Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Exit the prince: Steven Heathcote

Steven Heathcote's twenty years as a principal artist with the Australian Ballet officially end this evening at the State Theatre.

If ever a man was born to play the Prince, it's Steven Heathcote. On-stage and off, Heathcote is charismatic, poised and chivalrous. He's an irresistible combination of masculinity and sensitivity.

He's the quintessential danseur noble: a powerful, tactful partner who won't hog the limelight, but can light up a 2000-seat theatre with a easy smile when required.

Physically, our Charming Prince has had a charmed life, with no significant or chronic injuries. He told me, earlier this year, that his "relatively limited range of movement" had been something of an advantage.
"I'm not one of those dancers that gets his legs up around his ears. And to a large degree [that's] kept me out of trouble. I'm actually quite strong within that range."
It seems inevitable that Heathcote will be remembered for his Princes, especially for the roles that were created "on" him: most recently the roles of Jean de Brienne in Stephen Baynes' Raymonda, last year, and Siegfried in Graeme Murphy's brilliant modernisation of Swan Lake in 2002.

Mighty as those performances were, they're only part of the story. Heathcote is a master at playing mere mortals too. One of the greatest roles of his career was in another Stephen Baynes ballet, 1914, an adaptation of David Malouf's war novel Fly Away Peter.

Heathcote played Jim Saddler, a bloke who recovers his joy in life through solitude and the natural world. Baynes used Heathcote's huge, smooth leaps and flowing gestures. Heathcote was also sensational -- brooding and darkly powerful -- as bushranger Ned Kelly in Timothy Gordon's My Name is Edward Kelly in 1990.

It's 22 years, this month, since I first saw Heathcote perform. And, yes, I remember the day. Though he'd only been with the company just two years, Heathcote had already been promoted twice. (He climbed four ranks in four years, promoted to Principal Artist early in 1987.) He and senior soloist Kathleen Reid performed Maurice Bejart's mighty, angular, ultra-modern Webern Opus 5. It rocked my world; made me want to write about dance.

In those early years, one tended to see Heathcote (and the brilliant Kathy Reid, now his wife) in the modern repertoire. I saw Heathcote in works by Jiri Kylian, Glen Tetley, Kenneth MacMillan and Graeme Murphy before seeing him play the romantic lead: Romeo in John Cranko's Romeo and Juliet. Not quite a prince, but the son of a Lord!

For every Count Albrecht, there's been an Apollo (both the title role in Balanchine's seminal work and the supporting 'god' in Tetley's Orpheus). For every Lensky there was an In the Middle Somewhat Elevated or a Spartacus. Heathcote's even played a trench-coated detective... in The Competition, the infamous (and unfunny) "whodunnit" ballet.

Other memorable and award-winning roles include parts created for Heathcote by Stephen Page (Totem) and Stephen Baynes (Unspoken Dialogues).

Tonight, fittingly, Heathcote bows out from full-time dancing in a brand new work by Christopher Wheeldon. It's a work that demands a physically and emotionally strong dancer. And finds one.

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Blogger genevieve said...

Princely indeed. Nice post, Chris.
I remember Heathcote coming onto 'Live and Sweaty' once to discuss the athleticism of dance. He was delightful. The new Swan will not be quite the same without him.

9:03 AM  

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