Soloist Jake Mangakahia is something of a Renaissance man - he can dance and paint. He’s illustrated an exquisite set of playing cards featuring former stars of The Australian Ballet. We sat down with him to talk about creating it - and where he sees his art skills taking him in the future.
13 Nov 2019
How did you get into painting, and what is your favourite medium?
My love for art started when I was seven years old, when my very beautiful mother Anita Mangakahia sat me down at our rickety homemade coffee table, laid out an A3 piece of paper, a pencil and a ruler and said, "I’m going to teach you how to draw something called perspective." From there came chalk pastels, oil pastels and then watercolour. Definitely watercolour is one my favourite mediums and one that I gravitate towards.
What stars of The Australian Ballet inspired you as a young dancer, and why?
Even though my parents put me in ballet class at the age of five, I didn’t have a great knowledge of ballet and all its incredible artists, as my family and I were completely new to this world. However, when I did come across The Australian Ballet I also came across the charismatic storyteller Steven Heathcote. On 13 of November, for my eleventh birthday, my adventurous, wonderful father Bernard Mangakahia bought me a VHS (lol) about The Australian Ballet, and in it Steven Heathcote did a jeté élancé in a circle with a strong finish in a lunge and I remember thinking wow that’s really cool, I’d like to do that. I wasn’t just inspired by ballet though - my other artist heroes are Michael Jackson, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.
What other illustration projects have you done for The Australian Ballet?
I did some Alice-inspired drawings that were exhibited at Arts Centre Melbourne for the premiere season of Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland©. I also illustrated a series of collectible cards, based on the fairies in The Sleeping Beauty, for Bloch, our Pointe Shoe Partner.
What else do you like to paint?
I often say there is too much beauty in the world to capture... sometimes other dancers will catch me tilting my head, squeezing one eye and holding both hands up in L shapes to frame them. This is me wishing I had a camera to capture them in their moments of beauty.
I love designing, so I draw clothing, buildings, interiors, landscapes, stage-set designs. I'd love to create something like perfume bottles or packaging.
Where do you see your art skills taking you in the future?
Hopefully many places. I'd like to get into fashion or product design, but my ultimate goal would be to design staging and sets for theatre productions, especially ballet. (Maybe I'd choreograph the ballet as well!)