The Australian Ballet is bringing their unique version of Swan Lake to London’s Coliseum – it’s a story loosely based on the love triangle of Princess Diana, Prince Charles & Camilla. Australians are fascinated by the royals, and this is both a psychological and a heart melting adaptation.
The role of Odette is somewhat different, she essentially has a breakdown and finds herself in an asylum hallucinating swans. Amber Scott, principal artist, is opening Swan Lake as Odette. This is a role that is close to her heart, as it was the first role that she was plucked from the corps to dance.
Amber is a home grown ballerina and she’s enjoyed the dream Australian ballet career, starting with The Australian Ballet School, joining The Australian Ballet and becoming an adored principal artist who holds a special place in the hearts of Australian audiences.
Growing up Amber always dreamed of joining The Australian Ballet, and after only a year in the corps, Amber was given the opportunity to spend 4 months with The Royal Danish Ballet, learning the beautiful Bournonville technique. Amber in her open and honest style recalls her shock, “One day I was called into the office and I thought ‘this is it, I’m out’ but instead I was offered to go to Denmark on exchange.”
It was an eye opening experience, both culturally and from a dance perspective giving Amber exposure to different dance styles, different training and different dancers from around the world. But it was the difference in pace that was noticeable as they didn’t do as many shows.
The Australian Ballet has a reputation for being one of the hardest working companies, performing 180 shows a year and Amber has just finished doing 25 back to back performances. Ballet is notoriously hard work, with a daily routine of morning class, rehearsals and performance – dance, eat, sleep, repeat!
Amber describes the company’s ballerinas as having real ‘grit’ – that’s Australian for determined, strong, resilient, “There’s quite a physicality to our company, everyone is quite different and unique – it’s not a row of lollipops standing there. We have a healthy environment that encourages strong and healthy dancers.”
I asked Amber what motivates her everyday, “You just keep doing it don’t you! I’ve always thought of ballet and dance not as a job, it’s just what I do, it’s what I am. It’s a natural extension of me and not doing class in the morning would be quite strange. As monotonous as it gets and as tired as you get, it always makes you feel better. It’s like a good daily ritual. As a dancer you take physical pride in your body because you’ve spent a lifetime trying to perfect it. A lot of dancers are high achieving types, they’re quite driven.”
And all this preparation off stage is for Amber’s favourite moment – being on stage, “It’s my favourite part because that’s the reward. I’ve made myself learn to love rehearsals and made myself slow down, to take time. Often in our company, especially when you’re younger, if you get an opportunity to do a great role it’s like quick quick, rehearse rehearse, that will do, great go, do a show and you’re like ‘oh good that’s done, I didn’t fail, it was fine’.” But now Amber likes to spend more time rehearsing the principal roles, making every moment count, slowing down, taking the pace back and refining more.
When Amber first started dancing this version of Odette, she read up on Princess Diana to understand what she experienced and what it would feel like to be in the royal family, to be a beautiful woman in a hard world and have everything crash down on you. Sweetly, Amber now sprays the same perfume that Princess Diana wore before she goes on stage. It’s a small act that reflects Amber’s feeling and respect for Diana. It’s a beautiful sentiment.
At 34 Amber has seen the dance world change, growing up before YouTube and Instagram and now we’re in times where there’s dinky (Aussie for ‘young’) dancers with their own YouTube channels. I ask Amber what advice she would give aspiring dancers and she gives a sensible answer that can only come from an acclaimed ballerina with a long career, “Don’t be seduced by the fame and the glamour of competitions and YouTube trying to do a glittery solo on pointe when you’re 10.”
“Ballet’s not a race and it doesn’t matter if you can achieve something at 10 or you achieve it at 25, it sounds so cliché but it’s the journey to get there and I think sometimes as young people you want to rush it.”
I feel somewhat reticent about asking Amber if she’s considered what she would do after her career on stage comes to an end. But she’s already starting studying anatomy, and has a keen interest in podiatry having spent her life looking at her and other people’s feet.
When I ask how she will she know when the time will come to stop dancing, Amber starts by saying that she hopes to have “as many more years as possible and then just let it happen, let the body decide what’s best for it. Because the challenge is hoping that you get the choice to stop, not your body, but knowing when to surrender maybe down to the fact that you can’t do what you used to do, but hopefully that’s not for quite a few more years.”
Amber reflects on the change in dance culture, “Things have certainly changed, I didn’t go to competitions in New York – I mean they sound terrifying actually! It does seem like it’s the culture for the young ones to go to a competition and get a sponsorship to a school overseas, but ultimately you just need to get really good training.”
And The Australian Ballet School and The Australian Ballet provides amazing training and in her lovely Australian manner, that’s so down to earth, she reminds young Australian dance students that you don’t need to go overseas to have a great career, “I couldn’t have been happier to have stayed here and I feel so well supported. There’s so many companies that I admire around the world but we don’t want to lose too many great Aussie dancers!”
Check out Cinderella: