An average day in the life of Dimity Azoury, a soloist of The Australian Ballet, is physically intense. She starts with a quick swim or cycle with husband and fellow company dancer Rudy Hawkes. This is followed by a Pilates session. Then her work day begins with a morning ballet class. She spends the afternoon rehearsing the company’s upcoming production, in this case a triple bill of three contemporary works for the new program, Vitesse. The three works are Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV©: Danse à grande vitesse; Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián’s lyrical and yearning piece Forgotten Land; and William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, another exciting, demanding and super-quick contemporary work.
She has a short dinner break, then it’s back to Pilates. Then it’s a quick change and some warm-up barre before she’s on stage performing a totally different production by in-demand choreographer Alexei Ratmansky – a classical three-act ballet, Cinderella.
For most of us, just the idea of rehearsing and performing four different productions in one day is exhausting. But Azoury doesn’t see it that way. “That’s what we’re trained to do,” she says. “Mentally, it can be difficult when you’re learning lots and lots of things, and that can add to the exhaustion, but I’ve never really thought about it.”
Despite being in last year’s fast and furious Twyla Tharp ballet, In the Upper Room, which demands immense stamina, Azoury is finding Vitesse rehearsals challenging.
Azoury has an energetic pas de deux (when two dancers perform together alone) in Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV©: Danse à grande vitesse . It’s choreographed to an urgent, speedy score by Michael Nyman, composed to commemorate France’s high-speed train, the TGV, curiously enough. The dancers have enjoyed a rare treat – the British choreographer himself has been taking them through their paces.
“I find the pas de deux extremely difficult, stamina wise,” Azoury says. “I think it’s about different ballets working different muscles, and that brings a different type of fitness.”
In addition to Vitesse, the company has been rehearsing two productions of the classical ballet Swan Lake. It opened Australian choreographer Stephen Baynes’s ultra-traditional ballet in Sydney in April, and will tour Graeme Murphy’s beloved adaptation to London in July.
“As hard as the contemporary ballets are, there’s nothing as hard as the classical works, where you have to make it look completely effortless when it’s actually not, it’s really hard,” Azoury says.
Key to remembering the innumerable steps is muscle memory; the physical movement is imprinted on the dancers’ brains, and is instantly recalled through music. This can pose a problem when you are rehearsing two shows to the same music, and requires the dancer to consciously think of the movement required, rather than respond instinctively.
Remarkably, Azoury can only recall one time when her memory failed her.
“It was during Murphy’s Swan Lake, in Japan. I’ve done it a million times before and all of a sudden my mind went completely blank. It was the most awful experience. Luckily I was one of 16 swans, so I literally copied the others, but I felt very exposed. It’s a scary feeling. But I think one blank in eight years isn’t too bad.”
The Australian Ballet’s Vitesse runs from April 26 to May 16 at the Sydney Opera House.
Stephen Baynes’s Swan Lake runs at the Sydney Opera House until April 20.