Tim Podesta is very much the local lad made good, having made it on the international stage as a dancer and choreographer
If the boy wasn’t meant to fly then why? Here he is, sailing fast past others’ tears wrenched from splintered dreams, blocking the incongruous cracking of champagne corks in the wings.
If it wasn’t so overwhelming it wouldn’t have been so real, needing as it did just a hint of contradiction in that searing confidence pivotal to what everything had become.
This night of his first performance as a ballet dancer, right here and now, stepping out then wheeling across the stage.
Man!, he thought, allowing himself just the one distraction, because he’d be a fool to ignore the enormity, the promise, the joy and sense of “this is right” in this moment, four years after he landed at The Australian Ballet School with plenty of very, very raw potential that meant if he didn’t have such an obsessive trait then he’d might as well not bother.
This feels really awesome.
The country kid who copped it because, he says without a hint of a wince, he was so bad, so backwards when slapped up against the other students’ years of chiseling away at their craft, their artistry, the intricate weave that when it finally comes together makes the creativity and discipline so instinctive.
He was 16, he says, before he even had his first ballet lesson, so it all had to be hard, fast, driven by a relentless focus. The love of dancing had already stuck, even it he didn’t yet understand the path he needed to take to make it his life.
Once I started I couldn’t stop. I would wag school and go to the dance studio and practice dancing. My parents, on weekends, would say we’re going to spend time as a family and all I’d want to do was be in the studio. That’s stayed with me until now.
But the now of his first performance was just another kind of beginning. He embarked on the path to it four years before on his own, in a large studio that made his first steps back home in a tiny space with the teacher who made me love what being a dancer could be seem childlike.
Julie Glinski was this first mentor for Podesta, who also adored acting and was into film, remembering how as a young guy – even before I knew what it was to be an artist – he would audio tape films, played back as he drifted off to sleep.
And I was just really passionate about the idea of being something else, of being able to present something else.
Glinksi, he says, inspired him to understand that dance was something he could achieve, instilling in him the belief it could be a job like becoming a plumber would suit some other kid.
While I loved acting, I also loved being physical. I loved playing sports, so dance and ballet was a way I could achieve both. It’s really hard to explain because as I say to people all the time, I never said “I’m going to be a professional dancer”. As cliched and as naff as it sounds, I just loved doing it.
If he didn’t know why he was flying under the spotlights in front of a panel of international directors, his graduation performance, he would have long since hidden away, having as a Mummy’s boy relented when she tried to ease his upset and fears by saying yes, you don’t have to go, you can stay home, in Wodonga.
This would have been a hollow appeasement for how much he hated what he was doing; not the dancing, that was never anything except the most natural thing he could do, but for being the relatively clumsy new boy in class.
It was the slightest worry of whether this was a foolish pipe dream, that the horse had not only bolted but was already back on the truck headed for the knackery.
What Podesta knew was that Dad was right when he told him to just get in the car, get back to Melbourne and the ballet school.
Dad’s immensely proud, as is Mum, the old man with his own good at drawing, very good with his hands creative bent. Dad was a hard worker who sacrificed his super’ to give his lad the chance. And here was the moment that confirmed that faith from Dad, who years before prophesied no son of mine will be a ballet dancer after his Tim, aged three or four, saw one on TV and began to wonder.
It’s interesting because he loves ballet like no tomorrow now, Podesta says of his father, one of 12 kids, someone who had to leave school at 14 when his own dad died to get a job to help support them all.
That had been his idea of ballet; a woman on pointe shoes, wearing a tutu.
Podesta was ready to climb out of the disadvantage that came with starting so late and to suck-up the advantage that came with forever knowing it was his. Back in Melbourne, he worked so hard he got tired like he had never experienced. The I hated it, yeah experience of his first day walking into one of the eight big studios propelled him, of being the odd one out … you don’t exactly have lots of friends coming up to you. When everybody went off in their groups I stayed behind and practiced. It was a driving force to be a bit like “screw you, you’ll see in a couple of years where I’ll be”.
And so it was that the two-year mark showed he was getting somewhere, was actually going a long way, as his marks began to better other students and he notched-up competition wins.
I was driven by negative energy because there were also many people who said I was too short to be a ballet dancer. But I worked like a dog. I remember getting home and there being some nights I wouldn’t eat dinner, I just couldn’t keep my eyes open.
That was when he lived at Craigieburn, getting up at 5am to take the first V/Line train into the city at 6, then to the gym then the studio, hanging back and working hard right up until the 8pm trip home.
My uncle and auntie would ring my parents and say “he’s not eating”. I was just so tired. But I don’t think I was a normal teenager because once I understood this thing of dance, there was nothing else.
BY now he might look like the archetypal lucky guy. That bloke who not only found himself in the right place at the right time once or maybe twice but with a monotonous regularity. Blessed with natural talent that surely was enough.
A late start yet he still made it work so well at The Australian Ballet School, then on stage with the Tokyo City Ballet and as a principal dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet, the State Theatre Ballet in South Africa, the New Zealand Theatre Ballet and the Australian Ballet Company.
Problems with his knees eventually came into play and for the first time he found himself adrift from the confidence that had felt so natural. He had endured six years of taking painkillers, his first knee operation in 1996 as a student. He was 28, maybe 29, when his physical limitations gave him a massive shake. Once, on coming home from overseas to visit family, he caught-up with a mate for a beer.
The night ended in hospital, his stomach pockmarked with ulcers from all the drugs. The push to make up for the childhood training he lacked, of forcing himself to be able to achieve the positions that were required had caught up with him. He also didn’t look after himself as, like an elite athlete, all you want to do is get back out there.
Now 42, he tells his students they need to look at other ways to maximise their skills.
It was when I had that crisis of identity when I wasn’t a dancer that made me realise whatever I do next, I’ve got to stop and pat myself on the back at times and appreciate where I am and what I’m doing. Because when it was all taken away that was when I really realised what I had and what I hadn’t taken time to appreciate. I was always “Tim Podesta the ballet dancer” and then all of a sudden I was “Tim Podesta, I’ve got no idea”.
It makes sense in his head but don’t ask him to pull together all the connections in any other way from his work at Projection Dance School. It’d take all day, the work with students dancers, with professional dancers, the myriad of elements that come with being a teacher and choreographer of significant repute.
His repertoire includes founding the Australasian Ballet Challenge, Ballet Wales performing his his full-length ballet Shadow Aspect in London and his film Ador.
London and New York might be the cultural drawcards for many young dancers, but for the best this bright, vibrant studio tucked away near the car yards of Melbourne Road is a lure.
More so, it’s the work of Tim Podesta on an ever-evolving path of storytelling through dance.
A few of those elite dancers are in Wodonga now, a phenomenal thing. There’s Podesta’s creative partner, the Italian dancer and former principal of The Royal Ballet, Mara Galeazzi, his international guest artist from Spain, Marlon Dino, and James Pett and Travis SC Knight from the esteemed London-based Company Wayne McGregor.
I’m incredibly proud. I don’t try to undersell what I do, I’m perfectly aware of how big it is, how much it costs to have these dancers here.
Podesta knows too that this is just another step to an end goal he hasn’t yet imagined.
I remember as a student dancer thinking “when I reach soloist I’ll be happy”. The day I was promoted to soloist it didn’t mean anything. It was just “what’s next?”.