Ararat ballerina: 20-years at the top
Published in The Ararat Advocate, Ararat's weekly newspaper published by West Vic News Pty Ltd.
ARARAT ballerina, Amy Harris, returned to the Ararat Town Hall stage on the weekend to reflect on her journey from Ararat to the pinnacle of Australian ballet.
She is celebrating 20-years with The Australian Ballet Company this year, but her journey began long before she graced the stage of Melbourne’s State Theatre.
She first pulled on a leotard at the Rosengreen School of Dance in Barkly Street, Ararat at the age of three.
It was an after-school activity that Ms Harris enjoyed like many other young girls and boys, with no intention of ending up at the top.
“If you had asked me when I was three and a half whether I'd last this long, or even 10 years ago, I would have said no way,” Ms Harris said.
“It was just a hobby back then, an after-school activity which grew very quickly into a love.”
By the age of 10, she was sacrificing afternoons in the classroom for the Carole Oliver School of Ballet in Ballarat.
“And then that just introduced me to the world of Melbourne and beyond.”
It was only five years later in 1999 that she successfully auditioned for The Australian Ballet School, joining the company in 2002.
Twenty years on she is straightening her tutu and posing for the Advocate’s camera with her mum, Chris Harris, sister, Karly Harris, husband and Senior Artist at The Australian Ballet, Jarryd Madden - and their two children, Willow (6) and Phoenix (1).
The last six years have been the most testing but rewarding for Ms Harris, welcoming her two children into the world, and gaining a new perspective on life.
“It's not all about you. I have my ballerina hat on, and I have my mummy hat on, and I can really just change them now.”
The work following her pregnancies wasn’t easy, recovering physically and rebuilding muscle strength. But motherhood had given her more emotional depth and a new sense of calm.
“You come back and your dancing is richer, you have more to draw on.”
Willow’s birth also gave the dancer the push to have the tough conversations about her future, “reigniting everything,” she said.
Ms Harris had been a senior artist for seven years but the progression to the company’s highest level – a principal artist – seemed out of reach.
“It got to that point where I felt like my career kind of plateaued. There were roles where I thought I'd love that challenge, or I need that challenge, but I wasn't getting that.”
“When you don't hear the answer that you’re kind of wanting, you think this isn't going to happen. And it's hard, it's hard to swallow.”
Ms Harris had given up on the possibility until the opening night of Spartacus where she performed in Tertulla, in 2018.
“Our director walked out on stage... not thinking that he was going to walk out and promote me to principal artist,” she said.
“And it happened, and I was gob smacked. I think it took years to settle in.”
She has only been able to rise to the occasion and the challenges associated with the principal role now, after a year recovering from her son’s birth and another forced year off the stage during the pandemic.
“So, coming back to (Summertime at the Ballet) at the start of this year, it was full of excitement, but also emotion. It was the emotion of, oh my God, we got through this.”
Ms Harris played the lead role of Nikiya in a scene from La Bayadere which features 32 ballerinas, under the guidance of new artistic director, David Hallberg, at the end of last month.
“And right now, we're preparing to head up to Sydney for what is our normal season in terms of it being in April, May, and being away for seven weeks on tour.”
It will be a new challenge for Ms Harris’ family, separated by work and school, however, the smile on her face encapsulated her anticipation to return to the Opera House as a principal.
Ararat will very much be on her mind as she performs, knowing that the support of her local community and the years of dancing at the Town Hall were part of the journey.
“I'm really humbled by how much everyone has supported [my dream]. I'll never forget Ararat being the beginning. It's my family, it's my home, it's where it all began and it's where everyone still is,” she said.
Ms Harris has no immediate plans for her final bow. She still has energy and enthusiasm left in the tank, and even when the time comes, she said dance will always be part of her life.
“I'm going to go for as long as the body lets me and of course, my mind. It's hard to tell (what is next), but I don't want ballet to not be a part of my life. It just gives me that real fire in my belly.”
Her message to a young Amy Harris dreaming of a career in ballet, if you’ve got a dream don’t let anyone discredit it – “go for it.”