After growing up on the Mid-North Coast dancer Darren Christian McIntyre is now a principal dancer with the Ajkun Ballet Theatre Company in New York. We catch up with Darren for a chat about his career.
> You grew up on the Mid-North Coast what do you remember most about the area?
I was born in Glen Innes, NSW in 1980 and my family moved to Port Macquarie in 1987. Growing up in Port Macquarie was truly memorable and a fate that I cherish.
Port is just such a beautiful, friendly city and through this vibrant community I was introduced to dance, the arts, and the opportunity to pursue them.
I still joke and laugh with my family and friends to this day, as I just couldn’t imagine it if my family had not moved. I would most likely be a farmer, which I admire a lot, but because I had the destiny to become a professional dancer, a dream I was fortunate to choose and realise, makes me the wealthiest man alive.
> How did you become interested in Ballet?
I think I was about 10yrs old when I went to see a ‘Christmas Revenue’ by Parry’s School of Dance at Settlement City. I was just in the clouds, I was like WOW, I want to do this glamorous life that looked like a Hollywood MGM Musical movie!
So I asked my parents and with their support, I enrolled in Jazz and Tap classes.
Then Glynn Ianno and Mrs. Parry (my dance teachers) asked me to join ballet classes, as they needed boys to help do pas de deux (partnering) classes. Eventually ballet just became an addiction and well, look at me now… How many people can say, “I have a healthy addiction!”.
Over my years of dance training in Port I got to work with and appreciate many different teachers. I believe that Elizabeth Polson-Galloway and Andrea Glennon-Rowsell, were instrumental in building up my classical technique and artistic passion for ballet. The support and encouragement I received from all my teachers and the entire dance community in Port certainly prepared me for my journey ahead; being accepted into and studying in prestigious full-time dance institutions like Ecole Ballet Studios in Sydney (1996) and The Australian Ballet School in Melbourne (1997) from where I graduated, receiving my Advanced Diploma in Dance in 1999.
This foundation most certainly became an asset to my success in my career.
> When did you think that you would be able to make a living from Ballet?
I never really thought about it, I guess (or knew) that dancing was/is my passion, and I am fortunate to be able to make a living in something I love doing so much.
In the beginning I just couldn’t stop dancing as it was just so fulfilling, fun and I was good at it. By the time I even had a second to think about it becoming my career, I was performing with The Australian Ballet Company in “La Bayadere” and receiving my first paycheck. This is when I realised it was my job, as it never really felt like my occupation before (and still doesn’t.) Although it is a career full of hard work, sacrifices and dedication, I really enjoy every second of it. I strive to improve each day and my emotions explore and cascade to movement, my body knows no limit, not even the sky, and dance is my way to communicate to a diversity of cultures with no boundaries – it is a language interpreted and understood by all.
> Joining the Ajkun Ballet theatre company in New York in 2005 you were promoted from Soloist to Principal Dancer. What is it like being part of a major professional company?
Joining the Ajkun Ballet Theatre in 2002 was both an opportunity of a lifetime and a blessing. When I first joined the company I was so impressed by the level and commitment of their dancers and artistic staff. I was now performing and working with some of the worlds best in the field, I must admit that I was very nervous, but was just happy to be offered this opportunity. In 2005 after a performance of ‘Mozart, Epilogue of The Genius,’ choreography by Chiara Ajkun, where I was dancing the role of W.A. Mozart which had been created for me, I was promoted from Soloist Artist to Principal Artist; a dream that I had aspired since my journey began way back in Port Macquarie. I remember calling my family immediately as I got home, I treasure that moment of excitement, the adrenalin that was accomplished from years of hard work, and now I had finally reached the top and had the title that went with it.
Becoming a Principal Dancer at such a young age was very challenging and at times difficult to believe… being ranked as a soloist didn’t entail as much responsibility at being multi tasked as you require to be a Principal Artist, which is what I was about to experience and find out. Being a Principal Artist is kind of like you become the center of attention on every tour you go on. The hardest thing about that, is definitely that now it no longer only matters how I dance, it also matters how I dress, speak, communicate and the list goes on…
> You have had lead roles in productions such as: Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet and Swan lake to name a few, which has been your favorite character to perform?
I find every role to be portrayed a challenge and an innovative journey. For me being able to explore, feel and portray a character’s emotions is really an amazing sensation.
I was once told by my coach and dear friend, Chiara Ajkun, that any dancer can come out on stage and dance a role and fake it with good technique, but a real artist will become the character emotively, not fake it, and this is something you must be born with. This advice certainly inspired me to seek this bliss in my ability. I remember that I was dancing the role of “Romeo” in Romeo and Juliet, that Chiara had choreographed and coached me in, during the final Crypt scene pas de deux I had just swallowed the poison, but I remember having a black out when I was looking at Juliet awaken in my arms as I was dying. During the curtain call I couldn’t remember how we got to the end of the ballet.
Chiara came to me after the performance and said Darren; you were certainly born with it and walked away with a tear. I think to date my two favorite roles I have danced are “Romeo” (Romeo and Juliet) and “W.A. Mozart” (Mozart, Epilogue of The Genius, – choreography by Chiara Ajkun).
> In 1999 you choreographed you’re own original ballet, “What May Come” in collaboration with the Anti – Cancer Council of Australia, is choreography something you would like to do more of?
“What May Come” was not a project I had planned or even thought about, it just happened. It was a way for me to deal and cope with the loss of my Grandmother. She had lost her battle to cancer, and we had been very close. I guess people cope with the passing on of loved ones differently. My only way at that time to communicate my sorrow and to deal with the empty feeling I had inside was to let it all out, and for some reason I started creating a ballet, which evolved into a 20 minute dance piece. Ms. Marilyn Rowe OBE (Director of The Australian Ballet School) took a strong interest in the piece and I was awarded The Dame Peggy Van Praagh Award for Choreography, and the piece was premiered at The Australian Ballet Centre on July 2nd, 1999. I wanted to contribute in the international fight against cancer by raising funds and awareness and so in collaboration with The Anti–Cancer Council of Australia the premiere of ‘What May Come’ became a benefit performance.
I still enjoy the art of choreography and although at this point in my career I am 100% focused on my dancing, I still choreograph here and there, which is certainly an avenue I will explore more when I am in the transition from being a performer to other career facets in the field.
> You have created the Marianne McIntyre Memorial International Ballet Scholarship, in memory of your mother which fosters young dancers education through grants to study locally and overseas, this sounds like a great event?
The Marianne McIntyre Memorial International Ballet Scholarship was established in 2001. I really wanted to contribute to and help assist young dancers to further their dance education, as over my early years in the industry as a professional dancer, I realised how important and valuable it was to have a solid foundation and an open door to be exposed to inspiring artists. I wanted to target especially those dancers who are not from the Big City (I.e. Sydney, Melbourne etc.) who may not have had the opportunities to pursue what they love. There is also an amazing level of undiscovered talent in the country and therefore I discussed with my Sister, Korrina Goodwin, and my whole Family on possible ideas to bring to Port Macquarie. Through my contacts I had made over the years in the industry an event that would offer firstly opportunities to young dancers to travel to experience major Dance Institutions worldwide to further their knowledge and dance education for a few weeks etc. And secondly to bring to Port Internationally acclaimed Artists to perform and adjudicate this event.
We established The MMM Scholarship Fund, which to this day (5 years later) offers $20, 000 worth of scholarships and grants to young dancers each year to enhance their dance education. Young dancers are offered the opportunity through the support of many major dance institutions to travel to New York City to experience The Ajkun Ballet Theatre; to three major institutions in Italy, Austria, New Zealand, The Australian Ballet School and other major Australian institutions. The support we managed to receive was just amazing. What I had originally planned to be a small competition in Port to help few dancers turned into one of Australia’s biggest ballet competitions receiving interest this year from many people overseas as well. The future of this event is certainly being discussed as the success that has been achieved from the scholarship fund now sees past recipients excelling all over the world in Companies and major dance institutions.
Over the past five years we have also brought to Port, with the support of the Hastings Council, several world renowned artists to adjudicate the event (Dr. Chiara Ajkun, Mr. Colin Peasley, Ms. Dani Brown, Ms. Rebecca Martin, and Ms. Sophie Northam), bringing a series of workshops, master classes and performances only offered and seen in major cities worldwide.
We had never intended for this event to have grown so big, attracting dancers to Port for the weekend long event from all over Australia, and it makes us proud and excited that we can help the youth of today to become the stars of tomorrow.
I am also thrilled that I am able to hold this event in Port, where it all started for me and I know that my mother would be honored and so happy to know that her inspiration and commitment to the young aspiring dance community still lives on…
> You are a frequent guest teacher in Australia and overseas, do you have any free time to come home often?
I am a guest teacher, choreographer and performer annually at “Performing in New York”, The Ajkun Ballet Theatre International Trainee Program, The Dance in Italy Festival, and at various dance institutions worldwide for Workshops, master classes and summer intensive programs. I really enjoy working and investing time into young dancers as I believe that my career was asserted by people helping me, and so being able to contribute back now to helping these young aspiring dancers to fulfill their dreams is just a blessing. I really enjoy this mentoring role which is a major part of a Principal Dancer’s responsibility. Education and outreach is vital to the growth of our industry, but on the side of that it is so rewarding to help these dancers to become successful in whatever they desire to aim for. I enjoy watching them all grow into amazing individuals and artists.
My career and life as a principal artist certainly keeps me busy, and I do wish I had more time to spend at home in my vacation periods, but I guess that this is not always possible. On top of returning home once a year to hold the MMM Scholarship in Port, I also serve as the Australian and New Zealand Advocate for The AjkunBT Scholarship Fund and also hold the position of Assistant to The Artistic Directors of The Ajkun Ballet Theatre.
These roles require and enable me to tour around Australia auditioning, performing and guest teaching, and this year I will also be returning home for the first time in many years for a Aussie Christmas and New Year’s spending some quality time (vacation time) with my family and friends.
I am really looking forward to that, as when I normally come home it is generally a full schedule of work, but work that I love doing.
> In your career you have numerous awards including The Dame Peggy Van Praggh Award for Choreography, and distinguished by the American Guild of Music Association as an Artist of Extraordinary Ability, what do you wish to achieve in the future?
I have been fortunate in my career and I am overwhelmed that I have managed to achieve through much hard work many of my dreams that I only thought would ever remain dreams… It is just so hard to say what comes next as I always enjoy challenges and my dreams and the reality just keep getting bigger and better…
I am still very young and have much to achieve, I believe that I have only just started….
> Thank You for your time Darren.