Chloe Bayliss, a National College of Dance graduate was on a clear trajectory to becoming a professional dancer when at 16 years of age she was diagnosed with a horrible illness that forced her into a new direction. Overcoming great hardship, Chloe is now a successful actor on stage and screen and you can see her in the TV Week Logie Award nominated drama Doctor Doctor on Nine as well as read about her journey in her new book, En Pointe.
How important do you believe it is to be constantly up-skilling when your chosen field is in the Arts?
I strongly encourage dancers to continually work on their craft and explore as many creative avenues as they can to expand their skills as an artist. It is not enough to specialise in just one area of dance. The more versatile you can be the better chance you will have of finding and sustaining a long career in the Arts. Try a new style of dance, take some acting classes or singing lessons. Be prepared for anything!
Are you able to tell us how your training as a dancer has affected your craft as an Actor?
I feel incredibly lucky to have had an extensive background in dance and I am constantly using those tools today. Dance taught me discipline and dedication which I use when researching and learning my lines for the characters I play. So many actors take Physical Theatre classes to learn how to move their bodies. Dancing connected me with my body and as a result I find it quite natural to transform and embody a character. Having been on the stage since I was three, I found an immediate connection to stage plays in the theatre. There are so many similarities in the acting rehearsal process to dance rehearsals. Acting didn’t seem too far away from what I had been doing my whole life, portraying characters through dance, the only difference was that I had to learn how to put words to my movements.
What was it about your dance training that helped prepare you for the other obstacles that life presented?
I had a wonderful teacher, Marie Walton-Mahon who always told me to write goals for myself. She taught me to track and write down everything that I needed to work on or wanted to achieve so that I could consistently strive to be a better dancer. Goal setting focused my mind and gave me a drive to accomplish whatever I set out to do. During my full-time training, I faced some extremely huge hurdles that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. When these obstacles presented themselves I knew what I was going to do to get over them – goal setting. Even if I was only doing a small thing everyday to work towards that goal, I knew it was moving me forward and in the right direction. Miss Marie taught me to have willpower and it got me through some of the toughest times of my life.
At what age did you decide to change career paths?
I never intended to pursue a career outside of the dance world but at age 20 I started to take some acting classes to expand my skills as an artist so that I could be more versatile. I was still dancing when I landed an acting agent and within a couple of weeks I was lucky enough to be cast as a series regular on a brand new Channel Ten show that was shooting on the Gold Coast for six months. Returning home from that, I received another job with a main stage theatre company. Acting felt so natural to me and I honestly never thought I would love something as much as I loved dance. Over the years my path took me down the acting route and I couldn’t be happier.
Do you still dance?
Yes! Dance isn’t ever going to leave me. In between acting jobs, I regularly guest teach at the Sydney College of Dance and I also freelance and judge scholarships at numerous schools throughout NSW. I am always choreographing new dance pieces for students or just just dancing for myself. Although I can’t dance the way I used to, I still love it. When I am not filming I like to attend Barre and Pilates classes.
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Helicopter Pilot . Artistic Director
Google this amazing artist and you will discover an extensive list of highly regarded shows, companies and choreographers that she has worked for and with. 2019 sees her take the Artistic helm of Expressions Dance Company.
What is your favourite part of the creative process?
That’s like asking a person which is their favourite child? I love all the parts of the process for very different reasons.
There’s nothing quite like that first thrill – that moment an idea passes your consciousness like a shadow across the sun. I love that moment because it’s the beginning of the fruition of the idea. But then of course, being in a studio with the dancers – the experimentation – the collaboration of articulating the idea and then having the dancers contribute suggestions of how to cultivate that idea into actually reading for an audience is another favourite. Seeing it come to fruition, like when you get to that first full run in the studio – what a moment. Then you get time to keep refining and tweaking the idea to make sure that it really does communicate the message that you had in that first instance.
The creative process could be limitless but practically it has to be any advice managing this?
Getting too attached to perfecting as you go can sometimes dismantle the process, because you may run out of time. One thing that I’ve absorbed into my practice as a creator is to get the bones of the work out first because the flesh can be built around the bones.
I might speed-date lots of different choreographic ideas, where I’ll give myself five minutes, or 10 minutes – however long I’m deciding to commit to an idea. Try it; your instincts will let you know very quickly whether it’s an idea that has some potential – especially if you’re under a really short deadline.
I always set myself up at the start of the creative process, making sure that I am very clear with my dancers about my vision. I’m also very open to that collaborative process. I think the minute everyone has a collective sense of ownership of where this piece is going, they’re much more inclined to contribute and help drive the process forward.
These are some essential qualities that you seek in your dancers?
Absolutely. I love sincere openness, open-mindedness, authenticity and intelligence. By intelligence I don’t just mean literal IQ, but I love emotionally intelligent dancers, people that understand that a creative process is incredibly exhilarating and a place where you’re quite vulnerable. It takes lots of courage, trust and respect.
Do you think Australians need to travel overseas to develop these skills?
I think all dancers and artists are the sum total of everyone they work with. I don’t necessarily feel that people need to go overseas. It’s about making the most of every experience that you have and allowing each to imprint on you, towards your overall excellence. Dancers that don’t get the growth that they’re looking for maybe are not being as open-minded as they could be. On the flip side I think the more experiences we open ourselves to, the more we learn and the more we add to our collection of information, the more we nurture our knowledge system.
Looking back at your career, it looks like a linear pathway to this role of Artistic Director – has this always been the goal?
I was one of those dancers who always had a plan B, C, and D ticking along – cultivating other aspects of myself because in this industry you never know if things might end. The more options I gave myself the more I realised where my choice lay.
I believe the arts sit at the heart of humanity – giving us creative, physical and emotional health, which is so very important to all humans. The arts give cohesiveness to our society, not only for expressing ourselves but also for looking to our future – envisaging it, envisaging how we fit. We’re making such incredible advancements in science, tech, engineering and maths. I believe that making sure the arts has, as much weight and meaning in our life will strengthen humanity.
We are human beings – we’re not human doings. The arts put us firmly back into that place of feeling, experiencing and being. The more I was training to do other things, the more I realised my hearts home – where I feel most comfortable is in the arts. It’s what I feel most strongly about, and that coupled with all of the experiences I have been accumulating through my career – all of the things I have been learning – all of the knowledge I have gathered it feels inevitable that I’ve wound up in this place.
I have something to share and more than anything I feel like I have the skills to enable other people to do this – be in the arts and be the best artist they can be. I think it would be a waste to not try and share what I have to offer.
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Emma graduated from Lee Academy with an Advanced Diploma of Dance before successfully auditioning for Cirque du Soleil. Macpherson is currently performing in two new at sea shows, SYMA and VARÉLIA on board the brand new MSC Bellissima Ship!
Can you please talk to us about the audition process?
The Cirque du Soleil Dance Audition was held in Sydney, Australia that took place over two days. During Day 1 we were first taught a lyrical combination then a hip hop combination. After a few rounds we were then asked to show any acrobatic/tumbling skills we may have. To finish off the day was improvisation, where one at a time we would improvise for 1 minute to a randomly chosen song inspired by a word/phrase given by the Cirque du Soleil Talent Scout. Day 2 started off with revisiting and performing the two dance phrases that we had learnt the day before. Afterwards we were challenged with some physical theatre, acting and creating with another dancer as well as exploring characters of our own. At the end of the day I was one of nineteen dancers who had a very successful audition and was now a part of the Cirque du Soleil database.
It was about 6 months after the audition that I received the email from Cirque du Soleil saying I had been offered a contract. This was a very exciting email for me, as working for Cirque du Soleil is something that I have dreamed of since I was a little girl, and to have the opportunity to be a part of this amazing company and to also travel to new places on board a cruise ship… is a dream come true.
Once you received news of your contract, what happened next?
After receiving the news the first step was taking part in a two-week creation workshop at the Cirque du Soleil Head Quarters in Montreal. Here I got to meet the cast and creation team and be a part of workshopping two new shows. I was super grateful for the opportunity to learn a brand new skill called ‘Bungee Dance’, which was also a new discipline and had never been done before in a Cirque du Soleil show till now.
I got to trial costumes and makeup designs during the workshop period in Montreal. As it was a work in progress, it was super cool to see how the costumes and makeup developed over time.
A few months later I was flown to France to continue the creation and install the shows onto the brand new MSC Bellissima Ship. After two months rehearsing day in and day out, finalising costumes, staging, lighting and automation, we finally had put together two new Cirque du Soleil at Sea shows, SYMA and VARÉLIA.
The makeup is very specific, is this something you are taught and do you have to use certain products? Can you talk us through this? How long did it take for you to learn and how long does it take to do for each show? Is it hard to get off?
I have different makeup for both of the shows that I learnt with the makeup designer (Maryse Gosselin), which took place over three 2-hour sessions during the creation period in France. For one of the shows I am an Underwater Sea Creature, and as a part of makeup I use a stencil to apply neon paint to my face as well as wearing neon pink eyelashes. This allows part of my eyes and face to glow under black light during the show. It first took me around 1.5 hours to complete the look, now I am able to apply the makeup within an hour. In the other show I am an Angel, this design has very particular shapes that I need to make sure are identical on both sides of my face. My eyelids are covered in red glitter, which every performer knows this can be a disaster if you don’t take it off carefully, as glitter gets everywhere and you end up finding the glitter all over the place.
What was it about your training at Lee Academy that really helped you secure this contract?
I started dancing with Lee Academy in the Junior School at the age of 5, and then when I was old enough, I joined Lee Academy Fulltime Training for 5 years and graduated with an Advanced Diploma of Dance. The training and guidance that I received during these times by the teachers and mentors of Lee Academy is something that I am truly grateful for. Not only have they helped me physically in doing the best that I can on a contract like this, but mentally they have helped prepare me and have taught me to be open minded, which I feel is very important especially during new creations
What advice would you give our readers to prepare for a Cirque du Soleil audition?
Physical theatre/acting was a big part of my audition, so I would say be prepared to put yourself out there and to not be afraid to try something out of your comfort zone.
Be true to yourself and go in to the audition knowing that the Cirque du Soleil Talent Scouts are on your side and want you to do well… so show them everything you are made of.
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Lauren believes that every opportunity to dance is an opportunity to further develop her skills, whether she is freelancing, starring in a production, working alongside an artist or modelling.
Jervis has performed in major shows as a lead dancer, showgirl, dance captain, model and occasional actor. Internationally she has also performed as the lead dancer and host in multiple shows in Singapore, and alongside Illusionist Michael Boyd in Bangkok.
Calling Los Angeles home for the last 3 months, training, assisting, and soaking up the LA dance scene has opened a whole new world.
Do you have any tips for the tall dancer? (Lauren is 5’10)
Embrace it! Being tall isn’t something you can hide, so learn to work with it. Don’t be afraid to use all of your length and extensions, it’s a bonus to have longer lines to work with especially for showgirl or classic jazz styles. Try and move with the control and tenacity of ‘pocket rocket’ dancers. In class I’ll try and place myself next to a shorter dancer and match their levels while still using my limbs to their full capacity… it will push you to use your body in new ways while improving your ability to blend with a group. Control, next-level body awareness, standing tall and owning your height would be my best advice.
What type of work do you do that keeps the rent being paid?
Thankfully I’ve been able to support myself just through performing over the past few years, but it took a lot of hard work and dedication to get there! For most dancers it’s a slow burn when you first start working. You have to gradually build your network until you’re an established and respected performer.
Being a multi-faceted performer opens up a lot more job opportunities, and I think these days the lines between dancers, models, and actors is very blurred. Acting is already such a big part of what we do as dancers, and being tall I can fit the brief for a lot of modelling work.
I’ve been part of some spectacular fashion events for L’Oreal and Redken and BVLGARI, which were a really fun fusion of dance and modelling. My favourite would have been the L’Oreal show for French-Canadian hair artist Guillaume Martel, where we pulled a surreal piece together with a group of dancer/models to create an enchanted forest to the most beautiful musical score. I think if you focus on becoming a multi-faceted performer and understand where your individual strengths are beyond dance, whether that’s as a teacher, actor, model, or even a barista, you can definitely get by.
I’ve recently just returned from a workshop tour in the UK teaching and assisting with Australian/LA based choreographer Nick Geurts that was incredible. I don’t think I realised just how much you can learn about your craft from teaching others, and I’ve since embraced teaching workshops and master classes when I can fit it in between jobs.
Can we be training our dancers better here in Oz?
I would love to see dance schools prepare their pre-professional students a little better for the working world. The majority of jobs are now ‘one off gigs’ making business accruement knowledge important. Some education around taxation requirements, ABN numbers and the like would be very helpful.
I would also love to see greater attention placed on empowering dancers to make their own decisions. Smart dancers make choices based on their understanding of the music, lyrics, and narrative of the piece. Training dancers to really listen to what is being taught, and to find the story within the music helps with developing their ability to bring choreography to life. Nailing the steps is one thing, but showing that you can understand musicality, intention and how to connect to a piece will make you stand out. It is about so much more than steps in the professional world.
What are some essential skills that all dancers need in order to be successful if their goal is to work overseas?
Focus and determination are first. Always keep your goals in mind so that any opportunity that presents itself you are ready for. It takes a lot of physical hard work just to develop your skill base, but it’s also a mental battle. Spend some time working on your mindset and building up a strong sense of who you are as a human as well as a dancer. It really helps to have a strong ‘self care’ practise when you’re far away from home or facing hard times. I practice yoga, read and cook good food.
Make sure you’re in tiptop condition by taking regular ballet and jazz technique classes. Essential knowledge for freelance gigs includes working on your grooves! Get comfortable with how you can work with your body and what looks good on you rather than just repeating steps and tricks.
Lastly, be humble and appreciate all those people around you that are also working to make the show a success. A reputation for being great to work with will take you much further than any diva antics. The worldwide dance community is highly competitive but surprisingly close knit. Do good work, be kind, let your actions speak for themselves and the world is your oyster!