Man of Principal: Australian Ballet's Andrew Killian
Earlier this year, Andrew Killian was promoted to the highest rank of principal artist at The Australian Ballet. Ahead of his lead role in The Merry Widow, he speaks to Garrett Bithell about life in the company, the greatest misconceptions about ballet dancers, and why he laughed at Black Swan.
Ballet is, without question, a greater part of the common consciousness these days. As with cooking, renovating, singing, and farmers searching for wives, reality television has an absurdly disproportionate impact on popular culture, meaning shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, not to mention seminal films such as Black Swan, have made the never-never land of professional dance companies seem more accessible and more appealing.
For some long-time lovers of dance, this shift is dubious and crude, but for Andrew Killian, principal artist with the Australian Ballet, any publicity is good publicity. “I’m sure those shows are not breaking any myths, but any time there’s dance out there I’m all for it,” he tells SX. “Whether or not they’re telling the right stories is less important – if it’s out there, it’s in people’s minds, which is great for ballet and great for me.”
However, despite the accolades lavished on Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 psychological thriller Black Swan, which revolves around a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Killian is not a fan. “It was so popular, but I laughed a lot at that film,” he says. “There were just a few scenes where I went, ‘oh that would never happen!’ But only people who actually know the ballet world really well would see those things.
“The way the dancers behaved while rehearsing in the studio was the worst aspect, and the idea that you could sleep with the director for a part is ridiculous and so clichéd! But maybe it happens somewhere in the world, I don’t know!”
Suffice it to say, Killian didn’t need to seduce The Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director David McAllister for his promotion to principal artist earlier this year. At the opening night of British Liaisons in May, McAllister took to the stage in front of a packed Sydney Opera House and announced that Killian, along with Amber Scott and Leanne Stojmenov, had been promoted to the most senior rank. Killian was completely oblivious both to the impending announcement, and that his family and friends were sitting the audience, having been flown up from Melbourne by the company.
“It was an incredible night,” Killian tells. “It’s great to share those big moments in your career with your family, especially because I’m away from them so much and they don’t often get to see all the hard work I have to do that takes me away from them – missing birthdays and weddings and gatherings because I have to work. It was lovely for them to see that recognition.”
Rest assured, however, there have been no prima donna antics since his appointment. “There is certainly a myth out there that you should be treated differently, but I don’t think that’s true,” Killian says. “We all do our bit within this company and every person matters – so that has been a nice thing to learn.”
Killian is about to take to the Opera House stage in a new production of The Merry Widow, which opens this Thursday. Created by Sir Robert Helpmann and Ronald Hynd in 1975, the effervescent ballet was the first full-length production ever made for The Australian Ballet, and heralded the arrival of Australian ballet to the global dance community. Last staged in 2000, The Merry Widow is one of the most performed ballets in the company’s history, having clocked up an impressive 380 performances in the 36 years since it was created.
Based on Franz Lehár’s 1905 operetta of the same name, The Merry Widow tells the immensely popular tale of a Balkan state, Pontevedro, on the brink of bankruptcy, and the scheming Baron with a plan to save the country from ruin. From embassy ballrooms to villa gardens and Parisian cafes, plans are foiled, feuds erupts and lovers reunite as the future of Pontevedro lies in the lands of the Merry Widow.
Killian plays Camille, the French ambassador. “He’s great fun to play,” he says. “He’s having a passionate affair with the wife of the Baron, and he’s kind of an outsider in the village. He’s quite pompous and has that clichéd French arrogance about him.”
The lavish design of the production has made it a strong favourite with audiences over the years. “It’s quite extravagant and old-fashioned and camp,” Killian tells. “There’s lots of fru-fru and ballrooms and gentlemen in moustaches, and the movement is very big and lavish.”
Killian, a Melbourne native, went to the Victorian College of the Arts before being accepted into The Australian Ballet School. He landed a spot in the company in 2000, and has been working his way up the ranks ever since. He is known as a dynamic and versatile dancer in high demand by choreographers. He has been cast in the majority of new works created during his time with company, with recent highlight performances including his dramatic portrayal of Lescault in 2008’s Manon, and the villainous Baron von Ochs in 2010’s The Silver Rose.
With his grungy visage and virile masculinity, Killian is the antithesis of the effeminate male ballet dancer stereotype. “The greatest misconception is that male ballet dancers are sissies or girly,” he asserts. “I can say that even some of the gayer people here at The Australian Ballet are pretty tough – not just physically, but mentally as well. There are some really tough characters.”
The other misconception, according to Killian, is that ballet dancers are neurotic and highly-strung. “I think people confuse discipline with neuroticism. If you were manic, you’d eventually break – the schedule just doesn’t allow for that. You have to keep up.”
[Pictured] The Australian Ballet’s principal artist Andrew Killian. Photo: Branco Gaica
The Merry Widow, Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House from November 10 – 28. Bookings at australianballet.com.au or call 1300 369 741.