Ballet star prepares her Swan song
Looking ahead … principal artist Rachel Rawlins. Photo: Janie Barrett
AUSTRALIAN Ballet principal artist Rachel Rawlins is hanging up her pointe shoes after more than two decades as a professional dancer.
Rawlins joined the company in 1991, leaving for two years to perform with the Royal Ballet as first soloist before returning to the Australian Ballet in 2001 and receiving her promotion to principal artist in 2004. Rawlins, now 39, has been a standout performer with the company, excelling in leading roles in works including Onegin, Swan Lake and Madame Butterfly.
"I feel lucky because I feel like I've completed my career," she said. "I'm a little bit excited about what having a different life could be for me."
Rachel Rawlins in The Nutcracker in 2007. Photo: Alex Makayev/The Australian Ballet
But as former Australian Ballet principal artist Lynette Wills can attest, leaving ballet is far more complex than changing jobs in most other professions. Retiring means stepping away from an immersive lifestyle of rehearsing, performing and touring, as well as the daily challenge of maintaining peak physical condition.
After retiring in 2009, Wills misses the extreme emotional highs and lows of a performance career, as well as the physical satisfaction and creative outlet of dancing. In normal life, she says, laughing: "You don't get to the end of the day and 2000 people applaud you."
Hence, it is common for dancers to remain in the dance world in their post-performance careers. Wills has founded a photography business, Lynette Wills Photography, and takes the behind-the-scenes photos of the company.
Rachel Rawlins in Les Sylphides in 2009. Photo: Alex Makayev/The Australian Ballet
Former Australian Ballet principal artist Steven Heathcote was 43 when he left the company but, like Wills, soon found himself back as a coach and teacher, and this year, as a performer in Tim Harbour's Sweedeedee.
A few former dancers have found careers away from the stage - Glyn Scott traded his tights for a pilot licence after an injury ended his dancing career. But the draw back into the studio seems to be inevitable for most. Li Cunxin - of Mao's Last Dancer fame - ended his post-ballet stockbroking career to take the artistic directorship of the Queensland Ballet. David McAllister moved straight from performing with the Australian Ballet to becoming its artistic director, and other retirees, including Harbour and Stephen Baynes, transitioned from performing to choreography.
Although she has yet to settle on her own post-ballet plans, Rawlins is looking forward to having a break. "I've danced every day for 30-something years so I feel like I need to step away a little bit," she says.
She is sure the ballet will figure in her plans somehow, saying, "I feel very close to the Australian Ballet and the dance world so I'm sure that it will still be in my life."
Rawlins's last role with the Australian Ballet will be in one of her signature parts - as Odette in Swan Lake in Sydney on December 19.