“You should do this job… you should get a job like this one.”
Funnily enough, it was an off-hand comment in a post-performance chat with his then boss David McAllister that first turned former Australian Ballet dancer Robert Curran’s thoughts towards the possibility of a future career as the director of a ballet company. As a dancer with the Australian Ballet for sixteen years (ten of which he was ranked as a principal) Curran drew attention for his consummate partnering skills. Looking back now he notes that partnering was always the favourite part of his job as a dancer, saying, “I enjoyed telling stories with other dancers on stage.”
Curran came to the Australian Ballet a couple of years older than many of his peers. As an academic high-achiever his parents insisted he finish high-school (which he did at Sydney’s McDonald College) before moving to Melbourne to take up the position at the Australian Ballet School (ABS) he had been offered a few years earlier. “I would have loved to have taken it at the time it was offered,” he says, but looking back now, he appreciates the value of what he learnt in school by delaying his entry to intensive pre-professional training. As it was he completed the ABS’s then three year course in only two years, and suspects that being a few years older, and thus a bit more physically developed upon joining the company, likely contributed to his strength and assurance as a partner.
As a goal-orientated and driven individual, Robert was always interested in more than just performing. Finding he had relatively more time on his hands as a principal dancer than he’d had in the lower ranks, he undertook a Bachelor of Business and co-founded the project-based dance initiative JACK productions (with Lucas Jervies, Andrew Killian and Laura Message) as a way of giving young contemporary choreographers the opportunity to work with classical dancers.
Following his retirement from the Australian Ballet, Curran worked with Bangarra Dance Theatre for a year as rehearsal director, and then spent a year travelling, learning, thinking about his next career move and exploring what different dance companies were doing around the world. When he saw an advertisement for the position of artistic director at Louisville Ballet he felt compelled to apply and has now been artistic director and executive director of Louisville Ballet for just over five years. (The two positions were combined for financial reasons shortly after Robert joined as artistic director.)
Louisville Ballet is a much smaller company than The Australian Ballet. With around 25 dancers on 30 week contracts (which is the norm for ballet dancers in America) he is conscious of delivering the types of programs that the Louisville community wants and needs. He is “most proud of our commitment to new work – 72% of the works that make up the 2019-20 season are new.” And he has worked towards building philanthropy and sponsorship to financially support Louisville Ballet’s activities, noting that they have managed to increase from a 3.2 million dollar budget when he joined to a 5.1 million dollar one now.
While there was an initial learning curve in adjusting to what’s possible with a smaller company, Robert feels strongly that when Louisville Ballet provides adequate context and information about the programming – ensuring that audiences are not made to feel stupid – their work is embraced by the community at large.
Although there are no Australian dancers in Louisville Ballet at this point, keep watching because there may well be in the near future. Curran mentions former Australian Ballet School student Xavier Pellin as definitely someone he is keen to take on-board if all the international visa requirements can be met.
While we won’t be seeing Louisville Ballet touring Australia any time soon (. . . it is a very long way away!” Curran laughingly replies when asked about the possibility), audiences in Louisville, Kentucky, will be seeing some new works by Australian choreographers (Lucas Jervies, Tim Harbour and Daniel Riley) in a program called "Antipodes "which was performed in late February this year at The Brown Theatre – Kentucky Center for the Arts.
- GERALDINE HIGGINSON