QUEER PERSPECTIVES

Posted on 28 October 2020 By Rose Mulready

As we approach the anniversary of the gay marriage referendum in Australia, Soloist Brodie James got some of our male dancers talking about how their identity has shaped their art, and their advice for queer ballet boys.    

George-Murray Nightingale

What does it mean to you to be a gay male ballet dancer?
I find it extremely rewarding, because I have a platform not only to inspire queer youth to do what they love and be themselves but also to give them courage to stand out and find themselves creatively. Coming from a small town in the UK I felt like I stood out for all the wrong reasons, when actually it's the opposite. I stood out for all the right reasons, because I was brave enough to go out and find myself and my community. Being on the world stage as a ballet dancer for me feels like it's a crowning moment for all queer youths from small towns.

 
How has the queer community intersected with The Australian Ballet?
We have a huge gay community within and around The Australian Ballet. Not only dancers but choreographers, directors, admin staff, costumiers, patrons, audience members. I like to think that this mirrors the Rainbow Flag in a way, we all come from different paths and places to make a really creative and colourful company. 


Using three words, describe what it means for you to be a gay male ballet dancer.
Fabulous, rich and rewarding.


Do you have any advice for queer boys doing ballet?
100% be yourself when creating your art and aesthetic. Don't fit the mold of what people tell you a male ballet dancer should look like or be like if you're not being true to yourself. You always create your best work when you know yourself and use it. If you put on a character or an act then it shows in your work and you won't be enjoying it. Art isn't a game; it's a blank canvas and you choose your color palette.


What would you like the future to look like for queer ballet dancers?
Honestly, I think we have a way to go yet. I feel that from the mainstream perspective a male, queer ballet dancer being feminine is seen as weakness. Personally, I see it as strength. All areas of this art form are impressive. I would like to see a male take on a female role based on their ability and it not be seen as comedy. That would be a proud day for the queer ballet community. Art is art. Talent is talent. No matter the gender. Or maybe to have a queer story told onstage in a full-length narrative ballet. 


Has your queer identity impacted your career as a ballet dancer in anyway?
Massively! I am more naturally drawn towards queer dancers as an aesthetic for myself. You see in their work all the hardships and struggles they may have faced in finding themselves, and that they use being on stage as a victory lap for the queer community. Queer ballet dancers also inspire me to be a better version of myself and to keep chipping away to find a more fully formed artist. 

FInd out more about George-Murray 

Photography Daniel Boud

Nathan Brook

What does it mean to you to be a gay male ballet dancer?
It was and still is very freeing for me. The moment I came out, people stopped questioning my actions and choices that were completely unrelated to my sexuality but somehow were related in the minds of others and concerned them. I feel I am free to be myself and ballet is an extension of my expression. The community within the ballet world also supported me to feel comfortable with myself and find self-love. While I often dance with women, the love I have experienced and been able to give as a gay man has found its way into many pas de deux where I have felt a genuine love for my female partners on stage in the same way I do in my personal relationships.

How has the queer community intersected with The Australian Ballet?
The Australian Ballet has a long history of queer dancers. An extremely emotional and incredible moment in the history of The Australian Ballet was our demonstration for the marriage equality movement in Australia on the Arts Centre stage after the opening night of Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland©. It was our chance to come out of the shadows as a company and show our support for the queer community and for ourselves. It was an incredible experience to be a part of a company that was doing its best to fight for equal rights for myself and my colleagues. The memory still gives me goosebumps.

Using three words, describe what it means to you to be a gay male ballet dancer.
Free. Proud. Real.

Do you have any advice for queer boys who do ballet?
My advice would be embrace both the feminine and masculine aspects of yourself in our art form. There will be choreographers who ask you to be more masculine and butch: in those moments you can feel isolated. We may need to act a role, but we also need to remember that our femininity within is beautiful. It can be our greatest strength and makes our artistry more compelling and exciting. We bring out the strength we have as a community in those moments, through our marriage of masculinity and femininity.

What would you like the future for queer ballet dancers to look like?
I would love the future of ballet to show more queer partnerships. I think we can go further in ballet: there can sometimes be an under-representation of the queer community within our stories.

Has your queer identity impacted your career as ballet dancer in anyway?
I would say the moment I came out and personally acknowledged and celebrated my queer identity, I became more comfortable in my skin. I finally felt that I belonged and I felt more comfortable to try new things as a dancer. I feel this led to a deeper and more honest expression.

FInd our more about Nathan

Photography Daniel Boud

Brodie James

What does it mean to you to be a gay male ballet dancer?
In the past I have rejected this idea that my sexual and dance identities tie together but now I welcome both my queer and ballet selves wholeheartedly. As a gay male ballet dancer, I aim to embrace the harmony between both the masculine and feminine qualities of my dancing because it enables me to reach facets of my dancing and art that are limited when focusing solely on one or the other.

How has the queer community intersected with The Australian Ballet?
The queer community is deeply linked to the arts and The Australian Ballet. Historically, there have been subtle signs embedded in the productions we perform, but we are witnessing a slow growth in their public appreciation. One of my happiest and proudest moments was our statement on marriage equality back in 2017. It was a public demonstration on a human rights issue in support for the queer community. That experience felt incredible because it was shared not only with my peers and the audience but with a community I am part of.

Using three words, describe what it means to you to be a gay male ballet dancer.
Freedom, expression and pride.

Do you have any advice for queer boys who do ballet?
Search for queer artists to inspire you. All too often we feel isolated because ballet requires you to fit a certain stereotype that goes against our queer essence. Always remember, an authentic experience is one of the most powerful tools an artist has at their disposal.

What would you like the future for queer ballet dancers to look like?
I hope to see the nuanced diversity of queer community to be reflected in the future of ballet companies and their dancers. How amazing would it be to see increased representation for transgender ballet dancers? I would love the gender binary surrounding ballet stereotypes to be broken down when creating new works or reinterpreting traditional ballets. These social constructs are exactly that; they’re constricting our creativity and limiting our potential to make beautiful art with our dancing. Having queer stories told on stage in full-length narrative ballets would also be a breakthrough. Let’s explore queer partnerships through ballet!

Has your queer identity impacted your career as ballet dancer in anyway?
Many memories come to mind! I was once told that I missed out on an opportunity to perform a certain role because the person casting it thought I was too "frivolous", despite the fact that I'd understudied it previously. I often wonder: if I had hidden the queer part of my identity, behaved differently around this person, would I have been given the role? It seemed to be less about technical dancing ability and more of a judgement about my personality and the way I expressed myself. 
Identifying as a part of the queer community enables me to draw inspiration from dancers who have embraced their own queer identity alongside their dancing, like James Whiteside, a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre, and Harper Watters, a soloist at Houston Ballet. Queer artists have incredible stories to tell and I find it incredibly impressive when they draw from their lived experiences and express them through their dancing.

FInd out more about Brodie

Photography Daniel Boud

CRISTIANO MARTINO

What does it mean to you to be a gay male ballet dancer?
I am grateful to have found a career that is so inclusive and to be part of an organisation that is so welcoming to all, regardless of sexual orientation. We’re all just people with one common interest and that is dance.

How has the queer community intersected with The Australian Ballet?
It's a generalisation, but arts organisations often act as safe spaces (whether they mean to or not) for many members of the LGBTQIA+ community. It's wonderful to have a space where people have the freedom to be as overtly themselves as they choose to be and for that to be so widely celebrated.

Using three words, describe what it means to you to be a gay male ballet dancer.
Authentic, proud and visible. 

Do you have any advice for queer boys who do ballet?
My advice to all male dancers, queer or not, is to celebrate the things that make you uniquely who you are. Loving yourself is totally a journey (for lack of a better word), but you are as authentically you as you’ll ever be and in a ballet career the sooner you realise how important it is to embrace all the things that make you who you are, even though those things won’t be for everyone, the happier and more content you’ll be with yourself. 

What would you like the future for queer ballet dancers to look like?
I hope the future holds a world full of progress from where we are now. In my opinion ballet is rather old fashioned in its approach to gender. It’s 2020: gender is out and art is entirely subjective. I hope we can celebrate people for all that make them inspiring and incredible artists and worry less about the rest!

Has your queer identity impacted your career as ballet dancer in anyway?
In my own career my identity as a queer male hasn’t really come up all that often. I am grateful to have portrayed an array of characters on stage but have found I least enjoy the stereotypical ultra-masc-type roles. But I think that’s more to do with my own personal preferences.

FInd out more about Cristiano

Photography Daniel Boud