According to her, to connect with people is what is truly beautiful. The Principal Artist of The Australian Ballet on her career and its highlights, dream roles, talent. And, obviously, beauty
She is radiant and beautiful. No one could deny it. But it is her particular musicality that makes her such a lyrical performer.
Amber Scott is one of the most renowned Australian dancers, and a superstar among the ballerinas of her generation. She flourished at The Australian Ballet School and, contrary to some of her peers around the world, she has pleasant memories of her teachers and mates.
Then, two years after graduating at age seventeen, she flew to Copenhagen to learn the Bournonville style. And, after her return home, she has climbed through the ranks of The Australian Ballet with steady speed. When she was promoted to Principal Artist, she had already danced Aurora and Manon, Odette and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
When did you realise that dancing was your career?
When I was a child extra in Graeme Murphy’s The Nutcracker, in 1994. The whole idea of being amongst the magic of the theatre every night gave my eleven years old self a hunger for a career as a performer.
Talent often shows at an early stage. Were you the best at your ballet school?
I think my teachers saw potential in me and encouraged me to make the most of that. I grew to my adult height quite young, so it took a while for me to find my strengths. My classmates in The Australian Ballet School were all extremely talented as well as having really fun personalities. As a group, we all pushed each other to be better.
How has being a dancer shaped your personality and way of thinking?
In many ways dancing made me mature early, I guess because I was travelling and working as soon as I left The Australian Ballet School at age seventeen. Also the discipline and focus required from a young age always made me feel a sense of responsibility that maybe some of my young school friends did not. Being a dancer also allows a break from a conventional sort of concentration: I am so grateful to not be tied to a desk or computer all day. I think this has worked really well with my need to always be busy and on the move. I feel my motivation and commitment has been encouraged by being a ballerina for sure. Perhaps the years of training and long hours in the theatre encourage my out of work persona to be a lot more relaxed and adventurous than I used to be.
Highlights of your repertoire?
Of course, the leading role in both the Graeme Murphy and Stephen Baynes versions of Swan Lake. During some of my earlier performances I would get so carried away in the drama that I often ended the show with all sorts of facial cuts and bruises. I really loved dancing the Lady in Stephen Baynes Molto Vivace. Sir Kenneth MacMillan Manon and John Cranko Onegin provided many special moments. I like traditional fairytales too: I have beautiful memories of dancing Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty as well as Clara in Graeme Murphy version of The Nutcracker and the Sugar Plum Fairy in Sir Peter Wright version of this ballet. Again, Afternoon of a Faun by Jerome Robbins and Suite en blanc. And Ratmansky Cinderella.
Do you find on revisiting roles, such as Manon that you are about to dance again, that your interpretation changes?
To re-visit a role is a very rewarding experience. The stage of life you are in always effects your interpretation, the maturity that comes with time often enhances some technical aspects. It has been wonderful to be coached by guest repetiteur Patricia Ruanne this season. Her insight has given me so many more layers that I can add to the way I play Manon.
Have you ever felt a kind of dichotomy between you as a successful ballerina who runs her career, in real life, and some submissive characters you have danced?
I would have to say I am divided on this subject! Some of the most treasured roles I have played like Odette and Tatiana have been very fragile creatures. However to get through those ballets you have to have nerves of steel. In saying that, every woman has her vulnerabilities alongside her strengths, so I don’t see my life and the ballets I play as polar opposites. There is a lot of borrowing and relating real experience to translate into part of a character I am playing. I guess I love the romance of these stories a great deal, so in turn, I like to let them inspire my outside life as well.
As a Principal Artist, today, does it happen to you to feel there are limitations of repertoire at The Australian Ballet?
We have a huge amount of performances each year as a company. So I don’t feel as though I miss out being onstage in any way. As for repertoire, I am fortunate enough to have performed many beautiful ballets during my time with The Australian Ballet. Of course there are still some roles that I hope to one day perform, particularly Giselle. I have always loved John Neumier’s choreography, particularly his The Lady of the Camellias. Margeurite would be another dream role. I think Mayerling by Sir Kenneth MacMillan is fascinating: it is a ballet that many dancers relish the challenge of performing. Not to mention ballets by Cranko, Kylian, Wheeldon... There will always be a cycle of ballets within any company. The thing that most dancers hope for is that timing of these ballets come in harmony with your development and ability.
You use to spend many hours in the studios and in theatre. Can relationships with colleagues turn suffocating or sour?
It’s been said before that the ballet world is like a family. There are high and lows, you see your colleagues in many different emotional states, celebratory performances, international travel, performance fatigue, injuries and so forth. I feel the fact we share these times together, be it good or bad, creates an intimacy rather than being suffocating.
Who is your mentor?
In various stages of my life I have had different people guiding me as a person and ballerina. My family and my dance teachers have always been there to share in my highs and lows not to mention encouragement when needed. I feel so lucky to have these special people around me.
How do you prepare your pointe shoes?
I darn the edge of the platform, sew on thick elastics and ribbons. I only bend and mould the shoe with my hands, no cutting or slicing of the inner boards. For a performance pair, I will shave the edges of the sole to flatten the base and also bang them for a good five minutes in the fire escape to quieten the thud!
What is the biggest misconception about ballerinas, in your opinion?
Probably that we don’t eat very much. This is so far from the truth, I can vouch that The Australian Ballet is brimming with very healthy appetites and there is nothing better than a good meal after a hard performance. And a glass of wine too! Yes, the ballerinas are not adverse to some vino in moderation!
How important is being beautiful, for a ballerina?
Whether you are a ballerina or not, I think beauty comes out through a person’s energy and eyes. Ballerinas have to use their eyes and expression all the time. To connect with people is what is truly beautiful.
What's your biggest extravagance?
By Alessandro Bizzotto
Photos: Amber Scott © Jez Smith / Amber Scott © James Braund / Amber Scott in MOLTO VIVACE Photography by Jeff Busby