Arts / Home calls as the star ballerina bows out

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Ballerina Madeleine Eastoe in the title role of Giselle. Photo by Dan Boud
Ballerina Madeleine Eastoe in the title role of Giselle. Photo by Jeff Busby

WHEN ballerina Madeleine Eastoe takes her last bow as Giselle in the coming Australian Ballet production at Canberra Theatre, we’ll know it’s the last time we’ll see her on stage here.

After 18 years with the flagship company and, before that, three years at the Australian Ballet School, to which she came at age 15 from Perth, she’s decided to hang up her dancing shoes.

There are “quite a few factors” involved in her decision to retire from the ballet, she tells me by phone just after a dress rehearsal in Sydney, but the main one is that she and her husband, the former Australian Ballet dancer Tim Harbour, have a daughter aged six and touring is taking its toll.

Ballerina Madeleine Eastoe… here to play the lead role in “Giselle”. Photo by James Braund
Ballerina Madeleine Eastoe… here to play the lead role in “Giselle”. Photo by James Braund
“She’s started school and I feel the need to be there,” Eastoe says.

“Often she came on tour and, as a toddler, that was okay, but now it feels important for her to be more stable… we do tour a lot.”

Eastoe danced Odette on the opening night of Graeme Murphy’s “Swan Lake” in London and has toured internationally with the company to China, Singapore, NZ and the US, dancing everything from Juliet to Cinderella.

Looking back to those formative years, from ages 15 to 18, she says: “I never dreamt that it would set me on the path to a milestone such as the one I’m facing now…you grow up in the company.”

So does she have an exit strategy?

“Ballet is an all-consuming occupation,” she says, “I want to spend a bit of time at home before I decide what to do now.

“It’s time for me to be able to work on my identity without the ‘ballerina’ title… when you’re a ballerina there’s a sense of being addicted to being on stage, so there could be some sort of low period I don’t think you can avoid that – maybe it’ll be character building.”

Husband Tim moved into secondary dance teaching of classical ballet, but is also doing choreography for the AB later in the year.

“He’s already experienced what I’m about to go through,” she says

Eastoe has last performed Giselle in the Maina Gielgud production that’ll we’ll be seeing here.

She was promoted to principal dancer with the company when she ascended to the part in 2006.

First premiered in 1841 in Paris, the ballet is a tearjerker tale of love and betrayal totally breaking the rule that ghosts aren’t as interesting as living people on stage.

To Eastoe, playing a role such as Giselle is not just technical.

“I feel more comfortable when there is a real character to play, it helps the movement, it’s much better when you have an emotional response,” she says.

It may have a weepy ending but, as she says, “sometimes that’s more pleasurable to play, because you have to go inside yourself and find your motivation… thank goodness I haven’t died of a broken heart, so you draw on what sadness may have occurred in your life and perhaps the influence of movies and music.”

The Australian Ballet’s “Giselle”, Canberra Theatre, May 21-26, “Behind the Scenes” program for children aged 10 and up. Bookings to or 6275 2700.

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