The Australian Ballet is performing its latest production, Faster, at the Sydney Opera House from 7–26 April. Faster is modern ballet at its visceral best: a heart-pumping triple program from some of the world's best contemporary choreographers.
We caught up with soloist, Vivienne Wong, in between performances and rehearsals for the company's next ballet, Graeme Murphy's Nutcracker – The Story of Clara, to find out how this shy dreamer – her words – has prepared for her latest role mentally and physically, how she keeps her energy levels topped up and what matters most to her most.
What does an average day look like now that you're performing Faster?
Even though we perform, we still work during the day, starting with our daily class which runs for an hour and 15 minutes and then moving onto rehearsals (generally for an upcoming program) which typically last another two and a half hours. The time between rehearsals and the half-hour warm-up before the start of the show is usually spent juggling the right amount of rest and recovery, food, physiotherapy and body conditioning exercises.
This triple bill is physically demanding and requires a high level of athleticism. What specific training did it require?
Nothing gets you fit and ready for a ballet like Faster quite like rehearsing it every day. In saying that, I had a very light workload in the weeks leading up to this ballet so, to keep up my baseline fitness, I went to the gym every day and did a mix of cardio workouts – I mostly swam or cycled – before continuing with my usual Pilates and body conditioning exercises.
How do you help your body recover after such a physically demanding performance?
I usually follow each show with an ice bucket dip for my lower legs and sometimes I'll have a hot and cold shower to help with my muscle recovery.
How did you prepare mentally for the physical demands of Faster?
I incorporated a few visualising techniques into my preparation. Giving myself the time and headspace to think through what I wanted to feel during each movement of the ballet really helped me when it came to performing the steps.
Which ballet of the 2017 season are you most excited about?
I always look forward to the mixed bills, where I feel like I can celebrate my strength, agility and athleticism in a different way to when we perform the classics. That said, the new production of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland© promises be an absolute spectacle to watch and perform.
What's the most demanding role you've ever performed?
Definitely this season of Faster – and our triple bill in 2015. Unless you're a Principal or Senior Artist, it's rare to dance for more than a few minutes at a time, so this season, which requires plenty of endurance and physicality, has been incredibly demanding.
What's one role you'd still love to perform?
Once upon a time, I would have loved the opportunity to dance Giselle, but these days it's not so much about the roles I perform as the experiences involved in learning a role or working with different artists, choreographers and styles. If I could, I'd love the opportunity to work with artists like Crystal Pite, Ohad Naharin or Akram Khan.
How many hours a week do you exercise?
This varies from week to week, but to give you an idea, we generally work six days a week – and that's just dancing. On top of that, there are body conditioning exercises, Pilates and a bit of cycling, swimming or gym work. After so many years of dancing and being in tune with my body, I can always tell when I need to exercise more to keep up a particular level of fitness or when I should cut back to keep myself injury free.
How long have you trained at Elixr?
The Australian Ballet and Elixr Health Clubs have had a wonderful partnership since 2008. As a result, I've enjoyed access to the clubs for many years – especially useful when I'm traveling and on tour. I really love the fact that we're able to access reformers as well as all the other necessary gym equipment in one place.
Do you take Pilates or yoga classes to complement your training?
I tend to incorporate yoga (for active muscle stretching) and Pilates (for strength and muscle control) into my everyday warm-up routine. The Pilates I do is a mix of Pilates and tailored body conditioning exercises specific to my needs.
How do you maintain your energy levels throughout the day?
What I eat and drink and how much rest I get is incredibly important for my energy levels. Besides the usual healthy eating, I'm also a big fan of half-hour power naps. These can make a huge difference to how alert and energised I feel, especially considering the long hours we put in and the physical demands of the job.
How important is good nutrition when it comes to maintaining these levels?
I can't stress enough how important it is! For our bodies to run at peak condition, it's vital that we nourish them completely. We're constantly learning new ballets, while still performing at night, so we can't ever afford to be anything less than alert and ready to go.
What do you enjoy doing when you're not rehearsing?
I love the outdoors and wish I had more free time to go on hikes and bush walks, swim in the ocean and ride my bicycle. I also love kicking up my heels and watching a movie or two.
Who is your greatest inspiration?
I would have to say my sisters. Both are women I look up to for guidance and motivation. They inspire me to be as kind, generous and patient as I can be, and to be dedicated but level headed.
What is the most important thing in your life besides ballet?
My husband. Definitely my husband. He's so much of my strength, my courage and my happiness.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I have no idea! Hopefully enjoying whatever it is that I'm doing.
Save 10% with The Australian Ballet
Book tickets for Faster at the Sydney Opera House between 7 - 26 April and enjoy 10% off the price of your ticket(s).
This dynamic triple program features the works of some of the world’s best contemporary choreographers: Faster by David Bintley explores the super-charged world of elite sports, Infra by Wayne McGregor examines urban humanity and Tim Harbour’s Squander and Glory looks at the human energy system.
To book, head to australianballet.com.au/the-ballets/faster-2017 and use the code ELIXR.