Today I'm speaking with The Australian Ballet's resident choreographer, Alice Topp. Alice was born and raised in Bendigo, a small town in regional Victoria. She started dancing at the age of four and was destined for a career as a ballerina. While Alice's career at The Australian Ballet is widely known, what many don't know is that Alice's journey to The Australian Ballet wasn't like most. She didn't train at The Australian Ballet School. Instead, she did a stint at The Royal New Zealand Ballet company. She broke her foot, and then worked in a Melbourne pub to continue her training. Even more incredibly, Alice never imagined she'd be a choreographer.
In this wonderfully candid interview, Alice talks about her journey to becoming only the second female resident choreographer in the 60-year history of the Australian Ballet to now launching Project Animo, a huge creative and choreographic undertaking to bring the royalty of the Australian dance scene back to the stage. Hosted by Claudia Lawson.
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Signing and Dancing with Emma Memma
39:28Welcome back to Talking Pointes. This season we’re back with another 10 beautiful conversations with some of the world’s most extraordinary dancers, choreographers, and artistic directors. I’m your host Claudia Lawson.For our summer season bonus episode, we’re catching up with the divine Emma Watkins. In season one, Emma and I spoke about her life growing up in Sydney. We spoke about her early dance years, about injuries and auditions, and then being selected to be the first ever female Wiggle. We spoke about Emma’s passion for Auslan, her PhD, and we also spoke about love, surviving endometriosis, and fertility. To hear that conversation, just scroll back to episode six of season one, and we’ll also put the link in the show notes.Today, nearly 18 months on, Emma and I speak about what her life is following her departure from The Wiggles. We speak about her new character, Emma Memma, and what it’s like to be on the precipice of handing in her PhD. We also speak about her marriage to new husband Olly, and her plans for the future.We’re just quickly interrupting this episode to let you know that we’re delighted that Emma’s bonus episode of Talking Pointes is sponsored by Energetiks. Energetiks are a sustainable, Australian-made brand that specialize in creating world-class dance wear for the stars of tomorrow. Perform and feel your best at every stage of your dance journey in Energetiks premium, high performance fabrics. You can see their entire range online at energetiks.com.au. For all Talking Pointes listeners, there’s a 20% discount on all Energetiks products. Just use the code EMMA20 at the checkout. The offer’s available until the end of August, 2023.Host @byclaudialawsonTranscript:Claudia Lawson: Hello.Emma Watson: Hello.CL: In the lead-up to this interview, I was trying to get the timing of our last chat, which was about 18 months ago. You were newly engaged to Olly, and happily dancing as a Wiggle.EW: That’s so long ago. It feels like a whole nother lifetime ago now.CL: Yeah. I think our chat was sort of mid-2021, so we were in the deep dark Sydney lockdown. A few things have changed since then.EW: Yeah, lots of things have changed, and it really does feel like a completely different chapter now.CL: I bet. Can you talk us through, I assume, an epic decision to leave The Wiggles? Can you talk us through the decision-making process and your head space leading up to that call?EW: I think through the lockdown, multiple times, I had a lot of time to focus on my thesis, which essentially was going on the whole time I was touring and performing. It’s been part of my life for most of the time anyway. But because we weren’t touring as much, I did have a little bit more time to sit and think, and reflect, and write. It really started to make sense for me that this particular part of research that I had been embarking on was needing to be finished. Probably 18 months ago when we spoke last time, it probably should have been finished then.CL: How long have you been doing your PhD?EW: I guess when you ask anyone that’s doing a PhD, it’s a bit more extended than what was originally planned. I’m doing my PhD through Macquarie University, so it’s a bundle approach where you do a master’s and then you do your PhD.CL: Oh, I see. Yeah.EW: The master’s is helpful, yeah, because you’re kind of doing a little bit of the PhD first.CL: So you sort of step up. Yeah. Okay.EW: Yeah. Currently, it’s probably been about five years altogether, which probably isn’t as long as some people do their thesis for. But it does feel like most of the research that we have been doing has been going on for over a decade anyway, so it has been a real conscious decision to put the line down now, which I’ve been told many times in the last month.CL: When is the line?EW: The line is at the end of March. I feel like I shouldn’t say that in case I don’t get there.CL: Oh, Dr. Watkins.EW: It feels positive yet. Yeah.CL: Okay, so lockdown happens. It’s the first time that really you haven’t toured with The Wiggles in almost really a decade. It was an extensive touring program that they had. Is it sort of like COVID gives you this moment to pause?EW: Absolutely. Of course, the pandemic is positive and negative. It has different effects on lots of different people. I really can’t talk for everybody, but in terms of my situation and stopping traveling after 10 years constantly, I think my body just didn’t know what to do with itself. For the first time, it was like, “I think we’re on a body holiday.” That was actually something that I needed so much, but I didn’t realize. Not just for a dancer and having a moment to stop, which kind of feels contradictory because you don’t really ever want to stop your body, because then sometimes it can go into breakdown, which has happened to me as well, but at times it does release you and give you some sort of freedom to start again. I mean, now, 18 months on … Even just the original stopping during the pandemic, my body felt a sigh of relief, but now, 18 months on, it’s completely different again.CL: Is it really? In what way?EW: Look, I’m probably not as fit as I used to be in terms of show fitness, but my body is definitely reacting differently because it’s not under pressure of being in a car for a million hours, driving, on a plane every second day. There’s definitely something different about … my body feels that it is not as restricted. That, in a way, I feel like I’m learning ballet back at square one. I’m training online with a beautiful teacher over Zoom. Which, we met through the pandemic, over Zoom. I’ve been training with her ever since. So ever since we started talking, that’s when I met her.CL: Wow. So, what, you’re taking weekly ballet classes?EW: Essentially, three times a week with her.CL: Wow.EW: Because I live now in the country, which is also very different to where we were 18 months ago in a really tiny apartment in Sydney. Because we were in the lockdown in there, that was a real time. Not for us as a couple, but you just get so cramped if your body can’t move more than 10 meters and you can’t go outside. I think now that we’ve moved south of Sydney and we have a little bit of a backyard, it’s instantly completely different.CL: Okay, hang on. I feel like we are-EW: I know. Sorry.CL: … PhD. No, we are country moving. It’s all the topics I want to hear about. But first of all, let’s head back to that word retirement, from The Wiggles. I mean, it’s an epic word to say out loud. When did it start creeping in?EW: The word itself?CL: Yeah. Just even to make that announcement or to think this could be a reality.EW: I guess I never thought about the word retirement, even though it was yelled at me over the street. I’d be taking the dogs for a walk and people were like, “Congratulations on your retirement.” I’m like, “Really?” I guess I understand the use of the term because I was stepping away from that particular role. But for me, it more felt like an internship that was really important to the way that I was forming my critical thinking and performance mode. I was like, “Okay, that’s that chapter, but I think some of the research that we’ve been working on is really important, that we need to focus on now so that we can act on it in the future if we ever want to make children’s content, or any content, really, for that sake, from this point forward.” So I understand that retirement, I guess it was a bit overused because I’m certainly probably too young to be retired, and couldn’t retire anyway. We need to work. Certainly retiring from the role, but it more felt like a chapter, for me.CL: Yeah. Maybe that’s a perception from the outside. Because your personality and the character Emma Wiggle, there was so much overlap, that perhaps from the outside, it was like, “How difficult must it have been to step away?” But maybe not so much from the inside.EW: No, definitely hard. Yeah. I think for me as a person and a personal journey, it’s taken this long for me to separate myself from that personality as well. You don’t realize how inextricably embroiled they become. Because we were so fortunate to bring our own characteristics and hobbies and interests to the role, it was a part of me, and it will always be a part of me. Absolutely.CL: Was it scary?EW: Yeah, I think it always is. We had lots of discussions, particularly with Olly and I. We ended up reflecting on a lot of people in the performance industry, particularly dancers who might have grown up only dancing and having that as their one goal. Because a dancer’s life, in some schools of thought, is quite short, when they don’t perform anymore, or when they have retired from the company, they’re still so young. Because that becomes such a big part of their identity, yeah, how do you move on from that? I think for some people it can be quite debilitating.CL: Oh, absolutely. That passion that they’ve had, where do they go? Yeah.EW: Yeah. But actually, I think it might be the opposite. I just feel completely free, as in …CL: So good.EW: I feel like, now, there was … There’s lots of different thoughts in my head about this next chapter. It’s not just specifically about work or career, it’s also about having time to spend with family, and having time to spend at home and sit down and have a cup of tea. Some of those things I forgot about over the 10 years. So being able to reconnect with friends that I hadn’t seen for over a decade was also something that I never had time for. It’s been an eye-opening experience. Also, that we now have time to talk to people. Just take a moment to connect with families, through our work as well, but also in the new neighborhood that we are a part of, and find out what people are really looking for in the world now.CL: Yeah, it’s interesting that you say that about the retirement because I suppose you also had a second passion bubbling along in the background with your PhD. Some of the people I’ve spoken to who have found retirement so difficult is because ballet or dance or performance has been there.EW: Is everything.CL: Yeah, they’re everything. And then when they stop or their body stops, where do they put that energy or that passion?EW: Absolutely. Emma Wiggle was everything to me. I didn’t think about anything else but her. I was just infatuated with that experience and the journey, and always wanting to try and improve her. I had such a good chunk of time to really work on it, as well. It’s not really normal for people to play one character for a decade.CL: Yeah, that’s so true, isn’t it?EW: Yeah. I had to really think about that as well. It’s also not normal to be photographed in the same outfit for decades. I didn’t realize that either. So, all of a sudden stepping away from that role, and then initially, obviously, focusing on the thesis. And then all of a sudden being approached to do other projects, and wearing different costumes and being a different … I just was like, “Wow, I didn’t know that this was possible.”CL: You step away to do the PhD or to focus more on the PhD, does Emma Memma feature in that thought process?EW: Not at the time when I stepped away. We knew that … One of the outcomes of the research is to practically put in place what we’ve been researching.CL: Okay, can you summarize?EW: Yeah.CL: Just for your supervisor’s approval. What is your PhD looking into?EW: My supervisor’s going to be crying right now. I love her to pieces. She’s the best thing since slice bread. For some reason I can’t articulate it, which is probably the reason why it’s still going. My PhD is about creative integration of dance, sign language, and film editing. Really, it’s about a comparison between people who use sign language and people who might grow up as trained dancers, and what are the similar skills that they both have? Sometimes they are in our subconscious or they’re not known, they become techniques of intuition. Essentially, we have really similar qualities, but there is not a lot of crossover between people who use sign language and dance, and not a lot of dancers who use sign language.But I feel like it’s really silly, this is not in the PhD, the word silly, I feel like it’s really strange that we don’t have more crossover in those fields because we could really learn from each other. From a dancer’s point of view … This is too long, obviously, for a clarification. For a dancer’s point of view, if your career is very short, then you can apply your skills as visual detailed professionals to be learning sign language, and actually help in the workforce where we have such a lack currently right now in the deaf workplace.CL: As you say that, I’m thinking of those classic scenes from the ballet where the princess comes on. She invites the entire courtroom to dance. And then there’s that classic arms above your head, spin the-EW: Yes, roly-poly.CL: Roly-poly.EW: Yeah, “Come and dance with us.”CL: “Come and dance with me.” And then there’s the bow to say, “Thanks, everyone.” You’re so right, they communicate through their use of their hands, their arms, their face. And yet, why is that not translated into skills with Auslan? Because actually-EW: Unbelievable.CL: Yeah. I mean, of course, I imagine people who are hearing impaired completely understand what those dancers are gesturing, but why wouldn’t we integrate that?EW: One of the challenges is music. I think music becomes a really big barrier for both sides. People that are deaf and people that are hearing, I think people that are hearing, this is a generalization, will think that it’s not possible for somebody who’s deaf to join in. Whereas people that are deaf don’t really … There are some schools of thought that music isn’t part of the community, but that actually is not quite true for everybody. It’s not really about music in the aural sense, but music is actually movement. Even if you were playing an instrument, you have to move your body to play the instrument. Essentially, my argument is that, “Music is movement, so let’s get rid of the barrier, bring down the wall, and let’s have a party because we know things that each other knows. We use them without thinking about it, so let’s embrace it.”CL: Emma Memma is your new children’s character that you have launched. Did she evolve out of the PhD as almost like a test case?EW: Yes, that’s right. Yep.CL: That’s your data collection, isn’t it?EW: Yeah.CL: I love that.EW: Yes, Emma Memma is an outcome of the thesis, but it wasn’t known to me at the time when I decided to leave. I just knew that I needed to do the thesis, essentially.CL: With Emma Memma, what are you hoping to bring to your audiences with her?EW: It’s really interesting that we’re even doing this interview at the time because I’m definitely writing the thesis now. I’m definitely a hundred pages in. It’s-CL: This is a discussion, right?EW: I really honestly feel that this is just a piece of sand in a very big beach. I don’t think that Emma Memma solves all the problems for integrating these visual elements. The reason why we chose this avenue is because, A, we have experience in children’s entertainment, but B, also because it’s the easiest platform to try a very simplistic test. With Emma Memma, some of our music, well most, is only based on two words and two signs. You can’t really do a test without having such strict controls. Again, I’m talking about a test, but it’s not really. We have given ourselves the boundary to create music with very little English, spoken English or sung English, so that we can make sure that the sign that’s matching it is completely understood. And then we just go from there. So all of the songs on our first album … We only have two.CL: So Wednesday and Wombat, and then going on an airplane. Okay, I’m starting to see the theme here.EW: Yeah. There’s some reviews like, “Ah, why is this so simple? It’s so boring.” I completely understand that viewpoint, but that was actually our goal. We’re like, “How simple do we need to go for everyone to understand this sign?”CL: Wow.EW: Essentially. Yeah.CL: I love that. That the songs are too simple, and you’re like, “No, no, no, no, no. This is for the PhD.”EW: Yeah, this is a goal. What’s interesting touring … we’re not really touring, but performing in front of a group of people, which at most times was only about a hundred people at a time, just so that we could … I mean, for me, all I’m doing is watching people. In that space of time, which might have been an hour, we were doing a few songs and then meeting every single family that was in the room. For most of the time, it just shocked me how many people in the audience picked up the signs straight away without knowing the song. That’s the key. Because all of these songs that we’ve put out in the last 12 months are not very … It’s not widespread. A lot of people don’t know them. It’s not like singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” a nursery rhyme that is quite common.We were bringing completely new songs to an audience that some of the people obviously had listened because they had followed us, but some people, you think parents, particularly dads who … they just happened to be there, they obviously are not listening to me on social media, and that is fine. But in the space of the room, they could join in because they knew that it was only one or two signs, and then did it straight away. That’s what I was watching the whole time. I was like, “Wow, everyone’s copying.” It’s only two signs. And then, for us, it’s really about that movement or that dance choreography that’s embedded in Emma Memma, or in any of the songs, is actually a sign. It’s not just an irrelevant dance move. That’s become very clear to me over the last 12 months.CL: Sorry. I remember in our last chat you had said … I think it was that you were hopeful that every person could just sign, “Do you need help?”EW: Yeah. We haven’t done that song.CL: Yeah, that’s the next album.EW: See how many words that is, do you … Yes.CL: You can’t get to four yet.EW: Not yet.CL: Was it hard? I mean, you came into The Wiggles in an established brand, and then you sort of took it to far higher highs with Emma. Was it a tricky process or was it difficult to launch from scratch on your own?EW: I’ve actually just found it really interesting. I guess I don’t really have any expectations of being some sort of a success, or worldwide success. It’s not really about that for us. It really-CL: Kind of surprising to hear you say that because you’re obviously so well loved around the world as Emma Wiggle. No thoughts that it might go well?EW: I mean, we’d love it to, but I think that’s got to be dependent on whether the content is usable. Yeah, of course, we totally could have decided to just do children’s entertainment for the sake of it, or work in any other region. I mean, what’s interesting about the last year was that I worked on so many different projects that weren’t even related to children’s entertainment. I went back and taught at my high school. I was tutoring online. I’ve been doing sign language interpreting course. I was so lucky to do Lego Masters. None of that stuff is in the same region, really.CL: No. And then you did The Masked Singer. You’ve done Reef School.EW: Yeah, Reef School. Some really beautiful projects that that’s also been alongside this. This really, it has been such an amazing, I guess it’s almost like a workshop. Honestly, we’ve met some incredible families that I guess have been hungry for some content that provides accessibility within their family structure. We met a beautiful … we met lots of amazing families, but we met a family in Perth. The grandmother came with her grandchildren. I think she came with her daughter as well. She was signing to our deaf consultant who was there, Sue. Sue was horridly waving at me across the room. I came over, and then we were signing with the grandmother. The grandmother signed to me. She’s like, “You have no idea, I’ve not been able to watch a show with my grandchild prior to this.” I was like, “Oh, wow, that means a lot.” I think that’s something that hasn’t left us, because now we’ve realized how important it is to embed sign language foundation in this movement. Because it should be. It just doesn’t make sense to me why it …CL: Are you fully fluent in Auslan?EW: No, but I have … That was very quick, wasn’t it? I don’t know if you can … You’d have to be signing for decades, I think. I just know so many people who sign beautifully that I wouldn’t be able to call myself fluent. But I have my diploma in Auslan, and I’m doing my interpreter’s course. Essentially, one of the criteria is fluency, so I can have a conversation quite easily. All of our classes are in sign language for three hours at a time.CL: Wow.EW: So yes, we can converse in sign language, as we should be able to, but I still forget signs. I can’t express myself sometimes. I think that’s the frustration with being a student. Maybe ask me again in 10 years.CL: What actually sparked your initial interest in signing and Auslan as a non-deaf person?EW: Yeah, that’s a good question. I’ve been asked that question a lot this year. Because mostly, people are exposed to somebody that is deaf through their family. 95% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. So for those parents, that’s the first deaf person they might meet. The reality is quite weird, but there are lots of people who learn sign language just because they are interested in the culture and the community. I happened to have a friend at my primary school, we were probably about seven or eight, and her brothers are deaf. We would go to their house and play. That’s my first exposure to sign language. I think I was just infatuated with it then. Because I was like, “Oh, what are they saying? What are they doing?” Watching my best friend sign to them, I was like, “Oh, can you show me?” so it just really snowballed from there.I tried to learn sign language through high school, and after high school and through touring. It was so difficult because you needed to be there in person. I’d enrolled so many times and wasn’t able to complete the course because I then went away on tour. So through the pandemic, again, another really strange positive to this story, was that the course was changed to be online. Then I completed an assessment test and was really, I guess, quite lucky, because I’d also been continuing discussions with my deaf friends and my deaf network. So I didn’t have to start from scratch. I was able to go to certificate three and four and do them at the same time. And then did my diploma. And then here we are in the interpreter’s course.CL: It’s so incredible what you’re going to bring to that community, but also to the entertainment and the dance community. It’s just so incredible because, actually, you’re bringing something to both. Actually, it’s funny that you just mentioned dance [inaudible 00:26:35]. As I was looking at all the things that you’ve done last year, and especially going on The Masked Singer, remember our chat about all your auditions singing? I just was actually … I had a wry smile, and I thought, “Now you’re being really recognized as a singer.”EW: Okay, this is just … Okay, when they approached me to do The Masked Singer, I was like, “Great. I think I can do that in the mask because then I don’t have to face anyone.” The whole time we were filming, I was nervous as ever, but I knew that nobody knew who I was. Well, that’s what I thought, but obviously I was way too obvious. And that’s okay. That’s okay. I wasn’t clever enough to change my voice because I was so stressed about the singing, and that’s fine. But then when you take the mask off, the head off, I didn’t remember that you had to sing. So when I was revealed and I took the mask off, having a chat with Osher, and like, “Everything’s cool,” then they’re like, “Okay, here’s the microphone,” I think I did nearly wee my pants, and I wasn’t really ready. Yeah, I wasn’t ready.CL: So you thought the zombie head was just hiding your …EW: Absolutely.CL: But it was so cute because you had the turned out little first position.EW: So silly. Why did I do that? Why? I look back now, I’m like, “What was I doing? Why?”CL: Personal life. Obviously huge amounts of change as well since we last spoke. You’ve married Olly. Can you tell us about that day?EW: Well, it was pretty lovely. But as Olly and I are, we’re pretty casual. The wedding was in very regional Victoria at a homestead that was quite close to Olly’s grandfather, who was the eldest participant at our wedding. We wanted to make sure he could be there, so we were asking a lot of other people, friends and family, to travel past Warrnambool, which is very far away in our eyes, when you live in Sydney. Or Brisbane for that matter. It was just a lovely … It was just a really lovely day. It just felt like a garden lunch.CL: You’ve moved out of Sydney.EW: We have.CL: Good? What’s it like?EW: It’s so good. We’ve moved to the Southern Highlands to a place called Robertson. I guess I can probably name the town because it sounds like everybody knows that I live here now.CL: Yeah, I think it’s fairly widely reported in the media, I’ve got to say.EW: It is such a beautiful part of the country. We moved down here for so many different reasons, but my parents are down here, my sister’s down here. We’re all a lot closer than we were before. Particularly after the tour, we wanted to make sure that we could see each other more often. And we love animals and nature, and we do have lots of animals at home. Yeah, it’s basically a farm stay.CL: Wow. Was there any adjustment moving out of the city?EW: You don’t realize how weird it is until you go back to the city. During 2022, I was driving to Sydney to do some filming and some work, The Masked Singer and the like.CL: Oh, yeah. Yeah.EW: Every time I drove into Sydney, my shoulders would raise up near my ears. I’m like, “Oh, the traffic and people.” I just became a grandmother instantly, within about two months. I was like, “There’s so many people.” You just don’t …CL: So noisy, no parking.EW: The Robertson post shop is basically the highlight of my life, where you can drive straight up to it and walk in and talk to the person and then drive away. There’s no line. There’s no issue. You get parking every time. You don’t have to even pay for parking. It’s completely different.CL: And then you said at the start when we were chatting that you thought your body had gone through a sort of … Did you say breakdown since …EW: Oh, as in it had a break. My body was happy. But then it also, I think as dancers have, when you’re not doing as much as you used to do physically, your body starts to go into a bit of … I can’t describe it. I’ve basically realized that my feet strength and some of my bones were starting to have a moment. I do now have arthritis in one of my feet.CL: Do you?EW: It’s actually starting to heal, surprisingly. So I think it was just a moment where it was like, “We need to stop. Now we’re going to turn into a snowman, and now we’re okay.”CL: Also, you were touring eight plus months a year and performing every day. I mean, there’s just no way you can even maintain any training regime.EW: You can’t.CL: You can’t maintain.EW: You actually can’t.CL: No.EW: No, it’s just not possible. But obviously, now, with a different training regime, not doing as much physical things that I was doing before, but different things that are helping my body stay at least flexible and strong, my body’s so different. My body’s moving better now than it was before.CL: Really?EW: And I’m just not moving it as much as I used to.CL: Wow. And the endometriosis?EW: Well, that’s the same thing. It’s just unbelievable.CL: Is it really?EW: I must have had so much stress on my body, not just physically doing things, but I think that the traveling was really knocking my body around. Of which I kind of knew, but didn’t really know. It was only sometimes in the last year when I’d catch a plane. I haven’t really been on a plane that much in the last 12 months. And then getting off the plane and my body absolutely going into meltdown.CL: Really?EW: Like, “Wow, okay. It really doesn’t like a plane.” So now I know that it doesn’t like a plane.CL: Right. That extended sitting and just everything that comes with that.EW: I think it’s the pressure. I think it’s the cabin pressure. Yeah. So now, again, there’s more controls. Now I can actually work out what the problem … what setting it off all the time.CL: You’ve got that time to watch how your body responds.EW: You’ve got that time to have a moment after a plane. Whereas before, I’d get off the plane, and then instantly be on stage. My body would be like, “Help, help, help, help.”CL: Wow.EW: But now I know what’s going on. Obviously, I’ve got on a plane this year. It’s okay. You just have to manage it and know. You just have to be nice to yourself.CL: Yeah. I often thought of that when the Emma Memma costume launched. I remember you saying when … Emma Wiggles costume, none of us knew that you had endometriosis. And I don’t think you knew.EW: No.CL: So just managing that behind the scenes in a career that is so performance based.EW: Yeah. My costume is a lot cooler now. It’s just a whole different material.CL: Perfect. Breathable.EW: It’s amazing. Yeah. Completely different. Yeah.CL: Amazing. What are your hopes for this year?EW: Oh, there’s so many hopes. I mean, the first hope is submitting the thesis.CL: Dr. Watkins. I love it.EW: Oh, I can’t even think about it. I just know that it’s going to come back with revisions. That’s okay. You just have to accept that. It’s not about that. It’s just about doing a good job in terms of presenting the research. So that hopefully we can build on it in the future, or it helps other people acquire some other skills. But for Emma Memma, we’re hoping to film our very first TV series, as in a long-form TV series. So we’ve been in lots of different discussions with different parties across the world. It’s just been trying to make the right decision about who we might want to partner with, that’s going to understand the nuances of sign languages around the world as well. We want to make sure that we partner with the right people.CL: Because around the world, they don’t speak Auslan. Auslan is …EW: Auslan is only used in Australia. There are some similarities with New Zealand sign language and British sign language. But for most of it, that’s the beauty about sign language because the culture is embedded in the language. You can see the different culture when you watch different sign languages across the world. So that’s really important for us. But also, we are very, very fortunate. We’re in a pre-literal audience space where we can use iconic shapes as well, gestures, mime, dance. So that mixture and that balance is what we’re trying to write now into proper video scripts to prepare us for a TV series. Yeah.CL: Wow. Any other post-doctoral …EW: What do you do with it? I mean, again, all of the research that’s part of the PhD is really informing us about Emma Memma, but also other projects. We have been very fortunate, again, to be approached to do lots of different creative collaborations. As soon as I receive any kind of email, you just look at it straight away and you’re like, “Is this accessible to my friend?” And then that gives us a really good indication about whether we should choose it or not as well. I wouldn’t want to do anything that … For example, Sue, my friend, I wouldn’t want to do anything that she couldn’t have access to as well. That’s really important for me.CL: Wow. This is a strange question to perhaps end with, but you are just such a delight. Every time I’ve spoken with you, had any interaction, the way that you must have to hold yourself when you’re in public because children recognize you. Does Emma Watkins ever have a moment of angst? Do you get cranky, Emma?EW: I really only get upset if my animals are sick. I literally go to the goats every morning. If one of them’s having a moment, I come, I’m like, “Why are they sick?” That’s really my only moment of frustration is having animals that are sick when I don’t know what’s gone wrong.CL: Wow. Because you just seem to have such a positive outlook on life. You have such … it would seem, such beautiful relationships with everyone that you deal with. It’s just, what an asset to all the communities that you work with.EW: Thank you. I guess we can’t really complain. We’re very lucky.CL: Emma Watkins, thank you so much. I can’t wait to see what you do this year. Just all the best for you and Olly as well.EW: Thank you so much.CL: If you’d like to hear more about Emma’s life, you can find our full conversation in the show notes. For Emma Memma tour dates, songs and updates, you can find her on Instagram @emmamemmamemma. To continue to follow all of Emma’s life adventures, you’ll find her on Instagram as well @emmawatkinsofficial.Emma and I recorded remotely, with Emma dialing in from Robertson, the land of the Gundungurra and Thaua people, with recording and production on the land of the Awabakal and Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, to whom we pay our greatest respects. Talking Pointes is produced by Fjord Review. Remember to subscribe to get the episodes as soon as they’re released. And if you like us, please leave a five star review. Your host and producer is me, Claudia Lawson, with additional production by Penelope Ford and Clint Topic. Sound production and editing by Martin Peralta at Output Media.This is our final episode of our summer season. We cannot thank our guests enough for sharing their stories and lives, and all of their vulnerabilities. To our beautiful audience, thank you once again for your overwhelming response. Season three of Talking Pointes is in the works and will be available wherever you get your podcasts later this year. In the meantime, if you’ve enjoyed the series, please hit five stars, and subscribe or follow to be notified of when new episodes are released. If you’d like to follow along, you’ll find me on Instagram @byclaudialawson. For all your ballet and dance news, head to fjordreview.com.Images: Emma Watkins as Emma Memma. Images courtesy of Emma Watkins.
David Hallberg, One Year On
23:52For our bonus episode this season, we’re catching up with the Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director David Hallberg. Last season, David and I spoke about his life growing up in South Dakota, being bullied, training at the Paris Opera, becoming principal at American Ballet Theatre, and being the first American to be invited to dance with the Bolshoi Ballet in Russia. We talked about climbing back from his epic injury, his head space at that time, before taking over the Artistic Directorship of the Australian Ballet right in the middle of Covid. A year later we talk about what it's been like to be artistic director now that theatres are open and audiences are back, about what kind of as dancers he selects for the company, how he decides who will be promoted, the Australian Ballet's 60th anniversary, and life in Australia.If you’d like to read more about David’s life, find our full conversation in the show notes, or you can read his autobiography called A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back. For Australian Ballet updates you can find them on Instagram at @ausballet and to continue to follow David’s adventures, you’ll find him on Instagram at @davidhallbergofficialHosted by Claudia Lawson. David and Claudia recorded remotely, with David dialling in from Melbourne, the land of the Kulin people, with recording and production on the land of the Awabakal and Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, to all of whom to which we pay our greatest respects.
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David Hallberg, Wild at Heart
31:02Today I'm speaking with David Hallberg, the new Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet. David was born in a small American town called Rapid City in South Dakota. David started dancing at nine years old, after seeing Fred Astaire on the television. And he only started ballet when he was 13. But by 17, he was selected to do a year at the Paris Opera Ballet School before joining his dream company, ABT, the American Ballet Theatre.He rose swiftly through the ranks, to principal within four years, and then he was the first American to be asked to be a principal with the Bolshoi Ballet, the Russian juggernaut that had previously only accepted Russian trained dancers. In this wonderfully engaging interview, David talks about his love of dance, growing up in America, and the moment he was first named as a principal. But David also shares some of his darker moments. He talks about bullying, and the injury that crippled him for over two years, before finally returning to the stage and becoming the new Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet. When we spoke, David had just announced that due to Covid the Australian Ballet won't be performing for the remainder of 2021.For the latest in all things dance, head to fjordreview.com and follow us on Instagram at @fjordreview Host @byclaudialawson
Alice Topp's Lucky Break
46:47Today I'm speaking with The Australian Ballet's resident choreographer, Alice Topp. Alice was born and raised in Bendigo, a small town in regional Victoria. She started dancing at the age of four and was destined for a career as a ballerina. While Alice's career at The Australian Ballet is widely known, what many don't know is that Alice's journey to The Australian Ballet wasn't like most. She didn't train at The Australian Ballet School. Instead, she did a stint at The Royal New Zealand Ballet company. She broke her foot, and then worked in a Melbourne pub to continue her training. Even more incredibly, Alice never imagined she'd be a choreographer.In this wonderfully candid interview, Alice talks about her journey to becoming only the second female resident choreographer in the 60-year history of the Australian Ballet to now launching Project Animo, a huge creative and choreographic undertaking to bring the royalty of the Australian dance scene back to the stage. Hosted by Claudia Lawson.
Daniel Riley leads Australian Dance Theatre
30:32Daniel Riley is the newly appointed artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre. Daniel is a proud Wiradjuri man of Western New South Wales. He grew up around Canberra, inspired by the Tap Dogs, learning contemporary dance, ballet, and tap. But it was a chance encounter with ADTs founder, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, which changed the direction of Daniel's life to one of pursuing dance as a career. He ultimately headed north to study dance at Queensland University of Technology and following graduation and various adventures building his craft around the globe, Daniel joined Bangarra Dance Theatre, where he spent the next 12 years performing, choreographing, and honing his creative skills. In this incredibly open interview, Daniel talks about his childhood in dance, about being bullied, the impact of First Nations' dances, and how he's gearing up to take the helm of the Australian Dance Theatre in 2022.Your host and producer is me, Claudia Lawson, additional production by Penelope Ford, with editing and sound production by Martin Peralta. And for the latest in all things dance, head to fjordreview.com.
The Rise of Frances Rings
42:25The incredible Frances Rings, Bangarra's Associate Artistic Director, joins us on this episode of Talking Pointes. A descendant of the Kokatha people, Frances was born in Adelaide and spent her childhood traveling, dancing, and living all around Australia while her father worked on the railways. However, it was a teacher at her boarding school in Queensland that spotted her talent, and encouraged her to audition for NAISDA, the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association.And so at 18 years of age, Frances boarded a Greyhound bus and traveled the 12 hours to Sydney. In this beautifully raw and personal interview, Frances talks about her journey into dance, her incredible career with Bangarra, and finding confidence in her own body. But Frances talks about more than that. Her onstage connection with the late Russell Page, becoming a mum, and the pressure but also the importance of not only being a female leader, but a First Nations female leader in dance in Australia.Listen here or find us on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.For our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander listeners, this episode of Talking Pointes contains the names of people who have passed. Please pause now, if you'd prefer not to hear their names. The Page family have given Bangarra Dance Theatre permission to use their names for the purpose of this interview. And just a trigger warning for this episode, we discuss issues around suicide, so if you'd prefer not to listen or read, please press pause or stop reading now. Your host and producer is Claudia Lawson, additional production by Penelope Ford, with editing and sound production by Martin Peralta. And for the latest in all things dance, head to fjordreview.com.
Becoming Emma Wiggle
41:39Many of you will know Emma Watkins as the supremely talented Emma Wiggle. Emma grew up like many aspiring dancers, dreaming of becoming a ballerina, but her dreams took an unexpected change after sustaining an injury as a teenager. Her dreams changed direction and she embarked on a different path, one that led her to university, film editing, and to ultimately becoming the iconic Yellow Wiggle. In this wonderfully generous and personal interview, Emma talks about her years of ballet training in Sydney, how she auditioned to join the Wiggles first as a dancer, and then being selected to become a Wiggle. But Emma also shares so much more, how she coped with endometriosis while under intense pressure to be pregnant, the PhD she’s studying, her passion for every child to learn Auslan and what it was like to become the first female Wiggle. Hosted by Claudia Lawson.To continue to follow Emma's adventures, you can find her on Instagram at either @Emma_Wiggle or @EmmaWatkinsOfficial
Mao's Last Dancer Speaks Auslan
35:54Li Cunxin, artistic director of the Queensland Ballet, joins us today on Talking Pointes. Most of you will know Li from his early life. He is Mao's Last Dancer. Li was born into complete poverty in rural China, where he was plucked from obscurity to join the Beijing Dance Academy. He was put through years of brutal training, up to 16 hours a day, to become a dancer. However, his life was meant to be one of twists and turns. He was chosen to undergo an exchange to the United States to dance with the Houston Ballet and while he was there he fell in love and married an American dancer. The resulting standoff between the USA and China made Li a global name, and with it, a ballet superstar. But with that success also came pain. In this wonderfully personal and at times emotional interview, Li shares stories from his early life, and the trauma of being banned from China, but he also shares the highs, reuniting with his parents, finding enduring love and to learning Auslan for his eldest daughter, Sophie. Hosted by Claudia LawsonFor the latest in all things dance, head to fjordreview.com and follow us on Instagram at @fjordreview
Marie Walton Mahon's Personal Best
35:10Marie Walton Mahon has taught and trained literally thousands of dancers here in Australia and around the globe. A dance prodigy in her own right, she was selected as a teenager to train in France with the great Rosella Hightower, and then danced professionally in Marseille, under the artistic directorship of the late, great, Roland Petit. However, her career was unexpectedly cut short and she returned home to Australia. With no career to fall back on she started a tiny dance school with just six students in Newcastle, Australia. Marie went on to create the National College of Dance, training students to the highest level, to enter ballet and contemporary dance schools and companies worldwide. In this beautifully candid interview, Marie talks about her own career, her journey to becoming a teacher, her family, and how she co-founded and grew the global phenomenon that is Progressing Ballet Technique. Hosted by @byclaudialawsonFor the latest in all things dance, head to fjordreview.com and follow us on Instagram at @fjordreview
Lana Jones Gives Back
26:00Lana Jones' journey in ballet seems like the dream run for many aspiring youngsters. As a teenager, she won the silver medal at the international ballet competition, the Genée Awards in London, was accepted into the Australian Ballet School, graduated dux and was accepted straight into the Australian Ballet Company. From there, the dream continued. She rose through the ranks, won the Telstra Ballet Dancer of the Year Award, married a fellow dancer and was promoted to Principal.Known for her incredible stage presence and exquisite technique, she has danced almost every role from Odette-Odile in Swan Lake to Aurora in David McAllister's Sleeping Beauty. In this beautifully honest interview, Lana talks about her life in ballet, but she talks about so much more. She opens up about her journey to becoming a mum, while still a principal dancer, the challenges of returning to the stage after the birth of her son, her decision to retire, and now her incredible journey to finding a new career as a midwife.For the latest in all things dance, head to fjordreview.com and follow us on Instagram at @fjordreview