The Australian Ballet

Meet our 2022 Philanthropy Ambassadors

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Our 2022 Philanthropy Ambassadors, Senior Artists Jarryd Madden and Jill Ogai, join Philanthropy Manager Andrew Wright in conversation to reflect on recent opportunities for holistic growth, both for them and the wider company. Jarryd and Jill share how the challenges of the past few years have brought their own silver linings, showcasing the valued support of our extended ballet community.

The original version of this interview appears in Talking Pointe, Winter 2022.

The end of 2021 was quite a ride! We had lockdowns, cancelled seasons and, in a joyful turn of events, a surprise season of Celebration Galas. How did you find that time?

Jill: I feel blessed to have been so busy at a time when many weren’t. Garry Stewart, (then Artistic Director of Australian Dance Theatre) approached me to perform in one of his most celebrated works, G, having remembered me from when he created Monument on The Australian Ballet when I was in my second year with the company. Because we weren’t performing at that time, I immediately said yes. It was a really special time artistically but also because I got to spend two months with my dad and reconnecting with friends and family in Adelaide.

After ADT, when I was back in Melbourne working with The Australian Ballet again, I had the opportunity to guest with Project Animo and work with Alice Topp (The Australian Ballet’s Resident Choreographer) on her new venture too. It was a lot of fun! I’ve always been really interested in learning new techniques and styles and working with different dancers.

Dancing with a different group of people and being exposed to many different ways you can do things, gifted me with a unique experience and opportunity to hone different techniques and push myself in new ways. I feel like I’ve evolved and learned a lot more about myself as an artist as a result of these experiences.

Jarryd: Amy (Harris, Principal Artist and Jarryd’s wife) and I tried to make the most of the downtime that was forced upon us towards the end of last year, by cherishing the extra time it gave us with our little possums (Jarryd and Amy are parents to Willow, seven, and Phoenix, two). We don’t get to tuck them into bed normally – we are usually starting a performance at their bedtime – so we really soaked up every night we could do that.

Outside of family life, I took the opportunity to upskill in other areas. I studied real estate and successfully completed the Agents Representative course and got stuck into a lot of home reno work. I’m quite proud to say that I built an inbuilt floating bookshelf from scratch (and that it hasn’t fallen apart yet). My next job is to build an outdoor deck for our alfresco area. Wish me luck!

And then came Celebration Gala which was a wonderful surprise. I must admit, it was weird to be back on stage after so long being dad at home, but to be part of the live magic on stage again, accompanied by dramatic music and ambience and some of the loudest applause we’ve ever had was incredible.

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We were fortunate to be granted an exemption to continue working in the studios when we were locked down late last year. During this time, David Hallberg invited the dancers to submit their ‘wish list’ of repertoire to be coached on by fellow dancers, many of which were presented in Celebration Gala at the end of the year. Can you tell us a little more about this experience?

Jarryd: This was such a fun experience! With no performances, some of the senior, more experienced dancers got the chance to coach younger members of the company on a grand pas de deux of their choosing. Valerie Tereshchenko and I coached a handful of couples on the Black Swan pas de deux. When I can, I like to teach ballet students at local ballet schools, so I’m familiar with coaching. But this was coaching professional ballet dancers, who already have vast knowledge of ballet technique and a sound understanding of their body as a tool, on the finer points of artistry and execution of steps to deliver the best performance possible. It was a bizarre experience to begin with, but there was such a sense of satisfaction in the end when we saw the five, unique performances realised.

Jill: Yes, it was amazing – such a fantastic time. I worked on the Don Quixote pas de deux with Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo (Principal Artists) in the two weeks before I headed off to ADT. David Hallberg oversaw the process with a unique lens. His experience allows him to bring both a dancer’s eye and a director’s eye to the studio, which translates into such great advice. At one stage David observed that I was looking up a lot in a ‘Clara-esque’ way (referencing Clara in The Nutcracker), whereas Kitri is about the straight-on eyeline. Instantly I became more aware of the power of my eyeline, and that was a gem that will continue to play a huge part in my performance.

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You’ve now had a year working with David as Artistic Director. How are you seeing that experience shape you as an artist, as well as the company more broadly?

Jill: David is such a prolific name in the dance community – both in ballet and in contemporary dance – so the perspective and the knowledge he brings to our company as someone who has experienced so much is invaluable. His wealth of knowledge has opened our minds up exponentially. He’s also very tuned in to the personalisation of dance. Personally, he’s encouraged me to figure out my way and present it to him. That’s pushed me to discover what I like and the artist I want to be, which has been quite confronting at times but also liberating. It’s made me more confident as a result. I think this approach has made the company more confident, because that’s the standard David has empowered us to achieve.

Jarryd: I agree, and I’ve found that too. David naturally encourages individuality in us as dancers. I’ve found that he encourages me to explore new avenues in the choreography and has created a safe environment where it’s okay to make mistakes and learn what works and doesn’t work, which is really exciting as an artist.

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Our giving community have been front and centre again, supporting us through another year…

Jill: Absolutely. We’re all so grateful for the support we’ve had from the community over the past two years.

Jarryd: Yes, the broader arts community really suffered during the past couple of years and many performers had to find alternative employment, but because of the generosity of our donors we felt safe and secure.

Jill: To have had the support and ability to keep working when many of our peers couldn’t, was even more precious with the knowledge that we had an audience waiting patiently for our return. What’s great is that the fruits of their generosity will be seen this year, and the next and thereon… Because, during that time, we had the invaluable opportunity to get to know each other even better, establish our partnerships with David, work our technique and push ourselves in new directions so we could come back stronger than ever!