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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.”

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