Christopher Hill is a professional dancer and choreographer with West Australian Ballet (WAB).
Having danced professionally in Australia and throughout Europe, and for some of the biggest companies in world dance, Christopher moved to Perth to explore a new chapter in his career as a Demi-Soloist and choreographer with the WAB.
We sat down with Chris to chat about his love of ballet, his dedication to the craft, and the impact ballet – and the arts in general – has on the WA community.
Woodside (W): So, how did it all begin?
Christopher Hill (CH): Ballet has always been in our family. My mother was dancing all her life before retiring to have us kids – but she had a ballet school out in the suburbs in Melbourne. And so we grew up there. My brothers, my sister and I, we all danced. They stopped in their teen years, but I managed to keep going and turned it into a career… so it’s kind of always been there.
W: Can you remember the moment when you knew this is what you wanted to do?
CH: I went to the Australian Ballet School when I was 15. I started my professional training there, and that was a really big eye opener – all of a sudden you’re thrust from being the only boy in your little suburban ballet school to being at a full time ballet school with all these other talented guys from around the country; so the competition level steps up. But it was a really good environment, it was good competition – you worked hard.
And then it wasn’t until I was 18 when I got a scholarship to move to London and further my training, and was seeing shows at the Royal Ballet and thought, “okay, this is something I’m really interested in”. That was really the pivotal moment for me – to be in London and be surrounded by all these amazing forms of art.
W: What do you love about ballet?
CH: I like the physicality of it; the freedom and the expression. I often say that this is one of the best jobs in the world because you’re paid for your passion, but also to stay in shape [laughs]. It’s brilliant – it really is. We’re on our feet all day dancing.
I like the creative environment, the international aspect of it. The community. The Company is quite international, so you meet a lot of really interesting people, and the work is always different – it‘s never the same day at the ballet. There’s always something different, which I really like.
W: Does it take a certain type of character to be a ballet dancer?
CH: I think everyone has different approaches. For me, I’ve been dancing professionally for 16 years and have only just started choreographing for the past couple of years, which is opening up a whole new world of possibilities for me that I didn’t know about before. And I find that really interesting.
So I’m enjoying being able to make choices for myself to create my own artistic vision and start putting my stamp on the dance world a little as well. And working in the studio one-on-one with my dancers, learning how to coach them and guide them into my aesthetic, and seeing them respond to that and being open to where they take it themselves as well - as everyone has their own personality in dance.
W: Does life influence ballet? And vice-versa?
CH: Life can teach you a lot about your approach to your work. Especially if you have been through hard things in your life, it teaches you how to cope with things in stressful situations. If you find yourself in the studio and the stress is mounting, you should just be able to breathe and take a step back and re-focus.
I think they certainly influence each other. I think there are things in the studio that can influence your life. Pushing beyond what you thought you knew you could do - breaking through a barrier and learning something new. You learn that in the studio as a dancer, and it can be really useful in life. We really push ourselves beyond exhaustion, and through that you find new things that are really interesting and that you can apply to your life.
W: What do you hope audiences take away from a performance?
CH: A sense of transportation. When you go to the theatre you have the hope you might see something you’ve never seen before, and for it take you to a different place - a sense of escapism. For audiences to get really engrossed in what’s happening in that moment; forget about everything else that is happening in the world and just enjoy it.
W: How do ballet, and the Arts in general, contribute to (and build) stronger communities?
CH: The arts are essential to who we are. Everyone is consuming art daily, whatever it is: music, TV, film, dance, cinema. For the community at large, we get a lot of support and emails from people who have come to see performances and have told us how much they’ve really enjoyed what we’re doing, and how it enriches their lives. We do a lot of community outreach programs as well. Especially if we’re performing in His Majesty’s Theatre, there are two performances: one is for school children from different schools – so they all come to the theatre to see the show; and then the other one is for different social groups from the city – from new immigrants coming to Australia to deaf children, it’s like a community outreach program for people who are unable to experience live performance or the ballet.
W: What would Western Australia be like if we didn’t have ballet as part of the performing arts landscape?
CH: You need the arts. It’s important to any civilisation. Luckily for us we have a lot of support around us – especially from Woodside. They have been our Principal Partner for over seven years. It’s brilliant that they do get behind us, and want to get behind us – we all really appreciate it. I hope it continues, as it is enables us to do bigger and better things all the time, and it’s really engaging our audiences - we’re constantly receiving positive feedback because of the support of Woodside.
W: You recently went on a tour to Indonesia with the Company...
CH: Yeah. It was an amazing tour of Jakarta, where we took the whole Company to perform various pieces of repertoire - the extra funding from Woodside was pivotal in making this happen.
It was the biggest international tour that the Company has done for a very long time, so it was really exciting for us. I think it was received well, and we’re interested in developing a better connection between Australia and Indonesia. Hopefully this’ll come a regular occurrence for us.
We had our Education Manager go up and teach the local children – and they performed in the show with us. So it was kind of a merging of the cultures. We did a bit of community outreach there as well, and invited the local dance kids to come in and look around the company – which was an eye opener for them.
W: Do you think the meeting of the different cultures enriched each other’s?
CH: I hope so. It would be interesting to observe and reflect upon the changes when we go back on the next tour. How it influenced the local communities. I hope we go back soon to see how things may have changed, and if we made a difference.
For more information on the 2017 West Australian Ballet Season, visit our events page.