Allergic to the Couch Potato

“Hey, how about you run around the block a few times and then come back to us?”

This is a line I often hear when I am on holiday. I was not blessed with the couch potato gene and unfortunately too much free time can make me slightly crazy.

I remember one of my favourite teachers at ballet school saying to our class, “it takes double the time to get back to the fitness level you were in, in relation to the days you take off, so four days of rest is eight days to get back into the condition you were in before the break.” This is why it is important to maintain some upkeep in physical condition while on holiday.

Pointes in the lounge

Pointes in the lounge

At fear of sounding just like a health food TV commercial, it’s all about balance. I’m not talking about throwing myself fanatically into extreme workouts every time a holiday comes looming. Like a used battery, holidays are a great time to mentally and physically recharge. Rest is very important. 10 days of vacation time was bestowed upon the NZ ballet dancers after our season of Coppelia. Once a day I have kept up some form of physical exercise. Here are examples of the type of things I do to maintain physical fitness during time off. I write this from my lounge room floor where I am currently typing whilst sitting in side splits…

Side split writing + my terrible bunion that made it into the shot!

Side split writing + my terrible bunion that made it into the shot!

Dancing requires a combination of strength, endurance, flexibility and core balance. Fellow dancer and ex roommate, Mayu Tanigaito has been my inspiration on the flexibility side of things. Every night when I shared a flat with this incredibly talented dancer she would spend the last part of her evening stretching. I have copied! I spend 20 minutes or more each night stretching. It’s such an incidental way of maintaining physical health with the comfort of being at home and watching a movie, reading (or writing a blog on your laptop) at the same time.

The best part of a holiday, for me, is catching up with family and friends abroad! My dad and I love going for long bike rides around Melbourne. Occasionally I like to head to the aquatic centre to fit some swimming in as well. I am never opposed to a 20-30 minute run around my neighbouring suburbs also. Upon waking and making those first steps through the house it is not uncommon for a member of my family to find me using a bookshelf in the lounge room as a makeshift ballet barre to do a little classical training. Mainly I stick to non-dance related exercise and a mixture of Pilates and stretching.

Next week, rehearsals for our upcoming ‘Allegro’ season begin! There are bound to be some sore muscles as we switch from a highly classical performance season to a mixture of dance styles, some being very contemporary. As I always say, my camera is ready to capture some exciting shots of this season in progress and I look forward to sharing them in the weeks ahead!

Tonia 🙂

Silver Linings

The reflection of a silver lining can shine upon ourselves an image that we don’t necessarily see in the moment of action.

A little Disney mania on my dressing room spot!

A little Disney mania on my dressing room spot!

After performing in Rotorua earlier this week we have now reached Auckland. The disposition of being human naturally has its ups and downs and it’s part of a dancers job to consistently perform as well as possible. Attention to detail and constant self-correction can sometimes become muddled with perfectionism. Our show in Rotorua was so rewarding. It was one of those performances where you feel that everything comes together. A big thanks to all who attended the show too, the audience was fantastic!

There are occasions when this feeling of personal triumph does not always occur. As dancers are constantly trying to improve their performance and perfect the art form, we can find ourselves getting caught up in little details. Don’t get me wrong; it is most often the little details of a show that can make a performance stand out in the right way. However, over my years in the company I have found ways of turning my negative thoughts about a performance that hasn’t gone as well as I would hope into positive ones.

Perspective is vital. Perhaps just one step in the entire show didn’t work as well as it normally would, or I felt a little more tired than normal and therefore felt that I could have done better. This is where those shiny, silver linings come into play. It’s important in these moments to stay true to the main goal. There is no reason to be negative about these things when there is so much more to feel good about. Focusing on the positive moments in the performance and the absolute love of performing is so essential. I will never give in to these negative thoughts.

Stretching!! For daily images check out toniaroselooker on Instagram!

Stretching!! For daily images check out toniaroselooker on Instagram!

I also meditate daily. It’s a time when I can find some internal quiet and stillness and I find it really helps me refocus my body and mind. I understand that this method does not necessarily work for everyone but it’s a personal preference of mine and in this incredibly busy and technological based world it’s my chance to detach myself momentarily from external stimulus and focus internally. Dancers not only need to take good care of their bodies but also their minds and this is a practice that assists me to perform at my best.

Over the next 2 days we perform here in Takapuna! I think I’m going to walk along the beachfront to the theatre and take in the beautiful scenery! Tonia 🙂

Stage brained…

Our job is to make the hard stuff look easy. Elegance, grace, poise, power, agility, strength, stamina, musicality and on top of that, sparkling eyes and a smile. The moment you step onto the stage these are some of the things you hope to pass on to an audience. The unseen component is the mental process that occurs through a show. From the moment you wake on a show day there is a certain focus. A different energy exists. Ballet class and rehearsals prepare your body and maintain strength and ability before and during a performance season. A show day feels like a heightened sense of these rehearsed focuses. Having just performed in Dunedin, here is a glimpse into my mental process during our most recent show.

Whilst getting ready, makeup lights warming the dressing room and music sounding through my speakers, my mind is already on the show ahead. Thinking through corrections I have received from a previous show and steps I want to make more out of, or aspects of my character that I want to play on. I try not to spend too much time thinking on one thing though. I have learnt that thinking too much about aspects of the show can do more harm than good. Therefore playing music keeps me balanced. I will often sing along. It always keeps me calm during pre show prep. I will never forget during ‘Cinderella’ season when choreographer Christopher Hampson came to wish me good luck and I was singing at the top of my voice to Hunters and Collectors- ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’. An embarrassing moment but I was certainly in a good pre show mood!

Costume on and the announcement from stage management that the stage is set, I make my descent downstairs with my fellow dancers to stage. I try out a few steps, getting a feel for the space and lights. I like to keep my body moving during this time, keeping my muscles active. I am a big fan of positive affirmations. I have a few that I like to think about before curtain up. “Live what you love”, “no regrets” and “you’ve got this” crop up a lot in my mind right before I head out on stage. Not the most original of sayings but they really help along with a smile! I enjoy the little nervous/excited buzz I feel before I step out onto stage. I know that this adrenalin will help me power through.

The moment I first step out on stage my mind goes quiet for a second. It’s a wonderful moment, just taking in the audience and the instant in time. As I continue dancing I think about what I am trying to achieve with each step that I am performing. I remind myself to breathe when steps become tiring and it is in these moments when you really have to steel your brain and not give in to fatigue. The amount of times the thought “nearly there, you can do it” has occurred is innumerable. It is this combination of physical exertion and mental stamina that makes dancing so personally rewarding. Add to that an audience and artistic expression and it’s a feeling that is simply wonderful! Tomorrow we make the long bus journey to Napier! With my overnight bag packed for our 2 day visit I look forward to another couple of shows! Tonia 🙂

A glance behind the scenes!

With the curtain down on Coppelia in Invercargill, we bussed through the drizzly, South Island rain to find ourselves in our next performance destination, Dunedin. Thank you so much to the Invercargill audience. It was wonderful to receive such warm applause and it was a joy to perform this up-lifting ballet to an equally up-lifting crowd.

With 2 days off in Dunedin what mischief are we all going to get up to? Well, there is one door list that everybody is trying to get their name on- physio! We are fortunate enough to have one physiotherapist that travels to some of the main centres that we journey to. Our bodies are our tools, so maintaining health and fitness is a must to continue to perform at our best. Unfortunately there are one or two dancers maintaining more serious injuries this tour. For this reason there will always be backup casts and covers for every role in the ballet. Therefore, as well as learning the parts we have been cast to perform, we also will usually have between 2-4 and sometimes more roles to understudy in case of emergency. As the saying goes- the show must go on!

I have heard stories from friends in other companies of people waiting in costume and makeup side stage in case someone has to come off due to precariously performing on a nearly broken foot etc. Luckily, that is not the case this season. The prevention of this, however, is what is so highly beneficial about having physio available whilst on the road. I am probably getting irrationally excited about getting my calf muscle released tomorrow but it’s these body maintenance resources that help us continue to do what we love- perform!

As well as physio appointments, a day off is usually spent going to a café for brunch, window-shopping, hitting the gym and relaxing in front of the tv. Today I did all of the above (except the gym oops). Brunch to celebrate fellow colleague Maree’s birthday and my felafel wrap was delicious. Window-shopping turned into a search for the perfect ankle boot for fellow dancer, Lori, and may I say, Dunedin, you have some very chic shops! I then thoroughly enjoyed catching the latest episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ with a cup of tea and my motel roomie- Maree. Feeling very well rested. Looking forward to getting back under the stage lights soon! Until then, Tonia 🙂

From left to right- Clytie, Katherine, Alayna, Abigail, Maree and Lori. Out to brunch for Maree's birthday in Dunedin.

From left to right- Clytie, Katherine, Alayna, Abigail, Maree and Lori. Out to brunch for Maree’s birthday in Dunedin.

Dolly Dancing

What’s that sound? It’s the sudden thud of my long blogging silence being broken. Hello again everyone!

The past 7 weeks have been filled rehearsing for our current performance season of Coppelia. After shedding our winter woollies post USA tour it’s nice to be back in some slightly warmer weather (despite the occasional Welly horizontal downpour).

Ready to head out on tour!

Ready to head out on tour!

Coppelia is a ballet I have grown up watching. It was one of the first ballets I tottered along to see as a very young, aspiring dancer and it was the ballet I performed at the conclusion of my graduating year at the Australian Ballet School. 7 years later, using the Australian Ballet’s costumes (I found my name in one of them from all that time ago) we are revisiting this uplifting classic.

Without going into too much plot line detail, I believe that this version of Coppelia- reworked by the consistently inspirational Martin Vedel, has gorgeously developed characters and a touching twist particularly to the character of Dr. Coppelius.

Tonight hails an evening of suitcase packing before jetting to Invercargill tomorrow. I feel I can confidently say that after years of touring life I have my travel essentials very clearly established. As I learnt from my kiwi buddies, you should never go anywhere without a pair of jandals, sunglasses and shorts. Added to the mix are a dress and heels for post show functions and as always my travel candle and tracksuit pants are an absolute luxury to travel with. Naturally tennis and golf balls are perfectly normal things to carry in ones handbag when preparing for tour too? It may sound like packing everything but the kitchen sink but when it comes to post show muscle aches a golf ball to the calf is a miracle worker. Lastly and quite possibly the handiest item to take on tour is what is known amongst the dancers as “our tour bible.” This booklet contains all the timetable, travel, media calls, accommodation and venue information for the duration of the tour. So, bible packed, suitcase zipped and I look forward to blogging our tour adventures!

Tonia 🙂

Joy at the Joyce

I wanna be apart of it, New York, New York!- feel free to click on the links along the way!

Fashion, art, the hustle and bustle, the bright lights and big city, do a slow 360 and take it all in.

The cold shock hit hard in Minneapolis. Reaching -20 degrees celsius and lower there was no time for the usual tourist wander through the streets. It was agony to be outside for over a minute. But the locals have it all figured out. Each building is connected to the next through an amazing over ground closed walkway system. You can roam in warmth, looking out over the frozen city from building to building. This was the first snowy experience for many of the dancers, smiling with delight through the bitter cold whilst making snow angels. The winter wonderland is home to the fantastic Orpheum Theatre with a delightfully spacious stage. Pre show preparations proved quite entertaining when a few of us discovered that our makeup wipes had frozen solid, all part of the fun. The Minneapolis audience was absolutely magnificent. We were so warmly welcomed and the American people are so friendly and helpful it’s been such a joy to be here. Such incredible hospitality, thank you USA!

Landing late into NYC and my first impression was a greeting of a warm cookie in the lobby of the hotel. Oh heaven! Dancers trudging through the snow globing New York streets, negotiating the puddles and slippy, iced pavement, all the while with massive smiles of excitement, eager to explore this concrete jungle. With an entire day of shopping (it’s tiring work spending money) I came home with a whole new wardrobe after a very happy and successful day bargain hunting. New York is certainly a city that never sleeps. Late night wanderings to Times Square til 2am catching up with friends whom I haven’t seen in many years left me feeling very fortunate to have this awesome opportunity. To top off my sense of elation at being in the Big Apple the annual Westminster Dog Show was on at Madison Square Garden! So many stunningly beautiful dogs were being housed in our hotel- oh how I wish I could own a dog!

Of all the theatres I have performed in, the Joyce was a very unique one. It certainly has it’s own personality and it was such a marvellous little space. With 5 days of shows it was a dance packed week. I loved every minute of it. Our programme for NY included 3 different pieces starting with the classical, sparkling ’28 Variations’, neo-classical hauntingly beautiful ‘Of Days’ by our homegrown hero Andrew Simmons and then finishing with Javier’s barefoot and bold Banderillero. Salvation was found in Whole Foods on the way to the theatre each morning. A mecca of fresh, healthy food can be found in every form we could possibly want ready to fuel our busy evenings. FYI- I know I’m late on the trend but organic 100% raw coconut water is delicious. So nutritious and it really did help me maintain my energy levels throughout the week.

3 different pieces with 3 different styles and moods. A 15 minute interval in between each piece gave me enough time to whip my hair from a bun to two braids and back out to half up half down, a change of costume, a change of pointe shoes and a change in lipstick all the while thinking through spacing notes and mentally preparing my mind for the change in mood of each piece. “That’s places please everyone.” There it is- that line from stage management that sets off the last minute heart flutterings right before the curtain goes up. The audience goes quiet and we know that the lights in the auditorium are now out, everyone is anticipating the start of the piece. In this moment there is no more to prepare. It requires a huge amount of trust in yourself. The feeling of performing really is like no other. It’s so incredibly rewarding and it was an honour to perform in the US doing what I love. Onto the next season!

Tonia 🙂 – check out the hashtag #rnzbinusa for more pics from the dancers!

Old town charm in Santa Barbara

Strolling through Santa Barbara

Strolling through Santa Barbara

Take a stroll with the gang! We had a day off in Santa Barbara where the seaside and pretty architecture overshadows the slight chill of the weather. This is the cutest place. The building style here reminds me of the streets of Florence except instead of observing statues by Michelangelo and eating gelato I am sipping Starbucks and buying discounted makeup from M.A.C.

Staying right on the water front, my day off was spent exploring the shops with fellow dancers and treating myself to a bit of beauty salon time. In the evening we were all treated to the most delicious dinner at a divine Italian restaurant. Hosted by the lovely and generous Lew and Genevieve Geyser who indulged us in a most wonderful evening. I can honestly say that it was the tastiest and most mouth-watering steak I have tasted in my entire life.

Today was spent rehearsing pieces for our mixed bill coming up in Minneapolis and New York. After over a week of travelling and performing ‘Giselle’ it was very beneficial to have a little refresher on the pieces we will be performing soon.

Speaking of Minneapolis and New York, I have been privy to recent pictures of those areas and the snow is fresh fallen and I can feel the winter chill through the images. Brrrrrr.

Looking forward to our one and only performance of ‘Giselle’ here in Santa Barbara tomorrow night. It’s always exciting stepping onto a new stage and finding your way round a new theatre. It may sound strange but every theatre seems to have it’s own unique personality matching its history. ‘If these walls could talk.’ 😉 Time to get a good nights sleep before tomorrow’s performance. Goodnight!

Tonia 🙂

Giselle goes LA

Leaping for joy in LA

Leaping for joy in LA

Are nerves, muscle aches and stress tension keeping you up at night? There’s nothing like the opening night roar of appreciation from a 3000 strong crowd to set your spirits soaring.

Positive adrenalin coursed through our veins as the makeup mirrors reflected the image of quietly focused dancers, methodically hair spraying and pinning, getting stage ready.

We were excited and just a little bit nervous to be performing in a new country and theatre. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect. All we wanted to do was perform the best show and give our all.

Once our feet hit the stage something very special happened. Performing- there isn’t anything else like it. It was such an honour to be dancing alongside my friends and idols. Oh boy, it was so much fun!

Three shows into our LA shows of ‘Giselle’ and 3 standing ovations later I have loved every moment on the stage here. What an incredible experience so far! Performing our hearts out to an incredibly generous audience, I may be an Aussie but I had a proud Kiwi moment!

Image by Tonia Looker

Yang’s gigantic energy source to power through 4 shows

Tomorrow hails our last show in LA and a bus ride to Santa Barbara. I shall miss coming back to the hotel post show only to discover that the elevator is being used to film part of a TV series or the lobby hosting a Top Model event, the sun shining even in a US winter and the wonderful Music Center stage. However I look forward to exploring and performing in a new place.

Tonia 🙂

Alayna, sunshine and smiles :)

Alayna, sunshine and smiles 🙂

LA arrival snaps!

What day is it? What time is it? Time to explore LA! I spent my first day here busy navigating and attempting to use a GPS in a hire car with Alayna, Harry, Antonia and Laura. Receiving visual confirmation of my LA imaginings, Alayna bravely and very competently drove through the palm tree lined streets- getting acquainted with driving on the other side of the road. Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Hollywood Hills, Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Rodeo Drive…despite getting lost a few times we had a fantastic day out! Celebrity alert! Name drop incoming. Dot-Marie Jones, known to me from the TV hit GLEE was within our reach as we enjoyed a late lunch.

Tomorrow brings an adventure to DISNEYLAND. It’s time to attempt to get a good nights sleep and recover from slight jet lag. Here are a few snaps from todays shenanigans. Cannot wait to perform here!

Tonia 🙂

Dancing with style

The day draws ever closer. 4 days remain until we are jetting off to the United States. Amongst the newly bought winter woollies are very eager dancers, ready and rearing to go. Rehearsals, physiotherapy and last minute pre travel errands have kept me incredibly busy this week and my blog daily countdown has suffered. I am a firm believer that having a lot to do is never a bad thing so all this pre tour excitement is making me a very happy dancer indeed.

Gillian Murphy, Antonia Hewitt, Tonia Looker, Tamsin Cooper, Mayu Tanigaito, Abigail Boyle and Lucy Green

Gillian Murphy, Antonia Hewitt, Tonia Looker, Tamsin Cooper, Mayu Tanigaito, Abigail Boyle and Lucy Green

Despite the sweat, grunt and hard working days in studio there is always room for a little style and allure! Today I had the privilege to meet NZ fashion designer Tamsin Cooper. Dressed in pink and lace and looking ever so glamorous she is simply charming. Tamsin has been so kind as to provide the female dancers with evening bags perfect for an after show function in the U.S.A, and we get to keep them too! Feeling special! Tamsin has also designed an evening coat for Gillian Murphy. In a quote from The New Zealand Herald Tamsin says “Travelling to New York with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and creating a signature coat for a ballerina as incredible as Gillian Murphy and accessories for the ballerinas, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

On the top floor of RNZB headquarters, hair sprayed, make up applied and favourite rehearsal gear chosen, Antonia, Abigail, Lucy, Mayu, Gillian and I gathered for our photo shoot with Tamsin. Set in the wardrobe department, tutus hanging from the ceiling, reams of vibrant fabric, costume racks bursting with tulle skirts and assorted lycra provided the perfect environment for the shoot. It was most certainly a wonderful afternoon.

We finished our day with a meeting discussing the itinerary of the tour. Reality is setting in. We really are going on tour soon and it’s time to pack. Hopefully I can fit my giant winter coat, boots, spare pointe shoes and rehearsal gear as well as everything else into my suitcase. I can’t wait to get on the plane and head to L.A!

Tonia 🙂