‘It’s the dream of a lifetime’: Australian ballet star Callum Linnane puts her best foot forward | Ballet
NOTFew people are promoted in front of thousands of fans. For dancer Callum Linnane, becoming a principal artist of the Australian Ballet is an ambition he has had since the age of 12. “It was kind of a lifelong dream. But, for my own preservation, I always told myself that tonight was not the evening.
It was one night. At the end of the Melbourne premiere of Yuri Possokhov’s Anna Karenina, after dancing the role of Count Vronsky with a mixture of unscrupulous enthusiasm and carnal ferocity, Linnane found himself center stage as the The ballet’s artistic director, David Hallberg, made an announcement. Linnane didn’t know what was going on until he heard his name. “I didn’t really understand until he started talking about courage and determination and then it occurred to me that it was about a promotion. It completely pissed me off. floored,” he said.
Linnane’s promotion to principal was not such a shock to the public who had just witnessed his powerful and sensual portrayal of one of literature’s greatest cads, nor to anyone who had been following his career for some time. years. The 26-year-old has been dancing since he was seven, landing roles like the Prince in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella, the eponymous character in John Neumeier’s biographical ballet Nijinsky, and Albrecht in Maina Gielgud’s Giselle – not to mention of his brilliant work in a number of contemporary pieces by great choreographers such as the British Wayne McGregor and the Australian Alice Topp.
Exactly what elevation to lead artist gives Linnane, who by her own admission has already danced her fair share of lead roles, seems hard to quantify. Apart from the obvious advantages: “I have a new dressing room! I’m sure there are small contractual things. And you become a leader, which I take very seriously.
It was a role he saw fellow lead artist Adam Bull, who on opening night danced as Vronsky’s rival Karenin, become; one of the advantages of training at the ballet school is the in-depth knowledge of the professional requirements of the company. “Adam became manager when I was 12, and he was so welcoming, lovely and open to new people. And it really touched me. You put these dancers on a pedestal. He wants his own heritage to reflect the warmth and openness of Bull, so that “everyone in the company feels welcome and, as a group, we can do our best” .
The precarious balance between group solidarity and individual excellence (the source of great creative tension in any ballet company) is one that Hallberg seems to have upset during his short tenure as head of the Australian Ballet. Top dancers such as Kevin Jackson left the company soon after Hallberg took over and while new soloists like Linnane have a chance to shine, the key transformation has been in the body. Accuracy and synchronicity have improved dramatically, but it hasn’t come at the expense of lyricism or individual expression. As a company, they have never been better.
Linnane calls Hallberg, who became her mentor, “a born leader.”
“He promotes this idea that hard work pays off. It creates an environment where everyone is at their best,” says Linnane. There is something frightening about the resemblance between the two men: they both have similar builds, with incredibly long limbs; their alabaster skin is almost translucent; and those penetrating, hooded eyes give the two dancers an air of studied insouciance, a bit like Nureyev and Baryshnikov. It’s not inconceivable that Linnane could be heading towards the kind of star career that Hallberg had before stepping down to take the job at the Australian Ballet.
A necessary trait for this type of professional trajectory is tenacity, something that virtually every dancer in the world has had to discover during two years of continuous confinement. Initially, Linnane embarked on a period of intense self-improvement: “I would take ballet lessons at home, then go for a run, and come back to do pilates and strength training. And it lasted about three and a half weeks.
Then, like many, her motivation suddenly plummeted and “it’s just a matter of survival.” A period of readjustment followed, as Linnane got used to a life without performance, without the stress, anxiety and ups that life can bring.
“And then David took over, so right in the middle of it all, we suddenly had a freshness, a feeling that the company was heading in a new direction. It just took me out of this funk that I was in. I was put at home,” he says. “From then on, I got back into it.”
It was a timely reminder that existence could not be all on ballet, even though her career seems to be going particularly well. Linnane is acutely aware of the mental pitfalls that come with tying your identity to one aspect of your life and seems determined to extend his artistic feelers in all directions. He enjoys music, literature and is “a member of almost every cinema in Melbourne”. “If you want to be an artist,” he says, “you have to surround yourself with art.”
Landing the role of the cruel but seductive Count Vronsky was actually a rather daily process. “I remember Yuri [Possokhov] came out of San Francisco in 2019 and he was just sitting and watching us do a ballet class. I don’t think we even rehearse a show. After he left, a casting sheet came out. We didn’t even audition.
Playing Vronsky meant Linnane could bask in her love of film and literature and still call it work. “I read Anna Karenina, of course, and watched two film adaptations. I am for research. And it’s not really a punishment. Learning the role is largely a matter of technique, at least in the beginning. “When you learn the work, you’re really only dealing with movement, learn the pas de deux [a dance duet] and try to understand. But when you put it in context, there’s a real kind of rawness, a real honesty.
There’s a pas de deux in the second act, where Anna and Vronsky escape the social constraints of Russia for Italy, only to find that their love has turned into a psychosexual prison for two. As danced by Linnane and fellow lead artist Robyn Hendricks, it’s a searing, almost vicious moment. “There are a lot of things hanging over this moment,” Linnane acknowledges. “If they had said ‘We’re having a good time in Rome, let’s have a few more limoncellos and finish the night off’, the story wouldn’t have happened. It’s one of my favorite parts of ballet – you can really feel the decadence setting in.
Decay is a process Linnane shouldn’t worry about for long, given that her career is only just beginning to mature. While there are roles he covets — “I really want to do Romeo, I really want to do Onegin” — he seems content with his new position, relishing the collaborations a stellar figure like Hallberg attracts into the business. The people he long admired from afar are now his peers, something he still struggles with.
“Every day I have to tell myself that now is the time to calm down, take stock and be grateful,” he says. “It makes me laugh sometimes. I think, ‘My god, this really happened.’ “