In this series of five interviews, Jane Albert looks at the dancers who have made legendary reputations in the lead roles of Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake. We begin with Principal Artist Madeleine Eastoe, who has danced the role around the world and will perform in our current season.
What was your relationship with Swan Lake prior to Murphy’s production? I’d only ever done a traditional production prior to this one, and never a lead Odette/Odile, as I was still coming up the ranks. But it had always been up there on a pedestal. You know that it’s truly difficult for the principal artists to carry that kind of performance, and I think I was probably a little scared of it.
You were cast as Odette when you were still quite young?
In the original [Melbourne] season I played the Duchess – commonly known as the “Fergie character” – and was either understudy or very far down the ranks as cast or cover for Odette. But being able to get into a role without the hype and expectation made me feel safer. My first performance was in Sydney, with Joshua Consandine, and he was wonderful, it was very special. Then when I did end up performing a traditional Swan Lake [Stephen Baynes’ production, in 2012] I’d had a long relationship with Murphy’s ballet, so it transferred quite nicely. I feel really fortunate I was aligned with it so early on.
Madeleine Eastoe and artists of The Australian Ballet. Photography Jeff Busby
What did you think of Murphy’s Odette?
I could really see her vulnerability, and that she was after what every female expects: that true union with someone. Then to have it made clear that’s not what was going on, [provoking] her madness, which she then overcomes and conquers, before winning him back – Graeme and Janet were really clever with all the themes they explored. I love performing someone who has a story to tell, it really adds another dimension to what you feel capable of achieving. It’s a very hard role, stamina-wise, your whole body gets a workout, but the fact that it’s aligned with this tragic, passionate, dramatic story really helps.
Is it a tougher role emotionally and physically than other roles you’ve danced?
Yes. Because in act one you’re on most of the time and really don’t get a break. That’s the hardest act, it’s where a lot of the story [is established]: the yo-yo effect of your royal status, the breaking of your marriage, which is so fresh. Often I’m absolutely beetroot because I’ve been throwing myself around! And the black swan [sequence] is with so many different boys, so you have to commit to it, and once you have, the rest just sails out. You’re left on a fairly big high after churning out those four acts, you can’t just have a shower and go to bed. Usually the day after your first show you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus, you need to get massaged, have things ironed out, because it asks everything of you. You know that every time you do it you’ve got to undertake quite a task – one I’m very happy to do because it brings so much joy to so many people – but it’s definitely one of the hardest!
Madeleine rehearsing with Kevin Jackson. Photography Lynette Wills
You’ve been dancing this role since the production debuted, how do you keep it fresh?
I’ve had a different relationship with different partners in this ballet. Josh and I learnt the roles together, then when Simone Goldsmith [the original Odette] left I danced it with Steven Heathcote, who is such a legend of the dance world; the role was created on him, so I wanted to be able to match that expectation. Then I was partnered with Robert Curran and we shared a very special experience, a lot of international tours together. The last two have been Kevin Jackson and Rudy Hawkes: Kev I’ve had a great partnership with, so it was lovely to finally get this ballet with him; and then there was an injury and Rudy stepped in and learnt it within a week. He really surprised me, I was in awe of someone taking on a ballet like this so quickly and being at performance level. All those partnerships change the relationship I have with the ballet. I’ve been able to have it refreshed due to the different dynamics with each partner, and you don’t always get that. I know how lucky I am.
Madeleine will be talking with Artistic Director David McAllister about her experiences as a principal artist and dancing Odette on Saturday 21 February, 5pm, at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre. More info and tickets