Brooke Lockett : Coryphée at The Australian Ballet
Brooke Lockett: Coryphée @ the Australian Ballet
Brooke Lockett is the stuff of my six-year-old self's dreams. Confident, strong, and graceful, she is just as a young girl imagines a ballerina to be. She has a gentleness that exudes from her, but a killer wit and a level head on her shoulders that make her a truly captivating young woman. Meeting with her was a fabulous experience (and the little girl inside me did wiggly can't-sit-still dances all over the place because I was talking to a ballerina), and the whole afternoon left me with a smile on my face. I'm so excited to share my interview with Brooke. I hope you savour it as I did.
In your own words, what is it that you do?
“I am a ballerina (coryphée level) with the Australian ballet company, and I guess I’ve gotten to live out my childhood dream. My favourite part of my job is being on stage, without doubt. I love the discipline, I love the training, I love the process of it all, but for me it’s being on stage, it’s the connection- so whether that’s connection with the music, connection with my partner, connection with the audience, connection with the choreographer, you know, we’re constantly getting to connect artistically with people every day. I’ve been lucky, I guess, that my job title has gone beyond just being a ballerina, I’ve been a Philanthropy Ambassador, I’ve been a media and spokesperson for the Company, I’ve collaborated with amazing brands and companies, and I feel that I’ve kind of tapped into and found this skill set that takes (to) more than just Brooke on stage. (I feel) we’re just so fortunate to live in a world today where there’s just so much opportunity through all these different social channels, and how it connects us all, it’s amazing.”
Favourite movie as a child?
“Dirty Dancing. (laughs) is that a weird thing to say as a child? I loved it! Okay, so let’s go Little Mermaid as a child child, (and then) little bit older, Dirty Dancing.”
“I tend to be late to social occasions. Like, even if it’s just 10-15 minutes, you know, it’s 10 minutes.”
Heels or flats?
“I’d say heels, but sometimes when it’s a big work season, flats (laughs).”
Favourite app on your phone?
“Ooh, that’s a good question. I’d probably say Instagram, for inspiration.”
Morning person, or night owl?
"Both. Which is a problem, because I don’t go to sleep! Night owl through performing, but I love the mornings- I think it’s the most peaceful, quiet time where you can’t be affected. It’s me time."
The nitty gritty.
Where did you grow up, and who does your family consist of?
“So, I grew up in country Victoria, in Ballarat, with my Mum and Dad, and my two brothers- one older brother, Matthew, and one younger brother, Robert. So, middle child, only girl- bit of a princess (laughs)! And yeah look, I had an amazing childhood, very sporting family- so a lot of football, and then I was that ballerina in there. I guess my childhood consisted of a lot of ballet, but also, I was very lucky that my family wanted to always keep things normal, and we did a lot of other stuff that didn’t have anything to do with ballet, to keep it very grounded and normal. I think your upbringing, and the values that your family instil in you is something you take with you in life. I can’t thank my family enough for the woman I am today.”
What motivates you to keep going every day?
“Wanting to be better. Like, just every day, I hate feeling stagnant, and I love moving forward, and I move at a fast pace, and as much as I know when I need to stop and slow down, I love to know that I’m getting somewhere. I’ve always wanted to move people, or inspire people, or- I remember years ago, someone asked me, what’s your legacy? And I thought it was the most bizarre thing for someone to ask me, I was quite a bit younger and I couldn’t even answer it! As life’s gone on, I’ve kinda thought about- and I’m still only young, but- to move people, in the world we live in, I guess, and just recently announcing my retirement, I’ve been so overwhelmed by people reaching out and (have told me), you’ve shined your light, or you’ve moved me, and I’ve just thought wow, if that’s all I wanted to do, then let’s just have fun now! You know, it felt like, that’s what I wanted to do- whether that’s talking to a little girl who looks up to me, or to an old lady that’s been moved by the show… I think you can move people in so many ways.”
What did you have to do to get here (study/training)?
“So I was just at a normal ballet school in my country town- started ballet when I was 3- and I actually remember my first day of ballet, like, it’s that thing, did I choose ballet, or did ballet choose me, and it was like the second I put on that uniform, and my hair was put in a bun, I just loved it. Like, 3 years old, and I even loved the discipline at that age. So I went through that, and then at about 12 or 13, I auditioned for- The Australian Ballet had this program where you could audition and just go for a couple of nights a week, for classes- and there were a few girls in my class who were auditioning and Mum was just like, look, you can audition, but I didn’t have a huge amount of facility, I didn’t have the best body at that age, I was a little bit chubby, but I had a real passion for what I did- my heart was in it- but I don’t think I was ever someone that people thought, oh, she’ll go on, she’ll be a star, you know. So Mum was like, yeah, you can audition for it, for the experience, but probably didn’t really think (I’d get through), but then she got the letter. I’ll never forget it, we were driving, because we lived in the country, we had a long driveway, so we were driving and she got the mail, and she was reading this letter, and she was like, oh my god, oh shit, you got in! And then it was like, what do we do now?! My Dad was like, what does this mean, what on earth is going on here, and Mum was like, now I’ve got to drive to Melbourne twice a week, like what’s going on! So, you know, it was a big sacrifice on my family. My Dad worked in Geelong, which is an hour out of Ballarat, so he would drive to work every day. (And I had) two brothers- all of a sudden, Mum had to work out the logistics of how their 13-year-old daughter gets to Melbourne twice a week. So I learnt how to get the train- Mum drove one night, another night I got the train. But you know, that also meant that the boys were being looked after by someone else. So I think it is hard in your childhood because I was the ‘good’ child, I was the perfect little girl, always off doing her ballet, and I think it did cause a bit of tension sometimes between the boys and I, like, of course Brooke’s off doing this or that, which I always found really hard, but as we’ve gotten older, what’s been beautiful is that all of that kind of dissipates eventually, and you get back to where you are. But at the time, the sacrifice of, you’re always training, you’re always (on). I was very lucky with my parents, that they both pushed me enough- like, people always think, oh it just happens, but it takes the whole tribe behind you to actually (make it happen). They only see the glamour, and they only see that end result of wow, that all happened, and how amazing, but they don’t see how (it got there). I mean, my Mum was by my side the whole time, taking me to everything, doing everything, I guess grooming me to be the woman I am today. And it was great, I mean, you hear this ‘ballet mum’ term and stuff- my Mum was a phenomenal ballet mum, she knew ballet, but she always believed in me. You hear about parents who are tough on their kids, but you’re criticised non-stop in the studio by your coaches, you do not need to come home to a mum who’s then going to still tell you (the same thing). Having said that, if I wasn’t working hard enough, Mum would be like, I don’t think you performed your best today. Not in a horrible way- she used to say to me sometimes, and her opinions always meant more to me than anyone else’s, but she’d be like (in a competition), you didn’t sparkle. That was always how I’d know what she thought. And then there’d be days she’d say you were beautiful etc, but it’s a crazy journey when you look back on it! There’s the competitions on weekends and all that hoo haa, and now competitions are out of control, but back then it was, we had fun. You got your Maccas Happy Meal on the way back home, and I had my friends. I remember that, not the prizes and whatnot. But yeah, I think there was a shift when I got to about 10-12 where I realised this was what I wanted to do. I grew, and just naturally my body started to change, and Mum and Dad’s biggest fear was the eating disorder part, and so they both said you know, if you go down this path, if any funny starts to happen like that, then that’s it, it’s done, so I always had great role models in that, because it’s such a big issue sometimes in your training. So I did that back and forth to Melbourne for two years, and then I got into the full-time program, which was moving to Melbourne, leaving my family, and luckily, because they were in the country, I would get to go home on weekends, so after my Saturday morning classes I’d go home for the weekend and just have a bit of normality in my life. The full-time program was half a day of dancing, half a day of academic studies at the Australian College of the Arts. So that was a whole other level- and when you come from a small country town, and you go off to embark on this big thing, the pressure you feel sometimes to make something of it, and make something of yourself is quite big. It is a four year full-time program, and I loved it. I loved my time at the school, I worked hard- I was always very inspired by how much my family were doing (for me). Ballet is a very expensive thing, you know. To send you to the full-time school, to be living in Melbourne, it’s a lot. And then, have you ever seen the movie Centre Stage? I always say to people, the final year is kinda like Centre Stage, so who gets offered a contract, and what happens etc. I was lucky enough- three girls got offered contracts at the end, and then became part of the Company. So I was 19 by then, and essentially, that was the dream. As a little girl, I remember doing a competition at The Australian Ballet Centre, and they used to have photos of the principals and some of the dancers, and I said to my Mum once, I want my photo up on that wall. It’s amazing how you can be ambitious at such a young age, but I wasn’t like, ruthlessly ambitious, I just knew what I wanted and I would have done whatever I could to make it happen, and I think that’s something that’s probably stayed with me in a lot of ways, that tenacity. By no means is the dream everything you imagined it’d be- in some ways better, in some ways a hell of a lot harder. My time through the Company has been amazing and really hard- this is my twelfth year with the Company- but I’ve been really fortunate to have great life opportunities. Actually, that amazing quote, which I love, ‘sometimes you have to let go of what you thought your life would be, and let what’s happening happen, because sometimes it’s actually better than you originally hoped for’, you know that beautiful quote? I love that, it’s so (accurate). I guess I’ve never been scared to say yes, I’ve never said no to something coming my way, I’m like right, let’s do it. I’ve also always loved being a little bit outside of my comfort zone- it’s where I do my best work.”
If you were to add another talent/area of expertise to your life, what would you do?
“Oh, that’s a good one! Oh, there’s so many good ones. I mean, now I’m at a point where I wish I had a degree or something like that, but I don’t know. Sometimes the mind of an artist, like that emotional mind-side of an artist, that perfectionist in me always wants to do things right, like part of me wants to strip that back a bit, you know, chill out a bit. But if it was more of a (thing), it’d be like more of a scientific mind, or something… I don’t know- god, if I could say anything, I’d love to be able to cure cancer! I mean, the sky’s the limit on that one (the question). I’d love to be able to paint- I mean, I could throw a bit of colour at a canvas, but I’d love to be able to do that.
*After our interview, Brooke added the following for this question: I’d love to be a good cook! Like, be able to actually cook things- just know what to add, a bit of this, a bit of that, and cook really good food for people.”
How do you either separate or combine your working and personal life, and how does it work for you?
"I think I’ve never looked at my life as work and separate. I mean, it’s a lifestyle to be a ballerina, because it is all-encompassing. You know, you have to give your all. but I’ve struggled a bit with this- people would say I burn the candle a bit at both ends, trying to maintain it all. But I think, the more life experience you have, the better artist you are on stage. You know? Because, how do you take on certain roles, and do certain things, when you’ve never experienced them in life? What’s been challenging for me, because we tour so much and perform so much, my personal life has often struggled, because I haven’t, say, dated in the Company, I’ve dated outside, my family are (far away) you miss out on big moments, and it’s really hard for a guy to understand that your availability is just so limited, and that always comes first. Ballet always has come first. But that’s another big one for me, because I don’t know that I want that to come first anymore. And that’s when I say the selfish word- because as incredible as it is, it’s such a selfish lifestyle, because it HAS to come first. You can only do it, and at that level- and I’ve always taken great pride in it, because it is a national Company, and people are coming to see, and have an expectation when they come to see the shows. And I’m a big believer in respecting the traditions of the shows. But I’m very lucky that the people in my life are very understanding and aware that my time is limited. But sometimes when you do get that beautiful time with them, sometimes your energy levels are so exhausted, you think to yourself- strangers get my best energy. The people I love most should get it, you know? So I don’t know if I just want the beautiful lived out only on stage anymore. I think I also want it in real life. I never want to look back and regret. When I turned 30, I looked back and went, you know what, I’m 30- and you get this 10-year presentation when you’ve been with the Company for ten years, you get a gold pin, it’s a beautiful, beautiful moment- and it was like something happened, this is the accolade, I was like, I think I’ve given it enough. It’s time to keep a little bit for me, and for life. I didn’t want to look back later on, and be like, oh I’m not married, I never had kids, oh my god. Doesn’t mean I won’t be a career woman, and always be gung-ho, but it takes a lot of your time, and nights and days, it’s a pretty crazy work schedule! So my personal life probably does suffer- and I’ve run myself ragged trying to make it work- but it’s been my life."
What’s next for you?
“I announced my retirement- so I retire end of June (2017), and then I’m taking a little break, and then I’m moving to Sydney. And I’ve been offered a great opportunity within a prestige property company and property developer, and like, I’ve done my real estate course- this is actually going to be a really funny conversation- so I’ve done my real estate licence, da da da da. People are always like, what?! I thought you were going to be a model, or go into media blah blah blah, but it’s just really funny, because, well, I’ve done that! But for me, I mean, it’s a great life opportunity, and I’ve loved learning a new thing- I’ve loved getting my head around the language of legalities, and learning what to do, but on the side of that, because little miss security over here likes to be like, well I’ve got that, and that’s going to happen, and I want to capitalise on what I’ve created, and who I am, because it means a lot to me, so watch this space! But something’s really brewing which is all to do with that fantasy, and like, the little girl, and the adult (of the ballerina), but not that serious stuff in between. But it’s exciting and it’s growing and it’s brewing, and I’m passionate about it- and it means something to me. It’s going to be a side thing, and if it grows, it grows, and if not, it’s just a lovely little thing that I’ve created, so it’s a bit of ‘watch this space’. I’m excited to launch into something different, and to have a job that is a job- I’ve never had one, where you’re like, that’s my job. I get a kick out of just the fact that I’ll get to put on a corporate outfit and sit at a desk, like, I’ve never done that in my whole life. And I’m not saying that that’s it, I mean, who knows what will happen, but it’s a new challenge, it’s something different, and someone’s believed in me and thought I’d be good at something, so let’s have a go! And it’s also the security of it- I mean, people say oh I thought you were going to go into TV, and I’m like, do people actually think you just wake up one day and say I’m going to retire, and someone’s offered you a TV show? I’ve got really good friends IN the industry, who are out of work. People who are really talented! I’ve been in such a cut-throat industry for so long. In saying that, if someone did call tomorrow and said, would you do this, of course I’d contemplate it, but the beauty of Sydney life, and this career change I’m having is that I’ve got the freedom to do all of those collaborations and side things, but it doesn’t mean I rely on it, so I think it makes it more enjoyable. And it doesn’t mean that this is it for me, and I’ve got other things I want to do, but for now I’m excited for a new challenge- I mean, it’s the world of the entrepreneur now, isn’t it, and that’s exciting!”
Brooke and I had a traditional high tea at Gunners Barracks, Mosman.
Brooke's tea of choice: 'English Breakfast'
Follow Brooke on socials: @brookelockett