The life of a bal­let pioneer

Talia Carlisle speaks to Royal New Zealand Bal­let prin­ci­pal Sir Jon Trim­mer about dys­lexia, grow­ing fruit trees and how to keep fit at 74.

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS -

Do you have good mem­o­ries of your child­hood?

I was born in Pe­tone and grew up in the area now called Po­mare. I’m one of six chil­dren – three boys and three girls. We all danced around at home and sang. My mum danced in mu­si­cals when she was young and my dad played the vi­o­lin in or­ches­tras. He danced around with us, too. Where did you go to school? I went to Wilford School in Pe­tone and Taita North School. I didn’t en­joy school at all. Why’s that? Be­ing dyslexic wasn’t very nice. They didn’t know what to do about it – they didn’t re­ally know what it was back then.

What did you do school?

I al­ways painted and drew so, I went to Welling­ton Tech [ now Welling­ton High School] be­cause they had an ex­cel­lent art school. Then I took a job in a commercial art firm for a year. I was the youngest one there. What did you do at the firm? It was ba­si­cally for slides that were shown be­fore movies. They were used in ev­ery pic­ture theatre. I did that for a year, then joined the bal­let com­pany in 1958.

When did you start learn­ing bal­let?

I had been dancing all my life, but started learn­ing when I was 12. One of my sis­ters was about 15 years older than me. She had danced in pro­fes­sional mu­si­cals and when she re­tired she started teach­ing. I’d go along and join in.

Did you al­ways want to be a bal­let dancer?

When I was 8 I wanted to be in mu­si­cals like my sis­ter. Singing, dancing and act­ing. The whole fam­ily would go to the Opera House ev­ery time the opera com­pany was in Welling­ton. I loved the songs and the dancing, the bright colours of the cos­tumes. When we’d go home my younger sis­ter and I would re­mem­ber the lines and per­form them our­selves at home. It was all great fun.

Did your other sib­lings be­come dancers?

My el­dest sis­ter was. My next el­dest sis­ter trav­elled the world play­ing clas­si­cal jazz and har­mon­ica. My younger sis­ter took up ball­room dancing. She and her hus­band ran a dance stu­dio in Lower Hutt for many years. My older brother sang for a while and my younger brother acted for many years with Down­stage. Were you close? Ab­so­lutely. We’re spread out all over the place and mostly re­tired now. But not you. I don’t get up and throw my­self around, but I do per­form. I play older men, older damsels and witches. The witches are the best.

af­ter

Is it tough main­tain­ing a ca­reer in bal­let?

You have to work hard for many years to get to a good stan­dard, and have the right men­tal­ity. There are so many more dancers around these days, it’s not as easy as it was to get work. You have to work much harder to get a po­si­tion in a com­pany. But it’s def­i­nitely worth it.

‘I’ve had the most won­der­ful time for 56 years. Wow. How do you keep fit? I do my stretches ev­ery day. They’re a mix of bal­let and yoga, but I don’t do a bal­let class at 74.

Has the bal­let com­pany changed much since you joined?

The whole coun­try has changed. We were a pop­u­la­tion of only two mil­lion in the late 1950s. I joined the New Zealand Bal­let Com­pany in 1958 at 18. There were only 10 dancers in the com­pany and no stage crew, so we dancers had to set up the scenery and lights and fix the cos­tumes.

It took an­other two years be­fore the com­pany got a big enough grant to have a stage crew. By 1960 there would’ve been about 30 dancers. What are you most proud of? It’s ab­so­lutely won­der­ful I’ve got a knight­hood. It’s ex­cel­lent pub­lic­ity for the bal­let com­pany. Some of the most en­joy­able mem­o­ries would’ve been the royal com­mand per­for­mances. We per­formed for the English royal fam­ily, the Fin­nish royal fam­ily and the royal fam­ily of Monaco.

Have you al­ways lived in Welling­ton?

I lived in Lon­don for three years and per­formed for Sadler’s Wells and then came back. I was also in the Aus­tralian Bal­let and the Royal Dan­ish Bal­let, but I would al­ways re­turn to the New Zealand com­pany. Do you travel for fun? My wife Jac­qui and I don’t go away of­ten be­cause life has been a long set of trav­els, but if we go away we go to Italy.

What do you do in your time off?

I try to make my gar­den in Paekakariki look tidy, but it doesn’t al­ways work. I’ve ex­per­i­mented with plants. I have lots of fruit trees, in­clud­ing or­anges, lemons, man­darins, limes, ba­nanas and sug­ar­cane. I still do a lot of paint­ing. When I lived over­seas I painted there as well. Now and then I have ex­hi­bi­tions.

Do you find art a con­trast to dancing?

Men­tally I find it an ex­ten­sion of per­form­ing, only once you’ve fin­ished you can see the prod­uct, whereas with a per­for­mance you do it and once it’s fin­ished it’s gone.

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