For 24-year-old ballerina Madeleine Graham, Sunday is usually her only day off. But today the Australian-born, Wellington-based dancer is performing as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet – her first major role since joining the Royal New Zealand Ballet in late 2012. She spoke to Jeremy Olds.
We work just as hard as athletes. Ballet is very physical. It’s six days a week, with Sundays off, but everything you do revolves around your job. You have to always be ready, physically and mentally, to be on your toes.
Sunday is the only day of the week I don’t set an alarm. I try to let my body naturally wake up, which is often earlier than I would like. During the week, I normally wake up at 7.15am, and work until 6pm. This week I have a show, so Sunday will be different to most. But on a typical Sunday, I wouldn’t work. I use the day to get my body ready for the week ahead, but also I have to do the boring things – cleaning, washing, grocery shopping, all that.
No hungover Sunday for me. Balancing work with a social life is hard. I’m not a big partier. I enjoy going out for dinner and having a drink, but nothing too out there. It’s not my idea of a good time, really. If I have to work the next day I won’t go out. But I try to keep a relatively normal life outside of work. I do my best to keep work at work and home at home. It’s no way to live if all you’re living for is your job. You need more. It’s important to appreciate everything the world has to offer besides ballet.
When I’m rehearsing, I usually go through three or four pairs of shoes a week. Every Sunday, I prepare my pointe shoes for the week ahead, sewing on ribbons, elastic, getting all of that organised so I don’t have to do that during the week. It takes 30 minutes to prepare each pair of shoes. When I’m performing I have a new pair for each show. When you’re standing in the shoes, you’re sweating and dancing and stuff, so the shoes break down. You’re on your toes, and they’re taking all your body weight. Around the house I wear Uggs or Birkenstocks – something comfy.
It’s the one day that I like to get creative with what I wear. I wear the clothes I don’t get to wear during the week. I like COS and Bassike – nice classic things that you can wear with anything. I have my wardrobe at home and, at work, I have a locker with all my leotards and dancing stuff in it.
It’s not that my feelings about ballet have grown more complicated. I still have the passion and drive – and the will – to get better each day. There’s always something you can do better and improve, something new to find within yourself. I started ballet when I was 7, and did jazz, tap, all those other styles of dancing. I went to a big dance school when I was 12 for a few years where it was half a day academics, half a day dancing. I went to the Australian Ballet School when I was 17, and then it got more serious. I’ve learned so much about myself in recent years; about how much I can push myself, about my work ethic, and about boundaries – knowing what I thought I was capable of and pushing through that. I could never have predicted I would be able to dance the role of Juliet if you’d asked me last year, or even a few months ago. Most dancers as young as I am don’t get that kind of opportunity.
“Every Sunday, I prepare my pointe shoes for the week ahead, sewing on ribbons, elastic, getting all of that organised.”