Imagine travelling the world as a ballerina, dancing with the world’s best performers and starring in some of most famous productions in history. Yep, welcome to the world of The Australian Ballet Principal Artist Amber Scott.
Amber, 33, has a career millions of tiny ballerinas dream of – and she knows how lucky she is. “Like any of the arts – music, painting, dancing – it is hard work and you dedicate a lot of your life to the craft,” Amber explains. “But the reward to be able to do something you love and are passionate about is incredible. Not many people find that in life. I know I’m really lucky – having a full-time job in the arts is super special.”
Here, Amber explains her career path all the way to the top. From her tiny dancing days as a three-year-old growing up on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, to performing as the lead, Princess Aurora in David McAllister’s spectacular production of The Sleeping Beauty – a magical world of fairies and bluebirds, nymphs and roses, and enchanting costumes with opulent sets.
Tiny Dancer: The Early Days
“I was a very energetic child and went to dance classes from age three,” explains Amber. “I loved it! But it wasn’t until my parents took me to see Swan Lake by The Royal Ballet that my passion really developed. I was very young, but I really responded to the music and was doing swan arms throughout the whole performance! Everyone seated behind us was quite amused! Then when I was five, I joined the Anne Fraser School of Dance on the Sunshine Coast, where I grew up. Anne was a wonderful teacher and gave me a really great ballet start. I also did jazz and tap and classes with all my friends and loved it.”
The Turning Pointe: From Hobby To Dedicated Dancer
“I was quite unfocused when I was young – I wasn’t the best ballet student! I was more interested in whistling and jumping around. I must have been about five when I overheard my ballet teacher suggesting to my mum that I’d be more suited to jazz or tap, because I wasn’t focused enough. That was a real turning point for me. I knew I wanted to continue ballet so I started to really focus.
“When I was 11, my family moved to Melbourne and I landed a child extra role with The Australian Ballet in The Nutcracker. I was so excited to have the opportunity to dance with all the company dancers every night at the State Theatre. It was a magical experience being able to connect all the hard work in studio to a magical stage performance. That really set the path for me. I knew then I wanted to be a ballerina.”
Sweet Sacrifices: Life As A Teenager
“Ballet is a serious art form and anyone pursuing sport or studying knows how dedicated you have to be. Looking back, from age 13 to 16, it was quite a different way to be a teenager. I’d do my homework during lunchtime at school then do ballet lessons until 8 or 9pm each night. I really enjoyed school and am a high achiever, but I’m also a social person. I made the decision to stay focused on my ballet and study. It taught me to manage my time at a young age.”
“Things became trickier to juggle when I got to year 10 and 11 and had more difficult subjects, like chemistry. I was really happy, knowing where I wanted my life to go at such a young age, but I did make sacrifices like missing out on Saturday sport and school camps or leaving birthday parties early. My teachers were really supportive and proud that I knew what I wanted to do. Although I didn’t have a boyfriend – I was a nerdy ballerina!”
The Studious Ballerina
“My first big milestone was joining the junior program at The Australian Ballet School when I was 11. Then when I was 14, I was accepted as a full-time student. We had teachers come to our ballet school to teach English and other subjects, doing two to three hours of academic work then three to four hours of dance. They were long days, but I found it a huge relief going full-time at the ballet school.”
“Instead of having mum driving me from school to ballet daily and getting changed in the car or trying to do homework on the go, I’d go to one venue and everything was there. The academic teachers would come to us! Even though it was a lot of dancing, it was easier and more enjoyable.”
“I finished ballet school when I was 17, in 2001, and that’s when I joined The Australian Ballet. There are only 69 dancers in the company, so it’s very hard to get into and I felt very honoured.”
“In my second year, David McAllister (Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet) let me go to Denmark on a ballet exchange with The Royal Danish Ballet for five months. So I was 19, living in Denmark on my own and dancing with another company – it was a great experience! It showed me that David was interested in my career path and had taken notice of me, which was fantastic for my confidence.”
Stage Lights: The Big Break
“I was asked to be an understudy for the role of Odette in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake when I was just 21. That was so exciting! It was a great learning experience, but you don’t normally expect to be put on stage. Then I got a call saying I was going to be on stage! I’d never done a Principal role, and it was a big blockbuster for our company and still quite new. I was super excited but overwhelmed – it was one of the hardest ballets I’ve ever done, even now! I had a wonderful partner – Matthew Lawrence – who was very experienced and I’m extremely grateful to him. He never made me feel inferior and was always very helpful. Lucinda Dunn was the Baroness in the ballet, so I was working with two very established dancers. It was a huge honour and learning curve to do Principal work at such a young age.”
Sleeping Beauty: Early Storytelling
“Sleeping Beauty is a very special ballet. The first time I performed Sleeping Beauty I was a student at The National Theatre Ballet School in St Kilda. The Australian Prima Ballerina Marilyn Jones was the director and we performed Sleeping Beauty at our end of year concert in 1996. I was a little blue bird in that performance and I loved it.”
“Then in 2007 I performed a version by acclaimed Australian choreographer Stanton Welch. I was a soloist at that point and was dancing loads of roles, from fairy to girlfriend.”
“I first played the role of Aurora with Principal Artist Adam Bull. I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for that role. I remember getting through it without too many dramas!”
David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty: New Heights
“In this version of The Sleeping Beauty I play the lead role of Aurora. We premiered David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty in Melbourne and I’m thrilled to perform in in Brisbane in 2017.”
“I really love the purity of the choreography. It’s an old ballet, but as you get older you appreciate things that are a bit more refined. What I love about performing it is stripping away anything that is superfluous and presenting the most pure technique and portrayal of the character that I can. This version is absolutely sumptuous! When you are on stage, it feels like you are in a palace. In the wedding scene, Act 3, the costumes are exquisite. Everyone looks like they are out of Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles.”
Dancing In Costume: Heavy Benefits
“I played Lilac Fairy last year and the costumes were super heavy. It was quite a challenge to turn with weighty wings on your back and a wig on! The costumes looked beautiful, but oh was it hard!
Life After Dancing: A New Twirl
“This generation of dancers are very aware that ballet is a limited career – it’s very physical. We often do online training between dances. Inevitably, even if you don’t plan to become a ballet teacher, you end up being one! When you’re a professional you are invited to share your knowledge and teach the next generation of dancers, which is really exciting. If you’ve spent 20 years of your life learning a craft, you naturally want to give back. I’m not sure what I will do after dancing, but I do love mentoring the new ballet dancers coming through and have often taught at summer schools. I even find myself learning to refine my dance while teaching.”
Golden Advice For Budding Ballerinas
“Anyone doing sport, music or dance is going to be a high achiever. I remember a couple of times not being able to achieve what I wanted to and feeling that pressure and disappointment at receiving a lower school grade than I hoped for.”
“My advice is to not over extend yourself and to be kind to yourself. Having a goal early on in life is something you should be proud of – many people take years to find their passion. For me, even though I didn’t have a lot of time to go to birthday parties or other events, it was important for me to maintain friendships outside of my ballet. I still have those friendships and am really glad I do.”