Ballet’s late bloomer

Petros Treklis was 17 years old when he first stepped into his ballet shoes. Now performing with the Sydney Dance Company, this late bloomer has his talent and hard work to thank for a professional career in dance

It’s never too late to start doing ballet for recreational purposes.

But to find a professional dancer who has started learning his first ballet steps later than teen age is a miracle.

And miracles happen once in a while – the likes of Rudolf Nureyev, world renowned soloist and leading male dancer who first stepped into his ballet shoes at the age of 17.

Petros Treklis is a miracle on his own.

Born in Melbourne to Greek parents, the closest Petros would get to ballet – and dance in general – before the age of 17 was during his karate and kick box classes, while trying to reach new heights when lifting his leg – something he was obsessed with.

Always interested in the arts, it was only in year 7, while an usher for the school production of the musical Chicago, that for the first time Petros noticed the magic of professional dancing.

What has fascinated him since, he now remembers, is the facility and flexibility of the human body, of the possibilities of the human body to create all these ‘unreal’ positions.

Finally, with his move to England in 2007, aged 17, Petros started his classical dance training, after being offered a place on the Degree Course at Laban Conservatoire for Contemporary Dance.

Unlike other kinds of dance, ballet is a complete system of training which begins with the real basics. The training starts by teaching you how to stand properly, how to bend your knees in the right way and what to do with your arms. Once you move on to harder steps, your body already knows how to move in the right way.

All the above were things that Petros was now learning, for the first time.

“It was weird – my first ballet class was one of my auditions for the Degree school in London. I knew contemporary dance, but no-one had ever taught me the technique – I sort of learned simple things, by watching. In London I took dance, drama and performing classes, where we had to learn repertoire by
the company Lambert off the video. I ended up learning Swan Song by Christopher Bruce – it was the first time I learned something technical.

“My way of learning was to imitate, so I literally looked at people, and had tips from those who danced longer. I guess I was lucky I had some natural predispositions you need that made my journey a bit easier, making it look like I could do it better,” Petros says with a giggle.

During his time training at Laban, Petros worked with names like Rosemary Butcher, Gary Lambert, Dam Van Huynh, Rosemary Brandt, Charles Linehan, and Kerry Nicholls.

Once he found himself there, he realised it was contemporary dance he wanted to do.

“I liked musical theatre, but then I started taking dance more seriously – and Laban had a good balance of both ballet and contemporary. There, I got to explore every avenue and they really built up my skills set by doing that,” Petros says.

In early 2010, Petros toured Kerry Nicholls work, Hearth in Malta, performing for the Maltese Arts Council, and soon after the work Sainte Marie-Joseph De La Rose by upcoming choreographer Tamara Gvozdenovic in Switzerland.

Once fascinated with the always expanding limits of the human body, now himself on stage, Petros says he doesn’t think of himself as a person that fascinates others – being the audience.

“If that’s the case – that I’m the one who fascinates people now – it’s really amazing. There have been people coming after the show to me, saying how inspiring it was. It is inspirational, when you think I used to look at someone and think like that a few years back,” he says modestly.

Always with the complete support of his family, Petros doesn’t hide that he was initially worried about the reaction that ‘a very traditional Greek family’, as he puts it, may have had when he announced he wanted to do dance professionally. But the yiayia, as with everyone else in the family, ended up loving it.

In July 2010 Petros successfully graduated from Laban and, barely a month after graduation, he joined Tavaziva Dance as a full-time professional dancer, going on to do national and international tours for four of the company’s major full-length productions.

“At the time it was hard to get a real job, a lot of the auditions asked for at least three years’ professional experience. The audition was two days long – with over 200 people there and the company looking for only two people to hire, I got to the end of the two days, and they hired me.”

At Tavaziva, Petros spent his formative years, from 21 to 25.

The spare months when the group wasn’t active gave him an opportunity to meet and mix and work with other people – like dancing for Watkins Dance and taking part in the ‘ArtsCross 2013’ Project, which allowed him to work with 10 specially selected professional dancers from England, Taiwan and Beijing.

In this project, well known Taiwanese choreographer Ho Hsiaomei and Place Prize 2013 winner Riccardo Buscarini selected Petros and four other dancers to perform new short works for them. Petros then went on to dance for IJAD Dance Company for their 2013 project, In-Finite Space.

“With Tavaziva Dance, we toured internationally and nationally; they moulded me and taught me so many great things.

“My first year of my first contract was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Physically it was very intense – in a good way, but I was just so unaware of it, coming straight from Conservatoire. Soon I realised I needed to up my game now, as this was a professional game – I needed to live up to everyone else.

“I think that was one thing that helped me progress from a younger age, because working around all these people and seeing how they work was so different to the vibe in the Conservatoire; you get pushed in a different way.”

Although hard mentally, and physically tiring, Petros ended up loving his chosen profession and stayed with Tavaziva Dance for four years.

Looking back, he now says the most challenging part of his job is not rehearsing for hours on end every single day, as your body adjusts to it. It’s the mental part; always trying to give your best.

“You build up your stamina and you do get very used to rehearsals, but sometimes you get to a point where mentally you start to have a lot of information intake, and it gets to the point where your brain gets a bit confused. There is an overload of information, and all you want to do is give your best, give the quality that the choreographer is looking for.”

Such as in the instance of esteemed Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis, whom Petros recently worked with at Sydney Dance Company.

In April 2014, having completed his four years with Tavaziva Dance, Petros made the move back from London to Australia. Here, he joined Sydney Dance Company for the Louder Than Words performances, showing from 4 to 18 October at Sydney Theatre and featuring works by Rafael Bonachela and Andonis Foniadakis.

For Petros, it was a dream come true.

“The comeback to Australia, where you were born, where your family is, and giving them a chance to see, as they could never be at my performances. Australia was one place where I never toured while in London – now they will be able to see what I have been doing all this time,” Petros laughs.

Having never seen the work of Antonis Foniadakis live, he says what he got during three weeks of working with Foniadakis was everything he expected and much more.

“The cooperation with him was a physically and mentally demanding experience, in the best possible way. You really have to give yourself totally.

“I have never worked with someone Greek in the dance world before, and the way he is and his personality – working with Andonis was like working with an uncle, he would even speak to me in Greek sometimes.

“Louder Than Words is going to be exactly that – louder than words. Loud, in a really exciting way. The work is a big crowd pleaser, fun to watch. Audiences will love it. You certainly won’t get bored – dance and music are exciting, with limbs flying everywhere, people being lifted, and non-stop action,” Petros reveals.

Louder Than Words is on at Sydney Theatre, 4 to 18 October. For more information, call Sydney Theatre Box Office on (02) 9250 1999 or visit www.sydneytheatre.org.au/whats-on/productions/2014/louder-than-words