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Frances Thompson
Newcastle Herald
Date: 05/12/2009

 

Daniel Roberge knows professional dance can be a physically and emotionally demanding career.  There are no stars in the young Cardiff Heights dancer’s eyes but the excitement that bubbles to the surface when Roberge talks about the year ahead is hard to contain.

At 18, Roberge is on the threshold of his career.

It begins in March at the Washington Ballet but first comes the Youth America Grand Prix in New York City. It is said to be the world’s largest international student ballet competition.  “I am going straight to the finals in New York City,” Roberge said.

“In that competition you gain a lot of exposure. There are company directors from the biggest companies around the world.

“It is a . . . competition to gain scholarships into schools and also for work, if somebody likes you.”

And they do like.

Roberge was offered a fast track to the finals after directors looked at his audition tape. In September, Roberge won a silver medal in the British Royal Academy of Dance Genee Awards in Singapore. “I can’t believe that I did so well,” Roberge said at the time.

The young man started dancing at about the age of five and continued in jazz and hip-hop until he saw a performance by the Australian Ballet when he was 13 or 14. “That was a bit of an inspiration to learn classical ballet.”

But it was to be another two years before he started classical dancing.

Roberge, a former student of the Hunter School of Performing Arts, says that to begin learning the classical form in teenage years is considered a late start for a dancer.  He saw how much faster classical students some of whom might have begun learning when they were not much beyond the toddler years were advancing in competence compared with him.

“I felt left behind.”

After gaining the School Certificate, he was offered a scholarship at the National College of Dance at the Marie Walton-Mahon Dance Academy at Lambton and his classical dance education began in earnest. “Before the last two years I had almost no idea about classical.”

This may be a unique advantage for Roberge. “I feel like I’m fresh to classical ballet. A lot of people get worn out and uninspired to go further, because of the physical demands. “The steps derive from a couple of hundred years ago and have been pushed further in pure classical ballet. I am still challenging myself to go higher.”

Roberge has certainly paid his dues and shown a commitment to dance. He appeared in Star Struck and at 11 was in the musical Oliver! at Star City Casino. Roberge had to move out of his Cardiff Heights home because of the length of the show’s Sydney season.

He knows the pressures of the discipline and says having a break from dancing is a priority. “You can’t have your whole life consumed, otherwise it sends you insane. Once it’s Friday, that’s time for me to stop thinking about the dance. That is the secret in going further in the ballet world, because it really gets quite demanding.

“A lot of people don’t make it.”

Roberge also has a plan for life after dance. His diploma from the college entitles him to university entrance in the future. “I have always been thinking about life after dancing, because it can’t go on forever. You need to make the right decisions at the start.”

The history of Australian dance is full of stories about male ballet dancers’ horrific experiences of bullying and teasing over their choice of career. Perhaps it is the success of mainstream television dance shows or the development of modern dance, through companies such as the Bangarra Dance Theatre, that have broadened public interest.

Roberge said he’s never had any trouble. “I was at the Hunter School of Performing Arts since the age of about eight or nine and even when I left I had a group of friends and I’m meeting new people and telling them about dance, and they are always looking at the more positive aspects.”

Three other Marie Walton-Mahon Dance Academy students have been selected for the Youth America Grand Prix in New York: Melanie Smith, Henrietta Ellice-Flint and Olivia Heyworth. Ellice-Flint, a boarder from Adelaide at the college, will continue travelling with Roberge after the New York competitions.

The close bonds of Roberge’s friendships, forged from an early age in a common love of performance and the arts, have started to loosen now the young group are going different ways. “Friends are bit of issue for me at the moment. My friend Henrietta is coming with me to Washington.”

Another male friend has a job dancing at a Disney resort in Tokyo, he said.

“It is the start of real life. It is a bit daunting.”

Students from Marie Walton-Mahon Dance Academy and the National College of Dance will present their Night To Remember concert at the Civic Theatre on Saturday, December 12.

 

© 2009 Newcastle Herald

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