Over the past few weeks, Australia’s long-awaited Ballet International Gala (BIG) event brought in world-class dancers from some of the globe’s most acclaimed ballet companies, including The Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre (ABT), Astana Opera and Queensland Ballet. One such principal ballerina who has been gracing Australia’s stages during BIG is ABT’s Skylar Brandt.
She and her partner, fellow ABT Principal Aran Bell, wowed the crowds down under with their technically challenging and incredibly expressive dancing in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire. Brandt is a petite powerhouse, and we’re always amazed by (and envious of!) her long, controlled balances and smooth, endless pirouettes. (If you’ve never seen them, follow her immediately on Instagram: @skylarbrandt.)
Dance Informa chatted with Brandt about her time abroad in Australia, what it was like sharing the stage with an incredible cast, and her secrets for her incredible balances and turns. Read on to learn more from this stunning ballerina!
What was it like being in Australia for the Ballet International Gala?
“It has been so lovely being here in Australia for BIG! This series of gala performances was one of the most professional productions of which I’ve ever been a part. The sheer fact that I am here during a pandemic really speaks to the level of commitment by producers Joel Burke, Khalid Tarabay and Beck Phillips, bringing international artists to the Queensland area for so many cultural performances. It’s incredible to see the initiative they took to get all of the dancers here in a safe and sure way.”
Have you ever been to Australia before? What were you most looking forward to about this trip, and what do you love most about the country?
“I actually performed in Brisbane at the same venue when I came with American Ballet Theatre in 2014. I absolutely loved everything about that tour. The Queensland Performing Arts Center is perfect for ballet, and Brisbane has so much to offer. I remember landing here and going straight to the koala and kangaroo sanctuary to help fight the jet-lag. It was amazing to see the varied wildlife that exists here. I ate so much delicious food and encountered the loveliest people in Brisbane when I last came. Everything from on stage to off is splendid, so I was really looking forward to coming back. Presently, the thing I love most about the country is the weather. Australian summer certainly beats NYC winter!”
What were you performing in the Gala?
“I was performing an excerpt from the ballet, Le Corsaire. I was most looking forward to dancing this pas de deux, as it represents the very essence of classical ballet with all of its artistic and technical demands. Each time Aran Bell and I perform it, we push the envelope further and further by adding more complex partnering moves to the pas de deux and trickier steps to our individual variations. Le Corsaire is a very challenging piece to dance, but the audience loves it, so that makes it all worth it. I was also performing the White Swan pas de deux with Royal Ballet Principal Alexander Campbell. This was a last-minute addition to the rep for me, as another couple from The Royal Ballet was unable to get their paperwork back in time to be able to travel here for the shows. I met Alexander for the first time when he arrived here in Brisbane, we rehearsed the day we met, and then we went on stage the following evening. The ballet world is never without a dull moment!”
What is it like to have so many incredible dancers from all over the world in one performance together?
“This is a major reason that I find traveling internationally for performances so wonderful; I am able to meet other dancers from all over the world and exchange stories, tips and laughs with them. It is on trips like these that one forms friendships and bonds that are everlasting. I have no doubt that if ever I am to see the members of this cast again, it will feel like no time has passed. Not to mention the fact that it is incredibly inspiring to witness these world class artists rehearse and perform.”
You are the balancing and pirouette Queen! What are your secrets to good, long balances and many controlled pirouettes? Did they always come naturally to you, or were they something you had to work on?
“Thank you! I’ve always had an affinity for turning and balancing and therefore, I practiced each of them a lot as a kid. There was plenty of trial and error in order to discover what worked best, but even now, I continue to refine those things to make sure that they are both consistent and look aesthetically correct. I think that the control comes mostly from the placement of the rib cage over the hips and the connection of the belly button to the spine. The torso and back really contribute to the success of these steps. The mind also has to be strong. Confidence and fearlessness are crucial for onstage success in turning and balancing.”
What are some of your must-have items in your dance bag, especially when you’re traveling overseas?
“It’s not specific to my dance bag, but whenever I travel internationally, I always pack my prescription medications. It’s important for me to have them on me in case I get the flu, or a respiratory or eye infection, etc., especially in a foreign country. Other than that, the rest of my packing remains more or less the same!”
What’s next for you after the Gala and returning back to NYC?
“When I return to NYC, I will resume rehearsals with ABT in preparation for several upcoming tours and our Spring Season at the Metropolitan Opera House. I am most excited to be debuting Don Quixote and Swan Lake this year. Once I’m home, I will work intensively with my coaches Irina Dvorovenko and Max Beloserkovsky on these roles.”
By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.