When we were little girls, we all probably shared one desired destiny: that of wearing a tutu professionally and being a ballerina. However, while we gave spinning about a fair stab, the road to professional ballet stardom is a disciplined one, requiring determined commitment from childhood. No wonder 0ur eight-year-old selves floundered and decided our next career goal was becoming a vet after being distracted by cute ponies.
We chat to Irish ballet star and choreographer Zoë Ashe-Browne, a young Irish woman who is a professional ballerina with Ballett Vorpommern in Germany and a graduate of the English National Ballet, about her career and what life is really like for a hard-working member of the corps. Zoë is currently working on a short film, Ballet Átha Cliath, that will showcase the city of Dublin via dance. Dublin band Cloud Castle Lake are composing an original score and Howard Jones is directing. The project is crowdfunding at the moment and has a week left to raise the €7000 required to make this dreamy idea a stunning reality.
Why did you start dancing?
I started dancing very naturally. I did after-school activities like piano and tried a brief stint at drama and dancing. Dancing just ended up becoming an obsession.
You left Ireland at 16 to train at ballet school in London. Was that terrifying? Did you ever get lonely?
I think it was the naivety of youth that made it such a natural transition. I was too excited to be scared. My very supportive older sister was also in London – that helped a lot. School was initially daunting and quite close to the start there was a point where I was either going to quit or totally immerse myself. I chose the latter. For me, professional life was at times terrifying.
Is the dancing community a supportive one?
I have been so lucky with the people I’ve met in this profession. Many Dancers from school and every company I’ve worked for have been wonderful friends. Often teachers in school and the ballet staff in companies are extremely harsh; it’s just the nature of the beast. But fellow dancers are almost always the thing that will pull you through the difficult times.
You’ve travelled for parts – do you have a favourite city?
I loved touring Denmark, especially going to Copenhagen. I can’t explain why I loved that city so much, but the vibe was infectious. I also love coming home to Dublin. Leaving so young meant I only rediscovered the city fairly recently. I love everywhere to eat and drink in Dublin: Port House, Musashi, the No Name bar. For clothes, I love shopping in COS and Siopaella.
Tell us about Ballet Atha Cliath – why are you doing this project?
The idea for Ballet Atha Cliath was born last August. I was lucky enough to be awarded an Arts Council grant and I used the funding to collaborate with 4 dancers and create a piece inspired by Dame Ninette de Valois and W.B Yeat’s working relationship in the Abbey Theatre during the 1920’s.
Howard Jones filmed the final piece and he seemed entranced by the whole experience. I was also really impressed with how quickly he was able to spot detail and capture movement on camera. The other dancers picked up on his natural flare for it as well, so we started talking and meeting to develop an idea and it all just came together quite organically. Howard then sent me demos from Cloud Castle Lake and I just thought their sound was so perfect for the ideas we had. I love how passionate everyone involved with the project is and how much support we’ve had so far. I just can’t pass up the opportunity to work with so much young Irish talent.
Your job is physically intense, how do you take care of your body?
The job is physically intense but it does help to do additional training if I’m not tired. When I have free days, I go to the gym and take gyrotonics lessons. But rest is important. When I’m on holidays, I do tend to relax completely for three weeks maximum and then get back to work. My physiotherapist is also amazing at keeping me in check. Food is really important, low GI carbs like porridge are great and obviously protein and vegetables are a big feature. But I’m pretty balanced. I drink alcohol and eat virtually everything. I just need to make sure I don’t have a sugar crash during the day, so I tend to snack on small things when I’m training like nuts, raisins, bananas, etc.
What are your go-to songs for your personal playlist?
My music taste is pretty versatile. My most recently played songs are Arctic Monkeys R U Mine?, Kelis’ Suspended, Haim’s Forever, Local Natives’ Ceilings and The Jezabels’ Easy to Love – so it really depends on what mood I’m in.
What’s the one myth about ballerinas that you would like to take an opportunity to dispel?
I can’t say there are any myths that haven’t got a grain of truth to them. Dancers can’t be typecast easily, some love going out and socialising and others are very introverted. Some people eat a balanced diet, others barely eat. Some are fitness fanatics, and some are heavy smokers. The one thing I can say is that they all love their jobs, despite what they may tell you, that is one myth I can dispel. They may complain, but they love it.
Check out the Ballet Átha Cliath Fund It here. Photos, unless otherwise stated, by Dominic Harrison.
This article was originally published on the 27th July 2015.