Inverell-trained male dancers make mark with Sydney Dance Company, Bangarra Dance Theatre

STRETCH: Izzac Carroll extends himself with seven hours a day of dance training.
STRETCH: Izzac Carroll extends himself with seven hours a day of dance training.

From ‘Mr Warialda’ to a groundbreaking nude piece in an art gallery; and from a sneaky ‘try this’ at the barre to depicting 40,000-year-old stories, two Inverell-trained men continue the Sapphire City’s history of strong dancers, as Carolyn Millet reports.

EVIDENTLY Inverell’s dance game is strong. Recently, we reported on two sisters who trained in the town during their formative years, and went on to dance, respectively, on cruise ships internationally, and at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. This week we report on Izzac Carroll – who’ll touring to Tamworth on June 28; and Rikki Mason, who’s in the premiere of a new work at the Sydney Opera House the next day.

IZZAC CARROLL

On June 28, audiences at Tamworth’s Capitol Theatre will be treated to a show by the Sydney Dance Company – Frame of Mind – featuring 19-year-old Izzac Carroll.

Watch a preview of Frame of Mind

Izzac grew up in Warialda and never gave much thought to dance until he impulsively went to a regional dance camp at Lake Keepit in 2011.

Tamworth City Dance Academy owner Kellie Singh was one of his teachers there, and recalls he stood out for reasons other than quality training or, perhaps, inbuilt talent.

“When he came to us, he couldn’t step-ball-change or point his toes; he was not particularly flexible; he knew no dance terminology,” Kellie says.

“But he had a really great attitude, he was always very friendly and part of a great group, and it was wonderful to work with him … He was really unsure of himself. He loved it, though – and when he left dance camp, you could tell it had been put in his mind this was a possibility.

“He must have really loved it and wanted it.”

Kellie dubbed Izzac ‘Mr Warialda’ and her advice at the end of the camp was to “spit out the gum and buy some goddamn jazz pants!”  

Izzac admits it was a bit of a surprise even to himself how much enjoyed the experience of starting dance.

“I can’t really name what I liked about it. It just felt cool, so I kept doing it,” he says.

He went back to perform with the regional ensemble at CAPERS later that year and also signed up for twice-weekly classes with Rolande Hooklyn of Sapphire City Dance Academy, a teacher of more than four decades’ experience and also Kellie’s first dance teacher.

It didn’t take long for a passion to be born and a talent to emerge.

By 2013, a 14-year-old Izzac had moved to Brisbane to study full-time at Australian Dance Performance Institute, a registered training organisation in the performing arts.

The next year he completed an Advanced Diploma in Performing Arts and successfully auditioned for Sydney Dance Company’s (SDC) pre-professional year.

That allowed him to undertake a nationally accredited training course with the contemporary dance company in 2015, giving him a Diploma of Dance (Elite Performance) and challenging him to rigorous skills development and career preparation.

In 2016, Izzac had a watershed year.

He continued his studies with SDC under full scholarship, joined the company under a trainee contract, and had his premiere performance with it in Untamed in October.

Izzac is one of just 16 company dancers and has toured Australia and the US with different productions.

One of the more notable shows was January’s Nude Live, which the dancers performed naked at the Art Gallery of NSW.

For two performances, even the audience members were nude (in fact, a booking T&C was that “clothed audience members [would] not be admitted”).

ART: Sydney Dance Company's artistic director Rafael Bonachela, centre, with Izzac Carroll and another company dancer.

ART: Sydney Dance Company's artistic director Rafael Bonachela, centre, with Izzac Carroll and another company dancer.

Izzac’s take on the concept seems to echo that of audience members and reviewers – a little uncomfortable at first, but an amazing event.

“That’s pretty unusual for Australian audiences, I guess, especially when they have the option of going nude, too,” he says.

“It was definitely an unusual experience, but I was excited to do it.

“It’s pretty out there, but it turned out to be an incredible experience.”

Watch an ad for Nude Live (warning: contains nudity, duh)

Izzac spends about seven hours a day honing his craft, but this physical intensity is balanced by a more relaxed, in-the-now attitude.

“I don’t really like long-term goals – I think there is too much room for disappointment,” he says.

“I just want to keep working harder until I’m an awesome mega dance machine.

“Other than my family and friends, I kind of owe everything to dance. The opportunities that I’ve had from it are endless.

“I always thought I could do it for a living, I just knew I needed to work hard for it to happen.”

RIKKI MASON

Rikki Mason also became hooked on dance almost by accident.

Having trained in martial arts with Inverell instructor Nick King since he was seven years old, at 17 Rikki had a world title Koshiki Karate tournament coming up. To prepare, he enlisted the help of Nick’s wife Laura, who owns Craze Dance Academy.

“I just wanted to get my flexibility back, so I started off doing some private stretch classes with her and from there she put me onto ballet. She kind of snuck me onto the barre and said, ‘Just try this’,” Rikki laughs.

Rikki had tried dance before and it wasn’t for him. This time it was different.

“I used to run from martial arts to footy training, then from footy training to dance,” he says.

“Because I was older, it didn’t bother me what people thought … I thought it was cool and different, and I like being different.”

By his HSC year, he’d “slowly weaned off” all the sport he was playing, wasn’t interested in going to uni and didn’t really know what he wanted after high school.

“Laura said, ‘You can always try full-time dance’. And me being me, I said ‘OK, why not?’”

Rikki also moved to Brisbane and studied at Australian Dance Performance Institute for 18 months before being accepted into Switzerland’s The Rudra Béjart School, where he studied for a year.

Over the following couple of years, he performed with Lucid Dance Theatre and Queensland National Ballet, and on television’s Everybody Dance Now (2012) and So You Think You Can Dance (2014).

A descendant of the Kullili people from south west Qld, Rikki joined Bangarra Dance Theatre in 2014.

On June 29, Bangarra premieres its latest work, Bennelong, an homage to the diplomacy and leadership of Woollarawarre Bennelong, a senior man of the Eora from the Port Jackson area who helped his community survive a clash of cultures.

Go behind the scenes at a photoshoot for the upcoming 'Bennelong'.

“It’s now going on my fourth year and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Rikki says.

“I couldn’t imagine myself with another company – I just really love what the company stands for.”

Rikki says Bangarra has educated and enthralled him as much as its audiences across Australia and the world, as it tells stories of Indigenous culture, traditions, social issues and more.

“I just love learning about the culture of the Indigenous people. It’s one of the most beautiful cultures I’ve ever come across and it’s in our own backyard …

“Our productions could be traditional stories from people in Arnhem Land, or it could be a story about people in Sydney. It’s current, it’s old, it’s new, it’s everything.”

Rikki, 27, says he didn’t know a lot about his Indigenous heritage before joining the company, but “Bangarra has connected me a lot more to the culture”.

“When you’re dancing and telling a story that’s from the Kimberley or the Northern Territory and passed down from the elders there, and they’ve entrusted this company to tell that story, it’s haunting, almost, because it’s 40,000 years of culture.”

If he hadn’t pursued dance for a living, he thinks if anything he might have tried for a career in rugby league.

“Dancing when I grew up would have been one of the last things I thought I’d be doing as a profession, but just that ability to come in and be creative, it’s a special feeling – one of the best feelings you can imagine,” he says.

“I also get to travel the world, get paid to come in and dance and tell a story every day.

“We tour all around this beautiful country of Australia, from remote communities to big cities.

“I’m glad I’m doing what I’m doing.”