Emerging from a family of Ballarat bricklayers, 23-year-old Callum Linnane admits it was a surprise to his family when he realised all the rigor and rehearsal of the ballet world was for him.
Despite hating jazz and tap dancing when he first started at the age of seven, he’s blossomed into one of The Australian Ballet’s brightest young talents.
Linnane was named the $20,000 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award winner in December 2016, one of the most prestigious dance prizes in the country, and often a step on the road to being the Australian dance company’s principal artist.
But before reaching the pinnacles of ballet perfection, he will tick off another career milestone; this week, Linnane begins performances as the lead Albrecht in a new staging of Giselle, opening at The Arts Centre in Melbourne on August 30.
“Maybe I was just in denial, and really was enjoying it. But I kept on going, and each year it would take up more and more hours of my week,” he said of his younger self.
Up until 2008, Linnane travelled to Melbourne six-days-a-week to participate in the Australian Ballet School's after-school program while still attending St Patrick’s College.
But when it became apparent he had an unrivaled passion for ballet – and the potential to match – he began splitting his full-time studies between he ballet school and the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School at Southbank.
“It felt like the normal thing to do, the normal progression, I was never aware that people my age weren’t doing the same thing, or that they had no idea what they wanted to do with their careers,” Linnane said.
On the day he finished his Year 12 exams, he was offered a place in The Australian Ballet. In contrast, he watched his friends from Ballarat struggle with the weight of trying to pick a career at 18 years old.
“I remember thinking, ‘wow, how lucky am I that I knew what I wanted to do like seven years ago?’ It was only at that point, in hindsight, that I realised how rare it is to know what you want to do so early on.”
Back in the present, his schedule is unsurprisingly demanding, both physically and mentally. On a rehearsal week, he’s in the Pilates studio at 9am sharp, limbering up, before starting ballet class at 10.30am.
A short break at 12pm makes way for rehearsals of upcoming shows at 12.15pm. Right now, his afternoon includes intensive solo work with Giselle producer and famed dancer Maina Gielgud, smatterings of scenes with the broader cast, as well as preparations for Spartacus which opens only weeks after Giselle.
Though it may seem strange to those of us unacquainted with dance, Linnane said he has no problems with switching quickly from one production to another within minutes.
“Whenever you say it and explain it, it sounds bizarre how you’d do that, but maybe it’s something we’re used to and our brains are trained for it,” he said.
You hear one piece of music, and all of a sudden that physicality is present. Then you heard another piece, and another physicality is stored in that. Somehow, they’re just hanging around in the same brain.Callum Linnane
His last moments spent in the company’s Southbank studios often see him plunged into a ice bath, to try and reduce the eventual strain of a day spent in constant movement.
“At the moment, it feels like it’s taking a huge physical toll,” Linnane said.
“I feel pretty wrecked at the end of each day. The steps and physicality are still quite new to my body. Walking home two nights ago, I was in a lot of pain.
“But it’s the kind of pain and soreness that you know is going to set you up well for the performance.
“As well as it being physical, the ballet is going through my brain all day too. You’re constantly thinking, ‘How can I make that better? How can I develop that?’.”
He cites time spent in the cinema as his “luxurious me-time” necessary to switch off on weekends, and might have pursued an acting career if the ballet’s bright lights hadn’t come calling first.
But for now, he’s fully-immersed in preparations for Giselle, a romantic production requiring both strong technique and emotional depth in the portrayal a peasant girl and a duke navigating love and betrayal.
“The dancing and the storytelling are really moulded into one,” Linnane said. “They’re not separate entities, which is amazing. For me personally, they’re the types of ballets and productions I like: where the dancing, storytelling and acting have equal value.
“It’s quite a classical production, but for that, it’s a very human story. It’s not a fairy tale, like some older ballets like Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake are. It’s got a universal story at its core.”