Cupcakes & Conversation with Clare Morehen, Principal, Queensland Ballet
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday Morning?
Routine. I am a routine driven person, which kicks in the second my alarm goes off at 7am on Monday morning. The thought of coffee initially gets my dazed body out of bed. Then it’s off to the gym to get my body going and get the week started!
The answer to that question has evolved over the years. As a child it was a hobby and time spent with my friends. As a student it was the thrill of striving for perfection and the exhilaration once a step was first achieved and then mastered. As a professional it’s enhancing the technique to create a character and project emotion to an audience. I love that the more I learn about this art form the more there is to be learnt. It is a never ending cycle that keeps me both inspired and intrigued.
What are you looking to dancing in the new season and what are the big challenges likely to be?
Performing a Pas de deux from Carmen in our upcoming International Gala. I love dancing with Keian Langdon, one of Queensland Ballet’s Principals, and immersing myself in emotionally driven roles. This scene comes from Act II where Carmen has read her tarot cards and foresees her death at the hands of her lover Don Jose. The big challenge lies in the Gala setting. We need to be immediately present in the scene, as with an excerpt the audience will not have been exposed to Carmen’s journey.
Who would you most like to dance with and what would you dance?
My ‘to-do’ list always included two pieces: Forsythe’s In the Middle Somewhat Elevated for the demanding technique it requires and its extreme use of extremities; and MacMillan’s Manon. Dancing Manon’s Aunt as a student, I was privileged to watch Sylvie Guillem and Darcey Bussell perform it night after night. I fell in love with the role and its dramatics.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only a theatre), where would you dance?
I think you build relationships with a theatre and there really is no place like home. Each theatre is its own organism and breathes life and rhythm. The Playhouse theatre in Brisbane, where I have performed the most in my career, makes me feel so safe, relaxed and grounded. I have the freedom to flourish and enjoy the journey of performance.
Although if the opportunity arose… maybe Bora Bora, close to Tahiti in French Polynesia ?
You trained and danced in the UK- at The Royal Ballet School, The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet before moving to Queensland. What do those particular experiences bring to your performances in Australia?
Moving to the UK at the age of 16 really opened my eyes to the world of dance and what it could offer as a career. I was exposed to a plethora of amazing artists and opportunities that were much more expansive than what I had seen as a child. My training at The Royal Ballet School was exceptional and set me up for a great, fulfilling career. I now feel I bring the best of both worlds to the stage; my refined technique and my ingrained Australian fire.
How do you prepare your point shoes?
I still wear the same pointes I started dancing in: a stock-standard Bloch Suprima 5 ½ B. I remove 1/3 of the sole with a Stanley knife, shave the outer sole (to aid balance) and remove the satin from the tip (so they don’t fray). I then sew criss-cross elastics to support my arches and add ribbons. Each pair takes about 45 minutes and it’s probably my least favourite part of the job. I often wish I could get someone else to do this for me!
What is your daily routine at the moment?
After returning from our annual regional tour we are back in rehearsal mode. I head to the gym first to get my heart pumping and then to work for some pre-class Pilates and stretches. After training I start my day at Queensland Ballet with Company class at 10am and then have rehearsals until 6:00pm with both principal and group rehearsals. Afterwards, I head to the sauna to relax my muscles, and then it’s finally home time! I spend the evening with my boyfriend, enjoying a home cooked meal and TV or a movie… and maybe a massage if I can swindle it. He’s very good!
What do you eat during the course of a typical working day?
I’m a grazer; I like to eat a lot of things frequently throughout the day. I learned early on that dancing on a full stomach wasn’t so easy. You can just imagine the comfort of a partner squeezing at your full tummy! I enjoy high energy, high protein snacks throughout the day including, muesli bars, nuts and fruit. My favourite dinner is crumbed fish and salad or vegetable stir-fry. I’m also prone to a Cadbury Crunchie or mixed berry pie for a treat!
You can ask six famous people to dinner- who do you invite?
Dylan Moran, Stephen Fry, Tim Minchin, Judith Lucy, Billy Connolly and Dawn French. I’d just sit back and watch…
What would surprise people about you?
That I couldn’t do the splits as a child! I was very inflexible and had to work really hard for the flexibility I have now. Most of the Company wouldn’t believe that if you told them.
Who inspired you to dance?
My mum initially inspired and encouraged me to dance. Throughout my journey there have been a number of teachers who have pushed me: Kim Bradshaw from Sunbury School of Dancing, Elizabeth Hill from the Victorian College of the Arts, Jacqueline Barratt from The Royal Ballet School and most recently, our Artistic Director Francois Klaus. Each has nurtured my passion and guided me toward the next phase of my career.
What is your best piece of advice?
Always be happy! Love a lot and be kind to yourself. Life is too short to waste so spend it on your most heart-felt desires and passions.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show?
I like to get ready for a performance early. I don’t like to be stressed or running late at all. After daily rehearsals I like to grab some food and do my hair and make-up at a relaxed pace. I then move to the studio and prepare for warm-up barre. Afterward I pre-set my costume changes, rehearse some steps on stage, touch up my make-up and finally, take a moment to relax into my role for the evening.
How do you deal with the stress of performing?
You can only do the best that you can do, on any given day under the circumstances you’re presented with. I like to stay calm and approach each performance as it comes. I do my best to look after myself by resting and eating well. At the end of the day, we are all only human.
Which role has tested you the most and how?
Emotionally, performing Blanche in A Street Car Named Desire was a huge dramatic challenge for me. I was worried I would not be able to perform a 40-something Southern belle with a deteriorating mental state! To play the role with justice and honesty I worked extremely hard on mannerisms and expression. At the conclusion of the season I was promoted to Principal. I must have done something right!
Technically, Aurora from The Sleeping Beauty is the most demanding role to tackle. It requires a huge amount of inner strength and confidence. You have to battle your demons of failure and produce a self-assured performance. It was the ultimate challenge of mind over matter.
If you were to design your own ballet costume, what would you create?
It would have to be either a leotard similar to Yumiko Takeshima’s, as nothing beats a beautiful bare body showing off amazing technique, or something similar to what I wore for Nils Christes’ premiere piece Short Dialogues for our International Gala last year. It was a long-sleeve shirt top. Tight along the arms, loose around the body with little shorts underneath. It was a dream to dance in!
What do you look for in a dance partner?
Someone who possesses both strength and sensitivity. Someone with inner beauty and a passion for our art form. Height is also welcome! (I often grab my boyfriend pre-show, a lighting technician for our theatre, to rehearse finger turns. His 6’4’’ is perfect for me and I think he may have missed his true calling!)
What is your favourite quote?
What if the hokey-pokey really is what it’s all about?
Do you have a ‘signature step’- one that come naturally to you?
If you asked anyone in the Company they’d probably say it would be something with a battement/kick. Front, side… wherever! My legs have a mind of their own.
A phrase I use far too often is…?
When’s our first performance?
What’s been your best on-stage moment so far?
One of the most memorable moments was when I entered ‘the zone’. It has only occurred a handful of times during my career. Athletes talk of this phenomenon, when you enter a sense of heightened being and relaxed success. I knew while dancing that everything was going to go well. It was during the Black Swan pas de deux for our return season of Swan Lake in 2010. I felt amazing and unstoppable!
Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about?
My boyfriend tells me I’m the queen of the gallimaufry! I can make a meal out of any pantry’s contents, which I think stems from being a poor student. Give me a stone and I’ll make you some soup!
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now?
Hopefully, in a similar position to what I am currently: happy, healthy and challenged both technically and dramatically.
What is your exit strategy, for the time you stop dancing, and how did you plan it?
A constant question to ponder… Sometimes I think I’ll go back to University and do something completely different and then I realise I’m too passionate about this industry to do anything else. How could I possibly leave all these amazing, passionate people and this unique lifestyle? I think it would be really difficult to find another career to equal the intensity and passion I have for this one. Within the industry I think I would lean towards a répétiteur type role. I have an eye for perfection and think I would enjoy the challenge that accompanies that job.