My Rehearsal Room: Polly Hilton

My Rehearsal Room: Polly Hilton

On getting the job, honouring your colleagues and staying creative. 

Polly Hilton
Perth, Australia

My Rehearsal Room: Polly Hilton

On getting the job, honouring your colleagues and staying creative. 

Let’s start at the beginning, with your introduction to dance. How did you get started in the world of ballet and what do you remember about those first classes you took as a beginner? 

Like every little girl in the 90's, I started toddler ballet with my friends and quit shortly after! But after growing tired of the 500th rerun of Riverdance at home, mum signed me up for ice skating. I loved the music we skated to and I loved the feeling of freedom and power I could get when travelling and turning. I have pretty clear memories of my coach chasing after me, smashing the ground behind my heels with a witches hat saying "FASTER, MOVE!". When we moved to Australia, it was harder to find a good ice rink and the only coach I could find put me into ballet classes with toddlers again even though I was 9. Mum found me a school that I loved, that focussed on musicality and artistry and I hung up the skates for good. 

The life of a professional ballet dancer is rigorous, with an incredible amount of training both in and out of the rehearsal room. Since beginning your career with WAB, what has surprised you about the physicality of working full-time in a professional company? 

I've discovered that your mindset and mental wellbeing has a huge impact on your energy levels and success, perhaps even more so than any of your technical assets. I've seen so many people succeed far beyond expectations riding on their inner confidence, presence, and maturity, where insecurities have held far more technically talented dancers back. Self-belief works wonders for your dancing. I think it was David Dawson who came in and said to us that an audience and a choreographer can 'smell your fear', and it's so true. 

When things are particularly busy, as I imagine they are quite frequently between regular class, preparing for performances and learning new choreography, how do you make sure you’re feeling balanced and on top of your time? Do you have parts of your daily routine where you feel you can switch off and not think about dance at all? 

I think it's important to get together with good work mates over a wine, vent about work, get it all out... and then remind yourselves that you're actually incredibly lucky to be complaining about a job you love!

One thing that helps with my weekly reset is a Sunday catch up with friends and my partner. They have nothing to do with ballet whatsoever and it's so refreshing to put things into perspective, hearing from friends who work in completely different fields. I have a friend who is a nurse and her 'bad day' at work is always 10/10 worse than mine. 

Tell me about learning a brand new role: what is the process for you, within the company, to get a part you haven’t danced before from the rehearsal room to the stage? 

I'm terrible at picking up on the spot, but my long-term memory is quite good. I'll remember something from three years ago better than something you've just shown me!  I really need the time to explore the character and learn the music; I'm really invested in the characterization and musicality of a role. If there's a story derived from a book/film I always try to read the book, watch the movie and if it's an old ballet, watch lots of different ballerinas' interpretations of the character. 

You have a personal interest in choreography - how did that begin and where do you foresee yourself taking that part of your career? Is it something you hope to pursue further? 

We were encouraged to design our own movement at The Australian Ballet School and during my year with The Australian Ballet's education ensemble we had the opportunity to play with choreographic devices. For WAB's Genesis season I decided to try my hand at choreography with a baby step and it was a big eye-opener. It was definitely more difficult than I imagined and I would like to try again with more skills under my belt. I'm certainly not going to be the next choreographic genius, but it's amazing to have the opportunity to design movement for such talented colleagues! I think it takes time to find your voice as a choreographer, but it's a brave thing to try, and it gives you a whole new perspective on how we work and are perceived. 

When you’re working on other choreographers work for most of the year through your company, how do you stay creative and make sure you’re continuously refining your own craft? 

I find working with developed and experienced choreographers very inspiring and watching them work helps me to reflect on my own process. And recently, I've found that I've learned as much from choreographers who haven't cast me as I have from those I've worked directly. I think it's so important not to write someone off just because they 'don't like you' in the arts. It can hurt not be chosen or cast but often, if you can put your personal feelings of 'not being picked' aside, you can learn a new way of working from a choreographer who is seeking a quality you might be lacking, or other people exude and can teach you.  

For young dancers hoping to win a place in a company like WAB, do you have any words of advice? Is there anything you’ve learnt about day-to-day life as a dancer that you wish to share? 

I've learned that the most difficult year in a company is your first. You've finished training, usually long hard hours with a coach every day, and often going from dancing lead roles in repertoire straight to carrying a tray or spending a year understudying. The false sense of security 'getting a job' provides is so dangerous. In my short time in the profession, I've seen so many talented dancers effectively start and finish their career in one year, just by being unprepared for the physical and mental shock of the reality of being an apprentice in a company. My advice to young dancers hoping to get a job is to be prepared. Getting 'the job' is not the end of the road, it's the beginning of a new one, where you have to be your own coach. I believe that ballet is founded upon respect, and I think that you have a duty to the people who chose you, to your colleagues, to yourself and most importantly, to all the other countless hard-working dancers out there who missed out on the job you got, to be worthy of keeping it. 

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