The Australian Ballet

The Lo-Down

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Jonathan Lo with Orchestra Victoria
Photo Kate Longley

Introducing our new Music Director, Jonathan Lo

This article originally appeared in the winter edition of Talking Pointe.

His repertoire is extensive, his musical tastes eclectic and his energy effervescent: Jonathan Lo is one of the most sought-after ballet conductors in the world.

Hailing from Hong Kong and raised in England, Jonathan read music at the University of Oxford before winning a major scholarship to study conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music. He was appointed to his first music directorship at the age of 18, with the Oxford University Philharmonia, after winning the University’s conducting competition.

Jonathan’s star has continued to rise ever since. He has conducted orchestras across the UK and the world, collaborating with many of the world’s leading choreographers, and honed his talent for ballet conducting on the stage of London’s esteemed Royal Opera House, where he made his Royal Ballet mainstage debut conducting Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour and Crystal Pite’s Flight Pattern.

Commenting on Jonathan’s appointment, Artistic Director David Hallberg says, “It is undeniable that ballet and music are symbiotic: without music, ballet does not exist. The role of Music Director is integral to our success, and I am thrilled to welcome Jonathan to this vital position. Jonathan’s exceptional talent and enthusiasm for our art form will ensure the musicians in the pit and dancers on stage continue to deliver performances of the highest quality.”

We sat down with Jonathan to hear how his new role at The Australian Ballet is taking shape.

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Jonathan Lo
Photo Christopher Rogers-Wilson

You’ve travelled extensively. How are you settling into Australian life so far?

We absolutely love it here. The company feels like home and Melbourne is a great place to be. It has everything to offer: beaches, vineyards, the city, and such a diverse range of people and cultures. We’re really enjoying familiarising ourselves with our new home.

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Jonathan Lo
Photo Christopher Rodgers-Wilson

That’s great! How have you been spending your time?

Well, we’ve been playing tourist in a slightly different way because we’re looking for somewhere to live. So, we’re walking the streets looking for the vibe, for the people and for the feel of what’s right for us. We’ve also been doing a fair amount of drinking and eating, which has been a real treat as everybody seems to take so much pride in what they do here – even the food is full of humility! That’s something that’s really stood out to us about Australian culture. Everybody takes so much pride in their craft – what they put into it, as well as the output – and The Australian Ballet is no exception.

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Jonathan Lo with Orchestra Victoria
Photo Kate Longley

How did it feel to lead the orchestra alongside the company for the first time in your new role?

It’s interesting you bring that up, because for Ballet Under the Stars we were on the stage at the same level as the company, as opposed to being in the pit. As a result, I felt like the entire orchestra was incredibly connected to everything that was happening on stage. What was especially great about Ballet Under the Stars was that you could feel the sense of curiosity emanating from the audience, which led to a real, in-depth captivation and cultural investment in the show, which is quite rare. It’s funny, after the interval we played an excerpt from Arturo Marquez’s Danzon No. 2, which I chose because it starts quiet and gentle before building to an exciting climax and I knew it would entice audiences back for the second half of the show. Anyway, there’s a point in the middle of the piece when the energy builds before subsiding a little bit, and then there’s a moment of silence. At that point, I remember hearing how intently the audience was listening. So, we just stretched out the silence by a fraction, because those moments of silence are really powerful. For me that was a perfect example of how captivated Australian audiences can be.

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Jonathan Lo with artists of The Australian Ballet
Photo Kate Longley

How has it felt to be stepping into Nicolette Fraillon’s shoes?

That’s a very interesting question. Of course, it’s a huge pair of shoes to fill. Not least because Nicolette is a legend of the ballet world and the Australian music scene, but because of all the incredible systems and strategies that she’s put in place for the company. At the same time, she and I have developed a really wonderful friendship – a working relationship, but primarily a human connection. I was able to download her experience and to take on all the advice that she had to give before she moved on. During that time, I came to truly understand the heritage Nicolette and the wonderful Music Directors who came before her dared to create over time. And now it’s my turn to be the custodian of that. I absolutely respect the legacy that I’ve inherited, and yet I am also here to respond to the challenges and to the changing landscape of not just the ballet world but society. What a privilege that is.

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Jonathan Lo
Photo Kate Longley

With that in mind, what are you most excited about responding to and tackling in the coming season and beyond?

Where to begin?! I’m really excited, firstly, by the repertoire in 2023. What a wide range of amazing ballets we have in store for us. I’m also really looking forward to further building the relationship between music and dance. There’s a thrill in marrying the energy of the music with the energy of the dancers – it’s the wind beneath the dancers’ wings. So, one of my goals is to extend the dialogue between the orchestra and dancers, who are already so at one with each other, taking it further and finding greater synchronicity so that when we get onto the podium, into the pit, or on stage, the understanding is deeper and the performance is even more exciting.