There’s a bad joke about how gardening is the slowest of the performing arts.
In all seriousness, though, ballet is one of the most physically demanding and disciplined. And for dancer-slash-choreographer Alice Topp, it’s also deeply creative.
Off the back of her appointment as The Australian Ballet’s newest Resident Choreographer, and news of her direction of the company’s only contemporary ballet on the recently revealed 2019 program, we dropped into the Australian Ballet’s dance studios in Melbourne to meet Alice and talk dance moves, dance as therapy and getting creative with a super traditional artform.
You’ve been dancing since you were four, how did it all begin?
My Mum taught—it wasn’t really a dance class or ballet—it was kind of just movement to music in a little hall in Bendigo where I grew up. It wasn’t anything I ever took seriously as a four-year-old!
But when I first got into ballet at eight it was very disciplined and academic and technical. To have started dance when I was younger to get a sense of the physicality and the feeling of being able to express yourself through dance is probably where it stuck for me.
Something that I’ve always enjoyed is the creative side—I enjoy that component more than the technical side. I think being creative is a way of life and I think it definitely permeates everything I do.
So would you say the transition from dancing into choreography was quite a natural thing?
Yeah, I never set out to be a choreographer. When I created my first piece it was little like lastminute.com. There was a woman who’d pulled out and we hadn’t had a female create a work in the choreographic season called BodyTorque for a few years [and so I was approached for the job]. It wasn’t something I saw in myself but I agreed to do it because it was an incredible opportunity—though I had no idea what I would do or what I would talk about!
It was quite the discovery and surprise for me and it’s the been most rewarding journey to this point.
Favourite piece of choreography ever?
As a dancer, a lot of the works I’ve done have probably somehow informed the way I create. I’ve worked with some incredible choreographers during my time with The Australian Ballet. I think all of those experiences definitely permeated the way I develop movement and influenced my choreographic voice.
As a dancer, I’ve had the great opportunity of learning how to choreograph at the same time, so I’ve been able to observe the processes of other people and how they develop ideas and it’s been incredible for me to have that opportunity.
I think the risks that other people take give you permission to take risks yourself.
Where do you draw your dance inspiration from?
Your everyday life, your experiences, your stories your scars… they definitely inform the work too. You’re putting a piece of yourself out there in the world. I think to have found something [dance] that I was passionate about that was physical as well as creative was my outlet and since then choreography has been my art therapy; a way to escape and that’s been my thing.
You’re based between Sydney and Melbourne. Where do you go for extracurricular dancing when you’re up here in Sydney?
We perform until quite late, so if we head out it’d be on a Saturday night on Oxford Street somewhere! But for activities I love Golden Age—I love that area with Chin Chin and Longrain too. I only get Sundays off, so on a Sunday afternoon I’ll head down there and get some popcorn and wine then see a film. It’s just the best way to unwind.
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Image credit: Kate Longely.