“DANCERS are the athletes of God,” said Albert Einstein.
In a short video for the Australian Ballet, one of Cristiano Martino’s fellow dancers expands on the theme, though perhaps less poetically: “There is that side of what we do that is pure athleticism. What we do to our bodies, the amount of strength we need, can correlate to an elite sportsman. But that elite sportsman doesn’t have to go out on the field and make it look like it’s nothing.”
To the uninitiated, none of what Cristiano or the other dancers do on the video – or on stage – looks anything like ‘nothing’. They soar, they glide, they fly: slipping the surly bonds of earth with a grace that we the flat-footed can only stand in awe of. But for Cristiano, getting there was never easy. Anything but.
Now 20, he has been dancing for exactly half his life, after following his sister Marissa into calisthenics, then tap and jazz dancing in Adelaide. “I thought she was the greatest thing ever and whatever she wanted to do, I wanted to do.” And from then on he wanted to dance.
Cristiano’s parents had divorced when he was seven and his mother, Lisa, had brought up he and Marissa alone, with little child support, while working in a call centre. The family struggled. In 2008, Cristiano was offered a prize spot at the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne, but the family’s circumstances and Marissa beginning Year 12 meant he couldn’t take it.
In 2009, aged not quite 16, he received another offer and Lisa pulled up stakes to move to Melbourne with him. It meant leaving Marissa with her grandparents in Adelaide.
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for how selfless and caring Mum is,” recalls Cristiano. “It was really, really hard for her but she’s always put our needs first. She’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known, I’m very lucky to have her.”
Cristiano showed amazing promise but it was a struggle for his mother to support his dream and as he faced his final year, the Ballet School approached the Newsboys’ Foundation to help fund his fees. It was a modest investment that has paid huge dividends.
In 2012, despite an injury, he was dux of the Ballet School and was the only male student offered a position with the Australian Ballet company. Since then he has danced in productions of Swan Lake and Don Quixote and is preparing for Les Sylphides and Cinderella.
“It’s been amazing,” says Cristiano. “I hate the word surreal, but that’s how it’s been at times. Just being in this building: at the school you’d stop and watch the company and now, being in it, it’s just weird. I’m like, wow!
“I wouldn’t be here without Newsboys’ and their generosity and support. I wouldn’t have graduated and I wouldn’t have been here because mum couldn’t afford to do it.”
Now he is setting his sights high, hoping to move through the ranks of the company and, one day, make it all the way to principal dancer: “That would be a dream come true but it’s a long road ahead,” he says. For now he is just enjoying the dance.
“I think it’s a really powerful art form: you can convey so much emotion and meaning without saying anything. It’s so subjective, you can really be yourself through the way you move. And, of course, it’s really beautiful.”