Not every young farm roustabout dreams of gracing the stage of Australia Ballet’s famed productions performing to scores by musical geniuses such as Tchaikovsky.
But for James McDonell it’s becoming a reality as he prepares to perform across regional Australia for the next few weeks, taking him from the family farm in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges to the center of the troupe’s Swan Lake Variations, choreographed by the Australian Ballet’s former artistic director David McAllister.
McDonell, 19, grew up in the country surrounded by dogs, cats, some pet sheep, and alpacas, and started dancing at the age of nine at a local dance school in Riddells Creek.
Speaking to ABC Central Victoria, McDonell said he loved the feeling of being on stage and being able to use his body to express emotion and make people feel something.
“I kind of realized that it suited my body,” he said.
“And I just loved the way it felt. And as the years went on, it really resonated with me in my body and how the lines that you can make with your body and shapes and how movement can be created with your body.
“I love the aesthetic of it, really, the way of transforming your body to make stunning shapes, and then being able to show that to an audience as well. I think that’s the pinnacle thing for me.”
A great teacher matters
It was under the guidance of his first dance tutor, Val Sparshot, that McDonell began to find his love of ballet after trying his hand at tap and jazz.
“She kind of pushed me to do ballet because it wasn’t really the top of my list. I started doing jazz and tap and for two years straight she would say, ‘Do ballet, do ballet’. And I was like, ‘ Nah, not really me’,” he said.
“And then she finally convinced me, and I started ballet, and then from there, I was like, ‘Oh, this isn’t actually too bad. I kind of like this’.”
In 2015, he moved to The Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School at the age of 12 where he stayed for five years before joining The Australian Ballet School in 2020.
pinnacle of dance
Swan Lake Variations is a classical piece celebrating the joy of dance and the beauty of Tchaikovsky’s famous score. This will be the second time McDonell takes to the stage across regional towns after performing with the company last year.
“I have had to sacrifice, I guess you could say, a normal life,” McDonell said.
“I trained six days a week, 8:30am until 6pm. So that comes with sacrificing things most people my age would be going out or doing. But I can’t afford to be doing that as much as others.”
Regional audiences will also get the opportunity to see dancers perform the exciting Flames of Paris Pas de Deux and the dramatic dance sequence Pas d’Action from La Bayadère.
McDonell will join the Australian Ballet’s regional tour as it stops over in Bendigo on August 5 and 6 for three performances at the Ullumbarra Theater and a youth masterclass.
“I know my parents are coming, but I’m sure others might accompany them as well,” he said.