From international ballerina to author … Emma Middleton

Creativity links most forms of endeavour … from music and literature to science and art, from music and literature to drama, dance and art. Antonio Vivaldi was a great proponent of this belief … he wrote four sonnets to go with the four concertos of his most-loved composition, The Four Seasons because he needed to pour more of his creative genius into the work … his music linked to words expressing his feelings and vision about the changing seasons in the countryside near Mantua, Italy in the 1700s. It fascinates me.

When I discovered my friend, author and artist, Emma Middleton once enjoyed a career as an international ballerina, I wasn’t at all surprised … her beautiful posture gives her away too. Recently, I interviewed Emma to find out more.

Emma, did your theatrical background colour your writing and storytelling?
I believe my background in dance and theatre has had a huge influence on my writing and presenting to children. I am passionate about art, music and drama. These elements seep into my writing … I feel so fortunate to bring all my passions together as a children’s picture book author and presenter.

The Vienna Ballet

You write and illustrate picture books for young children. I guess your background fitted in very nicely with this.
Yes! I believe children are naturally musical; from hearing the first beat of their mother’s heart to the rhythms of a choo-choo train or a clip-clopping horse. With their natural musicality, children are drawn to rhythmical stories and often detect the emotion of the story through the sound of the words and expression, before they fully comprehend the literal translation.

I love writing in rhyme and feeling the energy and impetus of each word. Rhyming stories provide a vehicle to deliver a regular beat to the story, just like the beat in a piece of music.  As I write and re-write I feel the rhythm of the words, just like feeing the energy of a dance movement. To me the emotion of story is physical as well as intellectual. Rhyming books also lend themselves to repeated readings, which develops essential skills of word recognition in early literacy. 

Can you tell us more about your ballet career and how it impacted on how you write?
I am very fortunate to have performed and experienced a lot of theatre. As a student of The Australian Ballet School we were allowed to watch every performance at The State Theatre, providing there were spare tickets. Needless to say, we spent our weekends watching many productions. A few years later, when I was dancing with The Vienna Ballet, we were involved in productions of ballet, drama, opera and operetta.

We studied the Stanislavsky Method of Acting in which actors immerse themselves in their characters. I believe this is very helpful in imagining the voice of a character when writing and performing.

The structure of a book also corresponds strongly to the structure of a performance, with it’s opening scene, introduction of dramatic tension, character and plot development, and finale or resolution. I often imagine a the scenes in my picture books as Act 1, Act 2 or Act 3.

I am also a visual thinker, and during the writing process I imagine the book as a whole, with the illustrations being the essential ingredient. I believe the visual narrative should play an essential part in the storytelling. Young children can gain a greater understanding of the narrative in a picture book though visual stimulus. This process makes them an active participant in the decoding of the story, long before they can read themselves. It is also great fun to have a little tension between the words and the illustrations, where the illustrations paint a picture of what is really happening, while the words can be playful and suggestive.

Emma, I once saw you performing with your beautiful, and very large stuffed, furry lion. The children responded to it and you like a magnet.

Yes, I remember reading my story to a group of children one day when it dawned on me that I could take the experience so much further. Why not include elements of scene, music, drama, dance and song?

screen-shot-2018-05-10-at-11-06-08-am

It was quite a steep learning curve but I wrote, and composed two 30 minute children’s storytelling performances based around my books The Lion in our Living Room and The Bear in our Backyard, as well as painting two portable backdrops. Now, as I present these sessions to children I believe I am allowing something quite special to happen; the magic of story and theatre. I believe the role of theatre and storytelling is to inspire, delight, entertain and touch the heart of your audience. Of course children learn many life lessons through story, however the emotional connection must come first.

When you can hold children in a time and space where belief can be suspended, it’s so inspiring. My puppets allow the imaginative and tactile world to exist simultaneously. Children are the perfect audience as their imaginations are flourishing. I believe by treasuring and facilitating these types of experiences for children we create individuals who sustain their creativity.

Our children will need to be visionary and creative thinkers in a world of opportunity and challenge. If a child has experienced the joy of story and imaginative thinking I hope the seeds of inspiration will grow within.

9 thoughts on “From international ballerina to author … Emma Middleton

  1. Loved hearing about how the elements of ballet – the music, the drama, character and story etc all inform Emma’s writing. Great interview, thanks Sheryl and Emma.

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  2. Such an insightful post about the connection between theatre, dance, storytelling and picture books. Thanks for writing it Sheryl and thanks Emma for your generous sharing.

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  3. Sheryl, I am honoured that you have lent you time and talent to create this post. As you know, there is such a strong connection between all of the creative arts, and it is fascinating to delve into this relationship. Thank you for your fabulous questions.

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  4. What a refreshing interview with one of my favourite author illustrators! I had a fascinating discussion with the fabulous James Mayhew (illustrator author storyteller) last year about our shared concept of the ‘theatre’ of story telling relating to picture books and have often incorporated this into my workshops and critiques. Picture books – sheer enlightenment! Thanks for sharing this Emma and Sheryl. D x

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a fabulous interview, Sheryl and Emma. I loved hearing about your ballet background, Emma, and the way it feeds into your writing with stories perfectly created and as beautiful as any pirouette. The theatre you have developed to enhance storytelling sessions with both your books would be a wonderful experience for young children, enabling them to suspend belief and engage in visionary and creative thinking – definitely what we need for the future. Thank you both.

    Liked by 2 people

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