a way that not many people notice, but they can feel.

Is missionary work compulsory in your church?
No, there are a few people in the Church that don’t go on missions. It’s more of a great option that we have than a compulsory thing.

You’re planning on returning to The Australian Ballet in two years, when your mission finishes. How will you continue your dance practice while you’re away?
We have to do an hour of compulsory exercise anyway, so I’ll be able to use that time. Sue [Susan Mayes, Principal Physiotherapist at The Australian Ballet] will ask if I can have an extra half an hour to an hour a day, and maybe I can go to a studio and do a class once a week. Then, as my mission is nearing its end, I’ll try to do class more than once a week, so that I’m ready. I also hope to have correspondence with my teachers in the company – I’ll video myself doing exercises, and they can give me feedback on things like my alignment.

Basically I’ll be concentrating on cardio and flexibility. I feel like I will lose some fitness, but hopefully maintain stability, control and my intrinsic musculature. In the company [that work] only takes half an hour every day before class. It’s just the fitness and the “doing it” [dancing] that will ease down a bit. But once I get closer to coming back, the momentum will pick up. I think it’s going to be interesting to see what my body does. But I feel like it’s going to be fine.

Another thing that’s encouraging: I’ve heard that Robert Cohan [founder and Artistic Director of The Place, London Contemporary Dance School and London Contemporary Dance Theatre] felt that since leaving [full-time dance], his workload has gone down, so a lot of his global muscles don’t have to work as much and he can really use the finer-tuned ones. And he’s found that he’s had more range. So if I can approach it that way – using it as an opportunity to fine-tune those muscles that we really look for, and let the global muscles (that are used because we have such high-demand work) go, and possibly get more range out of that – I think that’s a great thing.

What are looking forward to most about your mission?
It’s funny because people think we’re crazy for doing this, especially when you have a career you love. And I’ve just bought an apartment; I won the Telstra People’s Choice Award last year; things are going so well … and they think it’s so crazy because you’re leaving all that.

When someone loses everything, you find out who you really are. I feel like this is an opportunity not to lose everything, but leave everything, and find out who I am and while doing that, give to other people. Lots of people do that when they leave work and travel or get a new job, and I feel this is an opportunity to do that, to really find out who I am. I wish everyone could do that.

What will you miss most about The Australian Ballet?
Many things! I started in [The Australian Ballet School] with Cameron [Hunter], Jade [Wood], Richard [House], Tim [Harford] – and we’ve been together for years, so they’re kind of like brothers and sisters to me. So it is going to be hard leaving them, but I can keep in contact with them. Cameron said he’s just so excited for me – and a lot of other people in the company have said that too. They’ve actually said some really beautiful things that have affected me, and I’d like to thank them for their support and their love.

I’d also like to say to my colleagues, but also to the public, how amazing The Australian Ballet is. The company does its best to help the dancers and staff fulfill their dreams, and that is something that I appreciate so much and am so grateful for.

I’ll miss the music and the State Theatre stage and dancing at the Opera House. I’ll miss Super Quiz Tuesdays in the common room – Adam Bull usually pulls out The Age. I’ve done a little cartoon of it. I’ve sketched a few pictures of teachers, to say thank you to them.

What happens next?
I’ll go to a Mission Training Centre in Utah, spend two weeks there and then go to Canada. It’ll be freezing!

From everyone at The Australian Ballet – all the best with your new adventures, Jake, and we look forward to welcoming you home!