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Behind the ballet with Lucinda Dunn

Ballet dancer Lucinda Dunn revisits her 20-year career with the Australian Ballet.

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"This ballet is so stark. It's just me in a yellow unitard standing on a bare stage. There is nowhere to hide,'' Lucinda Dunn says. ''When it comes to feeling naked, it's as bad as it gets.''

A yellow unitard is a challenge at the best of times. But to come back after your second baby to dance in Glen Tetley's Gemini, one of the most physically demanding one-act ballets in contemporary classical ballet, and wear a yellow unitard? That seems unnecessarily cruel.

''I knew it would be a mountain to climb, but I wanted to do it,'' says Dunn, 38, a principal dancer with The Australian Ballet, and mother to Claudia, 4, and Ava, 11 months. ''It is amazing what the body can do and what the body can handle. But the work I put in was immense.''

Lucinda Dunn and Andrew Killian in Gemini.

It was all yellow … Lucinda Dunn and Andrew Killian in Gemini. Photo: Jeff Busby

Gemini is one of three anniversary ballets in the triple bill Icons. First choreographed for The Australian Ballet in 1973, it was considered shocking. The four dancers, two women and two men, appeared to be naked, and the way they wound around each other's bodies was sensual - sexual, even. It was a shock for the dancers, too.

Tetley's choreography is incredibly difficult, requiring near-superhuman flexibility, stamina and strength. Some ballet companies have been known to keep a bucket in the wings in case the dancers need to be sick from exhaustion.

Dunn laughs at this. ''We do have one of those buckets,'' she says. ''But I haven't needed to use it, thank goodness.

''It is very strenuous. But I love that the audience can see the choreography so clearly. You can see every shape and line, which I think is important because some ballets can be overdressed. You can't see the legs because of the big skirts.''

Dunn is married to Danilo Radojevic, a former dancer with The Australian Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, and now associate artistic director at The Australian Ballet. The couple travel as a family when they tour interstate or overseas, and they have a small apartment in Manly.

After celebrating 20 years with the company last year, Dunn returned to the stage in June, when Ava was six months old, to dance as Odette in Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake in New York. It was her debut in the lead role.

''It was a big challenge because it takes almost a year for the pregnancy hormones to leave the body,'' she says.

''I had to take care of my calf muscles, I worry about them. The hormones can leave you more flexible but with less strength. And I breast-fed both girls, too, so it takes a while to feel back to yourself again.''

Dunn will dance in Gemini this week, and as Odette in Stephen Bayne's new production of Swan Lake, opening this month. ''I didn't know if I would be able to come back,'' she says.

''But I'm so glad I can have a career and these two beautiful little girls in my life.

''Now I have to be as strong mentally as I am physically.''

Icons plays the Sydney Opera House from November 8-26. Tickets $33-$196.
Swan Lake plays November 30-December 19. Tickets $33-$216 (limited availability). Bookings (02) 9250 7777.