Belgian born Aurelien Scannella arrived in Perth with his family five years ago to take over the reigns as artistic director of WA Ballet. It was the pinnacle of his career as a dancer and teacher. Beneath Scannella’s thoughtful and softly spoken demeanour is a swag of ambition and he is already achieving his goal of making WA Ballet into a company of international standards. He chats about motorbikes, life as an artistic director and the current season of Peter Pan.
What music gets your heart racing?
It depends on how I feel on the moment I guess…any pop song that is popular on the radio, sometimes a song I was listening when I was younger (songs are often related to special moments of your life), movie soundtracks, opera…?
What calms you down?
To just spend time on my own, seeing nobody & talking to no one. It doesn’t need to be during days but a few hours.
What do you dance along to?
I totally stopped dancing…on stage and at home! 🙂
How are you preparing for Peter Pan which opens on November 17th?
My Team is staging the ballet since beginning of October. This time we’ve managed to prepare four casts which is quite an achievement for a company our size. It is a long season with 21 shows and I wanted to give the dancers the opportunity to perform more than one role only.
I will be bringing my children along to Peter Pan. What do you hope the audience members will experience?
I hope that our audience will dream away for two hours and leave the theatre with a smile on everyone’s face. From small children to grandfathers and grandmothers!
How did you originally become involved in ballet?
I got into ballet because of a car crash when I was seven. After three months of hospitalization and a brain trauma, I could barely walk. From there, any collective sport was banned for me and I needed something that would help my body and brain to recover. The doctors believed that ballet would do the job.
You have held principal dancer positions at State Theatre Wiesbaden, Deutsche Oper Berlin and Ballett Basel. What is your favourite role or memory from those years as a dancer?
I danced my very first Principal role (Romeo) in Romeo and Juliet with my future wife at the time, Sandy Delasalle. It was a very strong moment in my life. I was so nervous! But so happy at the same time. Sandy & I married a few months later.
You chose to retire from dancing in 2008 and work as a guest teacher – what is the average career span of a dancer and when do you know it is time to retire? It must be a heart-breaking decision!
To stop your career can be very challenging. In my case, it was “ok” as I made my own choice to quit dancing. I was satisfied with my career and I had other ambitions in life. To become an AD was the ultimate goal of my career and I wanted this to happen when I was still young. I took over the job in Perth when I was 38 and it was the pinnacle of my career. It is hard to say when the time has come for a dancer. It depends on many factors. Sometimes you just feel that it is time to stop, sometimes you need to be told that the time has come…in both cases, it is never an easy transition. But life must go on!
In 2013 you uprooted your life in Europe with your wife Sandy Delasalle (in the middle of a successful career as a ballet dancer) and son Matteo to come to WA Ballet. What was the attraction?
The job really attracted me. I’ve been so lucky to be able to make such a big move with my family. I wouldn’t be here without them. Sandy did quit her job in France to move to Australia but during two editions of Ballet at the Quarry, she performed two beautiful works from two amazing choreographers.
Where did you learn the skills to be the director of a ballet company?
I had to learn the job on the spot, day by day. I tried to first follow my instinct and my guts. A little bit like becoming a father! In both cases no one told me how to do it. I then followed several leadership courses and workshops and worked with a personal coach.
You came to WA with ambitions to grow the number of dancers and raise the profile of WA Ballet nationally. Do you feel like you have been able to do that?
What has been accomplished at WAB since 2013 is quite impressive. The profile and the standard of the company have been considerably raised to the level of an international ballet company that can now be compared to any European ballet company of the same size. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able yet to really increase the number of dancers but we are working on it. We had to increase the number of our admin staff in a first instance. We can now focus on increasing our budgets and the number of our dancers. Step by step… We don’t want to end like the hare!
You have a soft spot for motorbikes… what is the appeal?
I like the sensation of speed and the sensation of freedom you get when you drive a motorbike.
In the 2018 season you have programmed a number of original creations by the company, including a groundbreaking collaboration with the Gary Lang NT Dance Company from Darwin. Why is it important to be creating new works in WA?
The most important and exciting process in the life of a ballet dancer is a creation process. These intense rehearsals spent in the studio with a choreographer is priceless. It also helps creating a real identity for a ballet company. It is not by always performing what other ballet companies have done that WAB will build its name, reputation and uniqueness. If you want to be successful, you also need to be unique.
What is the biggest challenge about being the director of an arts company in WA?
The “Tall Poppy Syndrome” in WA is very challenging on a daily base.
Would you encourage your son in a ballet career?
No, I wouldn’t. He’s now 13 and hasn’t started ballet yet so it’s now too late. But it would be great if he follows an artistic path. For the moment he doesn’t really know yet.
What is your favorite place in Perth?
Perth is such a beautiful city with so many amazing places!
Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music?
I really enjoy the good food. Sometimes too much … 🙂
Thank you Aurelien Scannella for taking the time for our Celebrity Soft Spot. Peter Pan is running at His Majesty’s Theatre until December 10th.