I was nearly six weeks along when I finally realised. There were three days of The Nutcracker to go at the Sydney Opera House before the end of the 2010 season, and I was dancing with a tiny stowaway on board. Closing night arrived quickly and was full of emotion for the usual reasons: farewells to leaving dancers, elation at having survived the 40-odd shows of Nutcracker, and for me, the realisation that it would probably be a while before I set foot on the Opera House stage again.
The summer holiday spent with family was invaluable, and my husband (Tristan Message, an ex-dancer with The Australian Ballet and now a teacher at The Australian Ballet School) and I shared the exciting news with them, both because we wanted to and to explain the rather obvious nausea (crackers and vegemite aren’t my usual Christmas dinner choice).
A few weeks later I found myself back in the studio, ten weeks pregnant and trying my best to hide it! Other than the nausea (which thankfully was improving) and my ability to sleep ten hours a day, I still felt surprisingly normal, and easily slipped back into the regular routine of classes, rehearsals and conditioning. But how long would I be able to keep this up? I counted forward to the seasons of Madame Butterfly – I’d be 15 weeks during the Melbourne season, 18 (and a bit) in Adelaide. They seemed like arbitrary numbers, and I couldn’t really imagine what it would feel like to perform that far along, or what it would look like from the audience’s perspective. I would just have to wait and see.
Two weeks later I was finally able to share the news. My first stop was the office of Assistant Artistic Director Danilo Radojevic, who instantly broke out into a beaming smile as he congratulated me. Telling the dancers was easy, as it took all of about three minutes for my news to travel through the common room, dressing rooms and studios, helped by a few squeals of surprise and excitement. I was having so much fun telling my friends and colleagues that I almost forgot the challenge of the following weeks: how do you stay in peak physical condition for performing with a tiny human being growing inside you?
I quickly realised I would need some extra help from Body Conditioning Specialist Paula Baird-Colt. I discovered that as my bump grew, I would need to start phasing out strenuous abdominal exercises, as well as anything done lying on my back, so my all-time favourite, Tower Adductors, would have to be replaced with something else. In morning ballet class, however, I could keep doing anything that still felt comfortable, which for the time being was pretty much everything. I did stop and wonder from time to time what arabesque pirouettes or grand jétés must feel like from inside the bump, but decided that it probably couldn’t tell up from down yet so hopefully wouldn’t mind.
The Melbourne season of Madame Butterfly arrived, and although I was feeling distinctly pregnant, the flouncy tulle skirt of my ‘Kate’ costume, combined with a few extra bar lines (the rows of hooks in the hook-and-eye fastenings) seemed to camouflage things pretty well. My patient ‘Pinkerton’, Rudy Hawkes, managed to accommodate my ever-changing centre of balance and I was able to just enjoy being part of the beautiful story of Madame Butterfly.
Soon we were in Adelaide, and I had reached the four-month milestone. I was looking forward to dancing Suzuki, thankful for the extra panel our dedicated wardrobe staff had quickly added to my costume when we realised that I had ‘popped’. All of a sudden I started to notice the difference in morning class. I was no longer throwing myself across the room in grand allegro, pirouettes had taken on a definite elliptical quality and back bends were becoming a serious challenge.
My final performances for the year, however, were wonderfully memorable and extremely special. The knowledge that I was carrying someone else through the experience of helping to tell a beautifully heart-breaking story made the performances more real and almost visceral for me, even if the audience couldn’t tell the difference. In the back of my mind was the knowledge that it would be many months before I was back on stage.
At 20 weeks I settled into my ‘safe duties’ in the Melbourne office. I am still doing Pilates and a daily ballet class, (well attempting to), though my arabesque points decidedly at the floor rather than at the wall behind me, pirouettes are pretty much out of the question and on forward bends I get a little kick in my side (can’t tell whether it’s enjoyment or protest). I’m helping out with projects for different departments of the company. In the process I’m gaining a lovely insight into the commitment and passion that the rest of the organisation has, which allows us to present such beautiful shows.
I am engaged by the new challenges office work presents and incredibly excited about having a child, although it does feel a bit strange that something that has been a constant part of my life since I was 18 is now absent. Being on stage with the artists of The Australian Ballet is a very special privilege and one that I value deeply. It will be some time before I dance on stage again, but when I do, I look forward to dancing as a mother.