Steven Heathcote – The Australian Ballet’s longest serving Principal Artist

Posted March 18, 2019 in Wyvern Corner Office By Alexandra Robertson

Born in Wagin in 1964, Steven Heathcote started school at Wesley College in 1977 after being awarded the Howard Bantock Scholarship. He began ballet at ten years of age after a school excursion to see a West Australian Ballet performance and vividly remembers his fascination with the music and movement.

At sixteen, Steven accepted a scholarship with West Australian Ballet and then moved to The Australian Ballet School in Melbourne in 1981. He joined The Australian Ballet in 1983 and was promoted to principal artist in 1987, a position he held for twenty years.

He has received three Helpmann Awards, two Mo Awards and an Australian Dance Award for Outstanding Performance by an Individual. After retiring in 2007 as The Australian Ballet’s longest serving principal artist, Steven began to produce and direct opera. In 2010, he conceived and directed a new production of Handel’s Julius Caesar for Victorian Opera.

Steven lives in Melbourne with his wife Kathy, who was also a dancer with The Australian Ballet, with their two adult children.

In our first edition of Wyvern Corner Office,  Steven tells us about his time at Wesley and what inspired him to pursue a career in the arts.

Tell us a little about your childhood…

I was born in Wagin, then moved to Collie before arriving in Perth at primary school age.

What are the most important lessons your parents taught you?

I was blessed with a very happy childhood, particularly growing up in country areas and some of the freedom that entails.

My two wonderful parents were avid readers and from a young age I remember having books read to me, sometimes during the day and always before bed. I have no doubt this led me to develop a love for books from an early age.

When and why did you start ballet?

My first experience of ballet was a South Perth Primary School visit to Perth Concert Hall to see a special performance of the Nutcracker, by West Australian Ballet. I was nine years old at the time and it made such a significant impact on my psyche. It seemed to contain all of my favourite things; music, storytelling, movement & mystery.

I asked my Mum if I could start ballet immediately and six months later, began lessons at the school of Mme Kira Bousloff, the founder of WA Ballet.

How did you became a Wesley student?

My journey to Wesley was something of a mystery to me as I was informed by my parents that I had been awarded a scholarship made available by the Methodist church. My recollection was that I simply got lucky, as the boy who had originally received it had to move away and I was next in line in the list of applicants.

My time at Wesley was generally a very happy three years although I did struggle with academic subjects other than English. I strongly suspect if I was attending school in this day and age I would be put in the ADD basket where so many creative kids seem to end up. My problem was I spent too much time in my own imagination and perhaps not enough listening to teachers.

My saving grace at Wesley was drama with Glenn Hitchcock, a truly gifted teacher who was also a working actor. The skills he helped us build along with the first rate plays he produced and directed were something I will never forget.

What was your first job after school?

My first job after school was actually washing dishes in a family friend’s restaurant, an experience which not only earned me some pocket money, but taught me a lot about how much food is wasted in a supposedly developed Western country.

I guess my first ‘real’ job after leaving school was receiving a contract at the Australian Ballet in 1983 after completing two years full time training at The Australian Ballet School. Little did I know I would still be there twenty five years later.

What are your career highlights so far?

Career highlights are often hard to pin down, particularly over such a long period. My strongest memories come from the thrill of working with people I’ve admired and looked up to. Performing in some of the worlds’ most iconic and beautiful opera houses is an experience which reminds one of how many great performers have existed before you and how many are yet to come. The sense of history contained within a theatre is a humbling thing to witness.

What qualities do you think a person needs to succeed?

Success is an interesting term. When asked about the qualities a person needs to succeed I would also ask what an individual values most. For me success is about making decisions to pursue what is meaningful to me. It is also about simply being happy in your life, treasuring the relationships you have with people and enjoying creative interactions with others.

Do you have advice for anyone trying to break into the Arts industry?

For anyone wanting to be involved in the Arts, my advice is fairly simple. Any artform takes hard work, whether it’s music, dance, acting, singing or visual art you are pursuing, it will take years of dedicated discipline, blood, sweat and yes, occasionally tears.

There are no shortcuts and I think that is a good thing, because it is on the long road we learn the most. For most people who are passionate about their art, this long road will not seem daunting because there is so much to be discovered along the way. There is not really any point at which you ‘arrive’. I have been involved in dance for the last forty four years of my life and still have so much to learn. Every day is another opportunity to do just that.

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