Dancing Abroad with Remi Wortmeyer

“I wasn’t bullied,” says Wortmeyer “But when I was in high school, much to my horror, my home room teacher announced to the class that I’d been awarded a position with the ABS and I kind of sunk into my chair, but to my great surprise everyone cheered.”

Robert Helpmann, born in Mount Gambier in 1909, is undoubtedly South Australia’s most famous balletic export. He joined the Vic–Wells (now the Royal) Ballet in 1933, partnering Margot Fonteyn for 27 years. Today, Australians dance worldwide, several as principals, such as Danielle Rowe, recently retired from Netherlands Dance Theatre to be in America with partner Luke Ingham, another Mount Gambier lad, now a principal with San Francisco Ballet, and Remi Wortmeyer, starring with Dutch National Ballet (DNB). These three South Australians are Australian Ballet School (ABS) graduates who joined the Australian Ballet (AB) and worked their way quickly up the ranks. On the line from Amsterdam, Wortmeyer tells me he had his first dance lessons when three, because his daytime carer-grandmother and her friends with similar jobs put their charges in ballet school while taking morning coffee. He went on to Terry Simpson’s studio; by 15 he was at Adelaide High School, where the farsighted principal encouraged his parents to send him to ABS. His dancing caused some bother at school “but nothing too serious”. “I wasn’t bullied,” he says. “But when I was in high school, much to my horror, my home room teacher announced to the class that I’d been awarded a position with the ABS and I kind of sunk into my chair, but to my great surprise everyone cheered.” As well they might. Dux of his graduate year, he joined the Australian Ballet in 2002, and in 2006 two awards took him to New York’s American Ballet Theatre (ABT) for six months. “A wonderful experience, and I still have a lot of friends I’m close to,” he says, “and of course now that I have a little more international exposure I see these people around the world.” He left the AB in 2009 for the DNB. The Artistic Director, Ted Brandsen, when directing West Australian Ballet (1998-2001), had offered him a contract there while he was still at ABS. This time, Wortmeyer asked for an audition; none were scheduled, so Brandsen asked him to do an open class, and accepted him from that. “A bit of a gamble,” Wortmeyer remembers, but it paid off. Taken into the 70-plus strong company, he was promoted Principal in 2013 with a lifetime contract. “It’s a very diverse company, which is one of the reasons I wanted to join it.” Were there specific reasons for leaving Australia? “The time with ABT gave me a taste for international things and European dance and life in general. My ancestors are from Germany, so I go over to Germany and have coaching from John Neumeier, director of the Hamburg Ballet and an idol of mine choreographically – he’s incredible. I dance his ballets with the National, and he’s invited me to do galas in Russia. I always wanted to live in Europe, and I wanted to experience the history of art in general, not just ballet, because I also paint and have exhibitions. It’s the whole thing – it’s a different lifestyle.” He has developed a special relationship with Neumeier’s ballets since the choreographer insisted that he dance the leading role of Aminta in his Sylvia in 2011 with less than one complete rehearsal. “He trusted me, and I trusted him,” he says. “It was a huge success.” remi-wortmeyer-adelaide-review-dancing-abroad-2016-ballet-dancer

Remi Wortmeyer. Photographer: Altin Kaftira

Wortmeyer’s own choreography began with Fade Not for the AB’s 2009 Body Torque program, and on the horizon is an operetta; in between there have been several shorter pieces and a full-length work combining dance, music and theatre. Would he consider returning to Australia? “I love Australia, my family’s there, it’s a wonderful country, and the more time you spend away, the more you start to appreciate all the special qualities Australia and Australians have. It will always be endearing to me, and I’ll always go back even if only for holidays. But who knows what the future holds? My ballet career will come to an end, and I don’t really know what will happen. I like to come back, especially in the winter.” He thinks dancers should go abroad. “I think for directors, as well as dancers and choreographers, [it’s important to travel] and to bring something back and to bring something different. Australians have such a great facility and energy, so I hope that they can evolve the art form even more.” Wortmeyer’s setting an example. When home in Adelaide in January, he held a choreographic workshop at Terry Simpson’s studio, and has set up an annual encouragement award to provide money for student travel. “It’s a start,” he says. “I’ve had enough time over here to settle and get my thing going. I’m excited to be able to give something back.” Now an international star, humble about his great success, generous and clear-eyed, Wortmeyer is also a glowing model for those who follow him. Cover photo: Remi Wortmeyer as Aminta in john Neumeier’s Sylvia. Photographer: Serguei Endinian

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