Normally our "Dancers Without Borders" are dancers who have left Australia to pursue a career overseas. This article looks at a reverse journey. George-Murray Nightingale, a 21-year-old dancer from Warrington, a town in the north-west of England), who has moved 16,000 km to Melbourne to take up a position in the corps de ballet of the Australia Ballet.
Nightingale’s interest in dance began when as a toddler, when he would wait outside his older sister’s dance class. “My mum said I was just glued to the door,” he explains. As soon as he was old enough he began baby ballet classes – and hasn’t stopped dancing since!
At the age of 11 young George successfully auditioned for The Hammond , a vocational performing arts school in Chester, small city close to northern border of Wales, receiving a full scholarship. This was a huge step for a boy who had only taken dance classes once a week up until then. “It felt like Fame Academy. To be able to do dance class every day and get a private education, I felt incredibly lucky -- no one from where I’m from had been given a chance to do that.”
After five years at The Hammond, or “The Hogwarts for Dance”, as Nightingale calls it, he moved to London take up a place at the English National Ballet School, where he had many opportunities to work with the English National Ballet company. In his second year Nightingale competed in the Cecchetti Classical Ballet Vocational Awards, winning Promising Young Dancer and qualifying to compete at the final in Richmond, Virginia, in the United States.
After graduating in 2015 Nightingale was offered a contract with the National Romanian Ballet, then under the artistic direction of Johan Kobborg. Nightingale moved to Bucharest and a new culture and language – “Romanian is not the easiest language”, he jokes.
“I had the most amazing time. I was dancing repertoire I didn’t think I would have ever touched in my first year.” Performing on stage with the company’s star ballerina, Alina Cojocaru, was also a huge highlight.
In April 2016 Kobborg resigned from the company. On top of this Nightingale snapped a ligament in his ankle and was not offered any medical or physio support. He “took a leap of faith”, resigning from the company and returning to the UK to undertake a rehabilitation program.
Back at home there was nowhere locally for Nightingale to take classes, so each day he would take a six-hour round trip to London. In July, a friend mentioned that the Australian Ballet was in town and holding an audition. “At that time I wasn’t even thinking about a job”, he says. “I was so focused on getting fit that I thought, ‘it’s a free class, I have to do that’. I got down to the last five boys, and that’s when it hit me that this could actually happen.”
The audition went well but Nightingale heard no more, so accepted a six-month contract with the Royal Ballet of Flanders. During his first week in Belgium, he received an e-mail from artistic director David McAllister offering him a position. “The moment my contract finished in Belgium I drove back to the UK with my suitcases and got on a 5am flight to Melbourne.”
In Melbourne Nightingale hit the ground running, having 10 days to learn Sleeping Beauty before going on tour. This speed “helped me get used to the company”. “I have never fitted into a company so easily! The office staff and medical team are amazing – I have never had that anywhere else.” A huge highlight has been getting to know dancers in person whom he has seen and followed on social media, and through initiatives such as World Ballet Day. “I kept pretending I didn’t know already who they were,” he confesses.
The weather is also a big plus for Nightingale, “coming from countries that were freezing [in February] and going from layers to shorts and t-shirts was amazing.” He is loving his work with the company so far and can’t wait for the rest of the season.
Nightingale would love one day to dance Oberon in Ashton’s The Dream. “I absolutely adore it,” he says. “For male dancers, tricks are really important but that role has a power that is not all about tricks – the power is in his elegance.”
Having left home at 11, Nightingale is used to being away from his family, but juggling the new time difference to stay in touch has proved a challenge. “Facetime is a revelation,” he says. “I am very lucky with the family that I have, they’re so supportive and accommodating and they have always put me first. They have put things that they have wanted to do aside so I could be here – I am so grateful.”
- CAROLINE HAMILTON
Pictured: George-Murray Nightingale photographed by Tim Cross.
This article first appeared in the October/November 2017 issue of 'Dance Australia'.