Having begun dancing back when she was four, Ingrid Gow has since gone from strength to strength. After receiving great critical acclaim in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella last year, she now finds herself in Chroma, a curious triple bill from The Australian Ballet that features the music of Mozart, Tchaikovsky and, of all people, The White Stripes.
Success does not come without a price, however, and the divide between pleasure and pain becomes most evident on a ballet stage. Speaking in The Guardian, The Royal Ballet’s podiatrist recently remarked, “I know of dancers who have gone on pointe with broken bones and stress fractures … they push themselves too far. That’s just a dancer’s life”. It sounds like quite a crippling profession – literally so – and I wonder if Gow has faced the same kind of stresses.
“Maybe not to that extreme, but yeah,” she replies, sounding like someone who has long resigned herself to the reality of her work. “There’s not a day that goes by when you’re not in some kind of pain somewhere. It’s one of those things where you have to know when it’s time to step back and say, ‘OK, there’s something wrong with my body,’ or if it’s just the kind of usual pain that is part of the life of a dancer.”
I’m somewhat in awe of Gow’s dedication. Ballet remains, I would cautiously suggest, an art form that is generally misperceived by the majority of people. There is an assumed fragility to the performers, whereas the truth is they push themselves to such physical extremes that permanent damage is a day-to-day concern. It is also one of the most mysterious arts; while actors and musicians regularly find themselves in the spotlight, the names of renowned dancers are rarely on the common tongue.
“I’ve always found that really interesting,” agrees Gow. “I mean, within our own dance community we know who all the superstars are, we’re always YouTubing the famous dancers on the other side of the world, the famous companies – we’re always closely following other people’s careers. So maybe individuals are not so much famous in the mainstream media, but within our own world we totally have our celebrities.”
One thing that is always striking about ballet is the enthusiasm of dance audiences. The volume of the cheering is second only to major musical acts. Has Gow noticed a change in audience attitudes ever since Black Swan brought ballet back into the pop culture conversation?
“Since the movie came out, people are more aware of the art form and what goes on behind closed doors. I think, if anything, people have a bit more of an interest; they kind of know what to look for to satisfy their curiosity. Our audiences are always…” She pauses for thought, then laughs. “The more you show your support, the more we love it. When we can hear and feel the energy, can feel how much they’re enjoying it, that’s everything. Even when there’s silence, you know? If you can hear a pin drop that means they’re enjoying it; if they’re making an incredible amount of noise, cheering, applauding – laughter, I mean, if you hear laughter, it’s fantastic – to hear any kind of energy coming from the other side of the curtain is exactly what we’re trying to achieve.
“In [a piece like Chroma] I find it’s really important to show your true self onstage, and that’s the hardest thing. To get in front of all those people and just bare your soul…” She laughs again. “You’ve got to only be you.”