Jarryd Madden is one of those extraordinarily talented people. Encouraged by his dance-teacher mother, he started dancing at the age of three at his local dance school in Wauchope, New South Wales...
He became a ballet dancer at the age of 14, after seeing The Australian Ballet perform Spartacus. When he was 16, he joined Melbourne’s National Theatre Ballet School, eventually moving onto The Australian Ballet. And after seven years with the company, he became a soloist. Talk about remarkable.
Ask him how has ballet has changed his life and he’ll openly tell you it has given him his future. “Without ballet, I would never have met Amy and we would never have had a beautiful girl together. I often used to think ‘what would I be doing if I didn’t dance?’ But now that thought has changed to ‘if I never danced, Amy and Willow wouldn’t be a part of my life’. A thought I don’t like to contemplate”.
Madden met his now wife Amy (a fellow ballet dancer) back in 2007 when he joined the company. They were partnered together in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake the following year. “She had the prettiest smile and most contagious laugh,” he recalls. Two years ago, the couple’s daughter Willow was born. “The biggest driving force behind my work ethic is Willow, she makes me want to be better than what I am. Someday hopefully I can be an example to her and show her that hard work pays off,” he says.
Madden is one of six talented nominees for The Telstra Ballet Dancer Award. The prestigious award was created in 2003 to foster young dancers in The Australian Ballet to reach their full potential and turn their dreams into reality. “It feels really special, to be honest. I go into work each day and try to improve my technique and artistry, then go out on stage and do the best show I can do that night. So to be nominated for this prestigious award is a recognition of all the hard work I put in each day,” says Madden. We caught up with Madden to talk fatherhood, what drives him, life as a ballet dancer and more…
The Telstra Ballet Dancer Award supports the rising stars of The Australian Ballet with the country’s most prestigious dance award. This year six young dancers, all with unique talents, have been nominated for their artistic quality, powerful stage presence and contribution to The Australian Ballet. Cast your vote in the People’s Choice Award and you could win a VIP trip to Sydney and the best seats in the house at the Awards presentation following the opening night of The Australian Ballet’s Coppélia. To vote, go to www.telstra.com.au
Jarryd with his wife Amy and daughter Willow
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Before I started dancing professionally, I used to also do karate. I learnt an amazing word while I was doing it: ‘Osu’ (Pronounced ‘OSS’). It was our mantra to say whenever we were to say ‘yes’, ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye’. Among many other things, it means patience, respect and appreciation. I believe it is a wonderful philosophy to carry, not only into karate, but through life! So in three words I’m patient, respectful and appreciative.
What has fatherhood taught you?
That your child is a direct reflection of you. I know it’s an obvious thing to say and babies have no idea about anything at all and that it’s your job to teach them about life, but boy, doesn’t that carry more weight than you realise! I try to be the best representation of myself to show Willow what it is to be a good, kind-hearted person. That’s easier said than done at times. I think it’s just as important to show how I act in stressful situations, or when I’m sad or mad. Just as much as it is to see me how I am when I’m happy. Hopefully she will have an excellent example to be lead by. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!
Can you recall the moment Willow arrived?
Meeting Willow for the first time was very surreal. The moment I first held her, I vividly remember having this overwhelming primal feeling of having to protect her. I went very ape-like and hunched over her to shield her from the world. It wasn’t a thought-out response either. It just happened. Looking at this tiny little creature, only moments old. I thought everything in the world had the potential to harm her and I needed to protect her from it all! I feel sorry for the first boy she’ll bring home… he might be the last.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t get too excited for Star Wars: The Prequel Trilogy. Revenge of the Sith is alright though.
What has been the most challenging part of fatherhood and how have you overcome any challenges?
I find the hardest part is being away from Willow. My wife, Amy, and I work long hours with our career, so some days we might only see her for two hours in the morning and that’s it! I love being a hands-on dad, so I struggle with the times when we are away from her a lot. When we are out of season, we work each day from 10:30am until 6:30pm, getting the next show up and running. So that means we drop Willow off at daycare around 9am to get into work to warm up before a 10:30am class. Then at the end of the day we pick her up, give her dinner, bath and then bed. So not much time to just play or read books together. We cherish Sunday’s more than ever now!
How did you handle the sleep deprivation in the early days?
The short answer, terribly. I love my sleep. That was the hardest thing I found to handle about parenthood. But we were very fortunate that Willow started to sleep through the night fairly early on. We noticed that she wasn’t feeding as much in the middle of the night, but more just doing it for comfort. So we held off going in straight away and she fell straight back to sleep! And because of this realisation, Willow started to sleep through the night fairly early on. Bliss!
Growing up, did you always love performing? Can you tell us about your childhood?
I grew up in Wauchope, which is a small country town on the mid north coast of New South Wales. When I wasn’t dancing after school, I was at my parents’ video shop that they owned. It was so much fun. I had every new movie that just came out to watch over and over again. I loved being entertained by the movies and that definitely transferred over into my love for dancing. I loved to entertain people and make them laugh so I was very slapstick when I performed.
Can you tell us about how you met your wife and why you fell in love with her?
I met Amy when I joined the company back in 2007. I noticed how beautiful she was instantly. That was obvious. But I got to know her well when we were partnered together in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake the next year. We noticed we had similar lives and interests. We were both from country towns, we both loved kids, we like going to see bands… that kind of stuff. But it took her a good long time to finally agree to date me. I ‘chased’ her for a bit over a year. She made me work for it! And she still does. But soon after we were together, three months I think, she pointed out what kind of engagement ring she liked. Her mum said ‘Jeezus, don’t scare him off!’ but I was pretty set on the fact that Amy was the one for me.
What did your own parents teach you about life and fatherhood?
My parents are very giving people. They will help others out whenever they can. My Dad has always had a ‘we’re all in it together’ attitude towards life and my Mum always put my brother and I before herself. Something that I have never forgotten and try to replicate with my family.
Your dance teacher mother nurtured your love of dancing. What do you remember about starting to dance as a young child?
I remember how much fun I use to have. My best friend Mark and I always used to dance together with the other girls. We used to do many styles of dance but to be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of ballet. When I was young, I thought I’d end up as one of the Tap Dogs or in a musical on Broadway. My mum and the principal of the ballet school both used to say that ballet is a great fundamental for any genre of dance. It gives you a greater awareness of your body and how to move it. So I always did it, grudgingly. It wasn’t until I was 14 years old, when I saw The Australian Ballet perform Spartacus, that I changed my mind and wanted to be a ballet dancer.
How did it feel when you were promoted to a soloist in 2015?
I was very proud of myself being promoted. I have been very fortunate to have been given many great opportunities in the company over the years and I always try my hardest not to let those opportunities go to waste. To be promoted at the end of last year was the icing on the cake to a fantastic year.
Have you always believed in yourself?
It’s funny, even though I’m a professional ballet dancer, I’ve never really thought that I was particularly good at actually doing ballet. I’ve always been a strong dance partner, contemporary dancer and also love acting on stage. But when it comes to standing out there by myself and relying on my technical ability, I get so nervous. I’m nervous even just thinking about it. Ballet is pure and precise. It is so particular, and seeing as there are millions of ballet dancers out there who know what a good balletic shape or line is (and what an average one is too), I feel like I need to prove that I’m worth my salt. So with the weight of the ballet world on my shoulders, I go out there and think to myself “I’m going to dance this piece my way”. And with this thought lies self-confidence and I start to believe in myself. No one else is me, or dances the way I do. Everyone in the world dances ballet differently to each other. So I bring something unique to ballet, which feels empowering.
Can you talk us through your approach to health and wellbeing?
It’s pretty simple. Eat healthily (but treat yourself every now and then), exercise, love what you do and surround yourself with who you love. Boom!
What’s a typical day’s diet like for you?
A normal working day would generally start with banana, prunes and yoghurt on Weet-Bix with a coffee. Then I’d have a mid-morning snack after class which is, most of the time, a ham, cheese and tomato sandwich. That would keep me going for two and a half hours of rehearsals, until our lunch break. Lunch changes depending what’s available that day from our in-house deli. But my fail-safe lunch is a big chicken and salad sandwich. Then dinner could change from my spaghetti bolognaise, steak with veggies or an omelette, or anything in-between. I try to drink plenty of water all day with a cheeky chocolate milk thrown in for good measure.
How do you look after your body?
Ballet dancing as a full time job is more than enough to cover all aspects of exercise. Barre is vaguely similar to Pilates in my opinion. It’s mostly slower with holding/moving through positions for strength. Centre practice becomes shorter, fast, explosive movements; anaerobic exercise. Partnering a lady is a better workout than you’ll ever get lifting weights at the gym. Then running a three act ballet covers cardio.
What have been some of your biggest career highlights?
I’ll try and keep the list small. Having been in the company for nine years, I’ve got quite a list. But I’d have to say Franz in Coppélia, that was my first lead role in a full-length traditional ballet. I’ve also danced some ridiculously amazing contemporary pieces over the years, by world renowned choreographers. Bella Figura by Jiří Kylián. In The Upper Room by Twyla Tharp. In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated by William Forsythe. Dyad 1929 by Wayne McGregor. You’re out on stage, adrenaline pumping, lights in your face, sweating all over, orchestra playing and just immersed in pure brilliance. It’s hard to explain the feeling you get out there. But, man it’s pretty cool.
What’s the biggest misconception about you?
That I’m mature. People that I meet sometimes say that I’m really mature or very grown up. Those people haven’t played a game of ‘Would You Rather..’ with me.
What will you tell Willow about your experience as a ballet dancer?
That it’s hard, but if she ever has that single-minded passion to dance, it will be well worth the blood, sweat and tears. The pros outweigh the cons easily. We as dancers get to bring joy to people who come and see our shows. Not too many jobs bring joy to others. And because we are around each other all the time, your work colleagues become lifelong friends who get to share in amazing moments of your life. It really is quite a unique job. My grandmother never understood how I called my job a ‘job’. She always saw it as ‘the ballet’, which I think shows the grandness of the idea that surrounds being a ballet dancer. Something I need to remind myself 30 shows into a season, when I’m exhausted and work really does feel like work!
What kind of role model do you want to be for Willow?
To be a morally good person. Like my parents say to me, ‘treat others the way you would like to be treated’, because we’re all in it together. I’m not a religious man, so I have no hell to fear of if I’m not a good person. But if anything, that means that the here and now are even more important. Because once I’m gone, that’s it. My actions mean more here, because this is my heaven or it could just as easily be my hell. How would you like to be remembered? That answer was a little heavy! I’m not as intense as this sounds!
What do you focus on when you’re performing? What goes through your mind?
There are two very different thoughts for me when I’m out on stage. On one side, I’m thinking about executing the choreography technicality correct along with applying the corrections from my previous shows. Then also making sure I hit the musical accents in the score so that the movement is musically correct too. But on the other side, I try to forget about all that and just perform the piece! I think this is a struggle most dancers face out on stage. I find that sometimes I might dance the routine extremely well with perfect accuracy, but the audience doesn’t feel anything when watching it and leave feeling empty. Then other nights I might be delving whole-heartedly into the performance and forget about how I’m actually doing the steps, then have people question how I became a professional dancer in the first place with such average technique. It’s always such a constant struggle to find the happy medium.
What inspires your art?
I have many passions outside of ballet to help inspire me. My family is my biggest one. I have so much love and joy for them, it’s easy to draw on for inspiration. I also love seeing movies, reading comic books, playing sports, going to museums and art galleries and just getting immersed in the world around me. To experience life in many different ways, broadens my horizons and in turn I can draw on for inspiration to work into ballet.
To vote, go to www.telstra.com.au