Live, Love, Dance: An interview with ADT's Matte Roffe
Australian Dance Theatre’s Matte Roffe talks life and love and same-sex marriage with Peter Burdon.
The four years since Matte Roffe joined Australian Dance Theatre have taken his life and career in directions he never imagined.
Born in the central west of New South Wales, Matte took dance classes as a teenager then worked with a number of youth dance ensembles before gaining a position at the respected New Zealand School of Dance in 2010. In just his first year, he came to the attention of Australian Dance Theatre director Garry Stewart, who was there to work with the senior dance students.
“Garry sat in on a couple of first year classes, ”Matte explains, “and he’s since told me that straight away he spotted me and one of my classmates who’s also now with ADT. At the start of third year he invited us to do a secondment week with ADT in Adelaide. That was amazing, getting to live and work in their environment and learn what life as a professional dancer is really about. He wanted to see more, so about a month later I went back for another secondment, and this time I understudied a few roles and he slotted me into a soiree performance. Then he offered me a job! Samantha Hines, who I was studying with, also got auditioned, and we both joined in November 2012.”
“We had two months in Adelaide rehearsing every day for a three month European tour. My overseas travel was limited to the Tasman at that stage, so it was an incredible experience.”
Coming to Adelaide was not without its challenges, however. “I met Joel when I was in my first year in New Zealand,” says Matte. “I was at a club dancing with all the other dancers, which would have been quite a spectacle. He was a bit shy about talking to me, but that’s no surprise as we would all have been making fools of ourselves screaming around, but he found out my name and I remember telling Sam that this really hot guy had friended me on Facebook! We went on a date the next day and without sounding too sloppy I fell in love with him the first time I met him. We made it official a couple of months later.”
“I’d come out a few years earlier,” Matte continues. “I’ve always been completely comfortable with who I am, and I’ve been lucky to have a fantastic family, so I was happy to go with the flow as far as boyfriends were concerned. But Joel was a complete game changer.”
So what to do when a job offer comes from 3,000 kilometres away, with no direct flights? “It was an amazing opportunity for me and Joel couldn’t have been more supportive,” Matte says. “He totally encouraged me to take the job and said he’d follow as soon as he could. He moved over about three and a half years ago, and we’re both firmly planted in Adelaide and we love it.”
Then Joel popped the question. “I think Joel was more the marrying kind than me, at first,” Matte admits, “but I think that was mainly because I never saw myself, or us, as different in any way, just because we’re gay. We love each other, we have a great connection, and a beautiful life together. But when New Zealand allowed equal marriage in 2013 we did talk about it as a real possibility, because Joel’s a New Zealander. So we tied the knot on January 9. Joel’s parents have the most beautiful property in Tauranga and we married in their garden. It was the most wonderful day.”
Matte and Joel both feel upset by the Australian government’s dallying on marriage equality. “It really came home to us just a few days after our marriage when we heard of that terrible accident.” Matte is referring to the case of David Bulmer-Rizzi, a British citizen visiting Adelaide with his husband Marco. They married in the UK in mid 2015 and were enjoying their honeymoon in Australia. Tragically, David died in an accident in Adelaide, and the Government wouldn’t allow Marco to be recognised as his spouse on David’s death certificate. Fortunately, Premier Weatherill came to the party, and made sure that proper recognition could be given, and has pledged to change legislation to make sure it never happens again.
“But it has got us thinking,” says Matte, “about the need to make sure we have all the legal protection we possibly can to safeguard our relationship, at least for now. It’s frustrating that this has to be the case, and we keep on signing every protest form we can find!”
So how will they celebrate when the day finally comes? “We’ll have another celebration and get everyone from New Zealand out here to party!” says Matte. “It will be another affirmation of the vow that we’ve made, and this time we can do it in the place we call home.”
Matte and Joel’s honeymoon will have to wait, as Matte puts the finishing touches on not one but two world premieres ADT has to give in the next few weeks. “We’re performing Habitus at the Adelaide Festival and The Beginning of Nature, at WOMADelaide. Nature is an amazing piece, so different from the familiar ADT style with its use of technology. It’s back to basics, just the body and movement, with live music as well which is always exciting. It’s a magical experience.”
And after a hard day in the studio, Matte goes home to the man he loves, with whom he’s made a public vow. Good luck to them both.
Pictured (top) Matte Roffe in The Beginning of Nature, Photo: Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions;
Pictured (above) Joel and Matte on their wedding day, Photo: Nicole May