The Australian Ballet

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Back to the future: Part III

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Artists of The Australian Ballet, Paragon (Topp), 2023
Photo Daniel Boud

In a grand finale to our three-part series on the extraordinary alumni cast of Alice Topp's Paragon, Behind Ballet chats with Sarah Peace, Lucinda Dunn and Leanne Stojmenov about returning to ballet after retirement and the emotional rollercoaster of this very special production.

You can read the interviews in the first two articles using the links below:
Back to the future Part I
Back to the future Part II

Leanne Stojmenov

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Leanne Stojmenov and Hugo Dumapit
Photo Rainee Lantry

What has the experience been like returning to The Australian Ballet as a dancer?

The last time I performed with The Australian Ballet was as a guest Artist for Alice Topp’s Logos in 2020. Returning to the company now there are so many things that are completely familiar, the comfort of the stage, the walk to the Sydney Opera House, the warm feeling and welcome from colleagues and the enormous pride I feel to be able to perform and share in this artform. There is now certainly a different energy with different personalities and exciting new dancers, yet the stage and environment feels the same to me. Magic.

What are you most excited about for the performance?

I am most excited about performing alongside my mentors, coaches and colleagues in the beautiful creation that Alice has thoughtfully sculpted. I will be dancing with one of my dearest friends Christopher Rogers-Wilson. We are dancing a pas de deux named Home/Embrace. This is exactly what it feels like being back and dancing with him, like I am at home and embracing the wonderful career I had at The Australian Ballet. I am also dancing in a section that has dancers that represent many generations on the stage at one time, this is something I’m really looking forward to. I cannot wait to witness the artists that have inspired, motivated and supported my career, take to the stage once again to share a glimpse of their extraordinary contribution to The Australian Ballet.

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Leanne Stojmenov, Swan Lake (Murphy), 2022
Photo Jeff Busby

What are you most nervous about?

I’m not nervous at all. I am honoured and grateful to be a part of this very special celebration. There will definitely be butterflies in my tummy before the shows, but I would be concerned if there wasn’t!

What does Identity mean to you?

Being a part of Identity means I am a part of the make-up of The Australian Ballet. Every individual, may it be a dancer, philanthropist, stage manager or dresser of The Australian Ballet has shaped the company to what it is today. The identity of The Australian Ballet is a part of me, and it is something that I will never lose. The Identity of the Australian Ballet continues to inspire, create wonder, and evolve.

Lucinda Dunn

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Lucinda Dunn and Joseph Caley, Paragon (Topp), 2023
Photo Daniel Boud

What has the experience been like returning to The Australian Ballet as a dancer?

Is it not without trepidation. I wondered if mentally, physically and emotionally could I do this?

The experience has seen many emotions and thoughts. Surreal, emotional, fun, funny, special. It has also felt like I’ve come back home. I've been reminded how specialised and privileged this artform is, how supportive the dancers and ballet staff are that make up the company. I'm also grateful that my immediate family can share such an experience with me both “on tour” in Melbourne and at Sydney Opera House. My husband teaching class, me doing class, and my daughters watching, very special!!

Have you noticed any changes in the ballet industry since you last performed?

In nine years since I retired, the company corps dancers are all new to me. Four of the dancers currently in the corps and coryphées rank, I taught at the Tanya Pearson Academy. I adore the dancers that were with me during my career and my retirement seasons, doing class with Amber Scott, Adam Ball, Amy Harris and Dana Stevenson to name a few with so many more to celebrate! It's such a special and emotional experience!

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Lucinda Dunn, Romeo and Juliet (Cranko), 2003
Photo Jeff Busby

What are you most excited about for the performance?

Being onstage again, my heart will be pumping! Celebrating with the other former dancers and the current dancers of The Australian Ballet. I had never entertained the idea of a return, so this opportunity is a gift. The cast are so supportive, and I have beautiful ballerina’s and partners to dance with.

What are you most nervous about?

I'm nervous about each show, there is still a responsibility to deliver both what I expect of myself, and the audience may expect!

What does Identity mean to you?

Identity has been a six month step out of my "real life" allowing me to revisit my time as a ballerina from nine years ago. My husband, children and work have been so supportive for this to eventuate. Identity to me with The Australian Ballet has felt sometimes “normal” and “surreal” at the same time, my body to date has been very accommodating, and I’m so thankful for this. I thought more of a struggle would be had to get back to physical and balletic fitness. I’m grateful that I’ve been given this inclusion in the celebration of The Australian Ballets 60th anniversary!!

Sarah Peace

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Sarah Peace and Jake Mangakahia
Photo Brodie James

What has the experience been like returning to The Australian Ballet as a dancer?

Returning to The Australian Ballet as a dancer has been the most unexpected and lovely thing to experience. Since leaving the company in 2002, I have never imagined myself back in the studios of the Sydney Opera House. So, when Alice Topp contacted me at the end of 2021 to talk about a project she was working on, I thought it must be a mistake.

The process of actually dancing again has been quite hard for me in a few ways. I have well and truly left the dance industry, and I now live on a rural property in South Australia with my husband and two children. Whilst farm life keeps me fit, I found out in December last year when we started rehearsing that nothing gets you dance fit except dance! So I limped through the first two weeks of rehearsal and tried to get my body to do what my mind knew so well. I also have Spondylolisthesis, which causes me quite a lot of back pain, so I have really had to manage my expectations of myself with what is physically possible, which is difficult to do. Alice has been incredibly supportive and encouraging, she can tell before I even say anything if I am uncomfortable with something, she is very intuitive, just like the work she creates.

The creative process with Alice has been just beautiful! I love being in the studio watching her create on others, seeing what she sees in the movement and observing where that’s going and what will flow out of it. Like a moving conversation or dialogue between dancer and choreographer where movement is formed. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to watch this process and this very special work come to life.

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Sarah Peace, Steven Heathcote and Nicole Rhodes, Mirror Mirror (Weir), 2000
Photo Chris Budgeon

What are you most excited about for the performance?

What excites me most about the performance of Paragon is that we get to share this very beautiful and reflective work with the audience. I really hope that the audience is transported from past to present, and also to the future of this amazing company. The way the sets and projected imagery compliment the choreography references is very clever.

What are you most nervous about?

Ha! Probably dancing in front of an audience again!

To secure your tickets to this historic performance, book using the link below