The Australian Ballet

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Ballet Men: Jarryd Madden

Always a dancer who caught the eye of visiting and resident choreographers, Jarryd Madden's star has ascended quickly through the company's ranks. After having a daughter, Willow, with his wife Amy Harris, a principal artist with the company, Jarryd found extra impetus for his career. He was shortly afterwards promoted to soloist, and found himself taking on a featured role in In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. In our 2016 season of Nijinsky, he danced the key roles of the Faun and the Golden Slave. We spoke to Jarryd about everything from his formative ballet years, to contemporary repertoire, and of course, fatherhood.


I’ve danced since I was three. I was told to do ballet because it was a good foundation for everything else: if you wanted to be good at jazz, tap, contemporary, you had to do ballet. That was the only reason I did it. I wasn’t the biggest fan of ballet growing up. I had a preconception of what it was – a whole bunch of girls with tutus. Just ignorance. I was doing ballet the whole time I was growing up, but then I got a chance to see The Australian Ballet do Spartacus when I was about 14. I was second row from the front at the Sydney Opera House, and I just got the full force of it – very strong, very masculine, but still very beautiful and emotional. Ballet, what I thought it was – it wasn’t. I was very moved. From then on, I started to really pay attention in class.

I had the [Greg Barret photography book] Tutu, and I loved looking through that. I really liked this one photo of [The Australian Ballet’s dancers] Marc Cassidy and Tim Harbour, which was a very strong, explosive, powerful image. Again, it made me realise that ballet was not what I’d thought.

Growing up in a small country town where everyone loved rugby, [announcing that I did ballet] would have been a bit like having a target on my back, so I kept it under wraps as much as possible, even though people knew I was a dancer. “I get to hang around girls a lot” – that was my sales pitch. I got picked on a bit, but my close friends were very accepting.

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Jarryd in John Neumeier's Nijinsky. Photography Kate Longley

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Jarryd in Coppélia. Photography Kate Longley

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Jarryd in Coppélia. Photography Lynette Wills

Classical or Contemporary?

I love a good contemporary season, because it’s taking ballet and pushing it to the nth degree – seeing what you can use ballet for, and what you can manipulate it into. But then I also love acting, and telling a story. I grew up in a video shop, and one thing that I really enjoyed watching was old English comedy – Monty Python, Blackadder, that kind of stuff. I’m inspired by John Cleese. He’s very engaging, very funny, he can do so many different characters, and I really like to apply that to my work. I want do more than just the smile and the frown – I try to delve deeper. The audience can tell if you’re being fake, if you’re just slapping a character on top of your dance. For instance, you may be the prince, and you just found the princess, so you’re very happy. But you could also think about the prince’s back story – where does he come from, what has taken him to this point? Is he genuinely happy, is he being optimistic? There’s more than just “smile”.


Jarryd rehearsing John Neumeier's Nijinsky. Photography Lynette Wills


I want to do Siegfried in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake. I have such a love for that ballet. I’ve done it every year since I’ve been in the company. I feel proudest to be a member of The Australian Ballet when we do that production. That story is so deep, and you can play Siegfried so many ways. He can be a real bastard, a real two-timer; or he can be honestly torn between the two women.

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Jarryd with wife Amy Harris in John Neumeier's Nijinsky. Photography Kate Longley


It’s given me focus. I think having Willow was what helped me become a soloist. I want to make her proud. I want her to come to the ballet and see me up the front and say “That’s my daddy”, as opposed to “That’s my daddy off to the side there”. That mindset has helped me get a better understanding of what I want out of this career, and it’s made me go further, push harder, dig deeper.

She knows Mummy is a ballerina. She sees Angelina Ballerina on the TV, or Emma from the Wiggles, and she points and says “Mummy?” and I say “Yeah, Mummy. Daddy does that too, though!”


Jarryd with Dimity Azoury in Coppélia. Photography Lynette Wills


A pas de deux should look seamless and effortless – even though it’s absolutely not! Every girl is completely different, and you have to gauge where their weight is, and listen to what they’re telling you. You have to come to a nice comfortable understanding of their body and the how they like to move. The guy is there to facilitate the girl – if you notice the guy, he’s doing the wrong thing!
I like to think I’m quite a natural partner, it’s one of the things I really enjoy about dance.

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Jarryd in Richard House's From Something, to Nothing. Photography Kate Longley


Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker – it’s a sentimental piece for me. In three seasons, I’ve done almost every divertissement in it: I’ve been a cadet, I’ve been the father, I’ve been a rat, King Rat, a soldier, the Nutcracker Doll; I’ve been one of the Winds; I’ve been a Trepak, I’ve been Chinese, I’ve been Arabian, I’ve been one of the Flowers. I’d love to do Drosselmeyer, that’s a great character role! I have a nice memory of that ballet. I was one of the soldier dolls in the box. We get wheeled on as the whole scene is growing – the tree, the fireplace, everything is getting bigger, so the little box of dolls that Clara’s brother gets for Christmas become full-size dancers. We’d been wheeled out and we were waiting in our box, and a grandmother was sitting with her little granddaughter in the front row. The little girl was gobsmacked, her mouth was wide with awe. And you know, those are the magical moments when you think “This is a great job, creating these captivating stories, inspiring the next generation.” Maybe she did ballet, and maybe that was the turning point for her, like me with Spartacus.

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