Meet Telstra Ballet Dancer Award Nominee Marcus Marelli

The only male nominee for the Award this year, Marcus was born in Melbourne and started dance classes at the age of seven.

Of how it was to be a ballet dancer at school, he says: “There were some moments when I was definitely bullied quite harshly, but they were what drove me almost from the very beginning”. He studied at the Jane Moore Academy of Ballet and The Australian Ballet School, and toured with The Dancers Company in 2013. He joined The Australian Ballet in 2014.

In his role as Telstra Ballet Dancer Award nominee Marcus collaborated with Photographer Jez Smith. See what inspired them in this short video, then read his exclusive Q&A with below.

What sort of makeup do you have to wear on stage?

The makeup I wear on stage can change from ballet to ballet, depending on what type of character/role I am performing and whether or not that requires special colours, or even body paint! Standard makeup involves a foundation base, eyeliner, eyeshadow, a bit of blush, and sometimes some lipstick. However, for my role as Puck in ‘The Dream’ I have very intricate makeup, which includes lots of green eyeshadow, which extends out almost to my temples on both sides, a lot of dark shadowing on my nose, cheeks and neck, and a fair amount of body paint, just to make my skin look darker. Add some contouring around my muscles, and some huge diagonal eyebrows, and you have a completely different person standing in front of you!

Do you have to do anything to your hair?

Usually for us male dancers, a neat and tidy hairstyle is enough, but occasionally I like to mess my hair up into a pseudo-afro for the crazier/more animalistic roles, for instance the Fakir/Firestarter in ‘La Bayadere’. For times when my hair has to be neat, I make sure it’s wet/damp and style it the way I need (which can often be a challenge, as curly hair tends to have a mind of its own), and then chuck some product in to hold it together. Sometimes hairspray is required as well, just to make sure it holds.

Does the training/health and fitness routine differ markedly for men and women in the Australian ballet?

The training and fitness routine differs markedly not only between men and women, but also very much from person to person. Everybody has their own unique regime they follow, including diet, working out, warming up, and mental preparation. No one person is the same!

How do you integrate skateboarding into your fitness routine?

I have been skateboarding since I was quite young, so I feel very comfortable when I’m cruising on my board. Because of the potential hazards, I never go too fast (and my days of attempting tricks are over), but it can be a really nice warm-up/cool-down for my legs. Short trips around the area where I live can be really nice after a long day of rehearsals or even a performance. I love how relaxed I can be, yet also feel just enough work in my legs to not get too tired, but enough to feel a bit of a burn. It’s also great for what we call ‘interval training’ where you work for a few seconds, then take a break. I use my legs to push off, gather some speed, then just ride the momentum for a bit, and repeat. Skateboarding is weirdly therapeutic for me, although probably because it’s so much fun at the same time!

What was your biggest career highlight? Low light? And how did you overcome this?

So far in my career, I’ve danced some amazing roles which I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to do. The most fun I’ve had on stage would be as Puck from Sir Frederick Ashton’s ‘The Dream’. Puck requires incredible speed and a slightness that comes only from hours of rehearsals and practice. The character himself is extremely cheeky and fun, and these qualities speak to me as a person. I loved every minute of being out there, jumping and turning, yet also keeping the cheekiness that the role demands. Not so much a low light, but an embarrassing moment on stage, comes from The Dancers Company Tour, in which I performed the role of Lead Gypsy in Ai-Gul Gaisina’s ‘Don Quixote’ in 2012. I had to do a big trick/jump down the corner, but right as I took off, my feet slipped out from under me, I landed flat on my back, and slid all the way down the stage! Unfortunately these things happen sometimes, and us dancers must adapt, so I did a little backwards somersault roll to put me the right way up and continued on my merry way. Everybody falls on stage at least once, and personally, it’s a way of reminding me to keep striving to improve, hopefully so I don’t fall over again.

What’s the biggest misconception about ballerinas?

One of the biggest misconceptions about ballet, at least that I’ve heard, is none of us know how to have any fun outside work! People seem to think we go home, do some more stretching, do heaps of extra strengthening exercises, and then go to bed super early. While off-duty exercising and maintenance of our bodies is extremely important and required, it’s not all we ever do. We have many opportunities to spend quality time outside of the studio/stage for leisure time, whether that be going out on a weekend with friends, or having time for ourselves to enjoy our own hobbies. It’s definitely not all work and no play. That being said, when in the studio, everybody’s attention is on the task at hand and the diligence and discipline shown while working is of the best I’ve ever seen.

What was the most creative/enjoyable/difficult/unexpected aspect of your collaboration with Jez Smith?

There were so many amazing things about working with Jez Smith. Just to be in the room with somebody who is clearly so passionate about his art form, and knowing that’s how I feel about my own, was inspiring and an incredibly inspiring experience. It was so great for Jez and I to have the chance to mix our art, and I would say the most creative aspect of it all was the brainstorming sessions Jez and I had prior to commencing the project. We talked about lots of different ideas/plans we had for the Telstra films and fed off each other’s enthusiasm and love for art. The most difficult part was putting all this planning and all these great ideas into practice. On the day of filming, there was a lot of preparation involved, and of course, the physicality I needed to display for Jez was challenging and overall, it was a very demanding day indeed. The most unexpected part about this whole process was just how much I was able to relate to Jez, despite the differences in our art, we were able to produce something really special and hopefully, beautiful.

What do you love about the fashion/costumes you get to wear in these beautiful productions?

The costumes we wear on stage can range from the very plain and simple, to the almost exceedingly lavish and elaborate. From costume fittings, where you first try them on, to when you get out on stage, and finally feel like your fully-fledged character, it’s all such an incredibly enjoyable process, which is headed just masterfully by our very skilled wardrobe department.

How would you describe your off-duty style?

The only two words I can really say to this are incredibly relaxed. When off-duty, and not doing extra fitness work, you will normally find me in my two natural habitats, my couch and my bed. Because of all the intense physical demands of this career, it’s imperative that you find your own down-time to relax and regenerate those tired, sore, screaming muscles/joints. My off duty hobbies include reading (currently reading ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series by George R. R. Martin while I have withdrawals from the TV series), playing video games, spending time with mates, skateboarding, and of course, sleeping!

What do you see yourself doing after your ballet career?

This is a thought always at the back of dancer’s minds, as our careers are generally quite short due to the intense demands of classical ballet and contemporary. I would absolutely love to teach ballet one day. I have had some truly memorable teachers and mentors during my training and I have always had a passion for wanting to inspire others. It would be incredibly special to take all this invaluable knowledge and wisdom imparted on me by past teachers, and pass it down to the dancers of tomorrow. Apart from teaching, I would love to explore other pathways, including acting and writing. Also, after my ballet career, I would love to travel overseas and experience countries and cultures that are vastly different to my own.

To find out more about the Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards go to

Written by TheCarousel

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