Connection and Creativity with Ako Kondo

When Ako Kondo forayed into ballet at the tender age of three, it was as natural and seamless as her now-perfected pirouettes. Now a Principal Artist with The Australian Ballet, with a career that spans three decades, she reflects on the creativity of dance, cultivating chemistry with the audience, and her most significant role to date.

Ako’s eyes light up, with equal parts magnetism and gratitude, when she talks about the privilege of creating a connection with the audience on stage. “It’s what I love the most,” she affirms. An empath to her core, Ako has a unique ability to feel how the audience is responding to her and pivot accordingly. “When I’m on stage, I can feel what they’re feeling throughout the performance. Sometimes, in the first act, I can feel that they’re watching but they’re not with me. Then in the second act, you feel them starting to warm up. By the third act, they’re with me. They’re on the ride with me. I love the feeling of the curtain call and the audience appreciating the work we do.” But it’s not just a connection with the audience that illuminates Ako’s world; it’s a concept that permeates every aspect of her life.  

Cultivating Resilience and Connection 

For Ako, the connection with ballet was inherent, intrinsic, and evident in her very first class in her hometown of Nagoya, Japan. “I remember that dancing to the music was a joy for me,” she reflects. “The other little girls loved wearing the pink tutu and the tiara. But for me, it was always dancing to the music. I went crazy in that first lesson.” While she was led to ballet by her mother, who had long held a love for the art, Ako was encouraged to explore her many interests and discover her true passion. “I was doing horse riding, swimming, and piano, but I told my mum that I didn’t want to do anything else. After that, I started going [to ballet] once a week.” 

Having only considered ballet as a hobby, once Ako discovered that her great love could be pursued as a career, it lit her fire of determination. “I really loved ballet, but I thought it was for fun. It wasn’t until I heard my friend say, ‘I want to be a ballerina’ that I realised you could do it as a job. So, my aim became going to full-time ballet school. I worked so hard, seven days a week. After school, I went to the ballet studio to practise by myself. Luckily, when I was 16, I got a scholarship to The Australian Ballet School.” 

After joining The Australian Ballet in 2010, Ako was promoted to Principal Artist—the first for a Japanese dancer at the company—in 2015, following her debut as Giselle, a role which she holds closely. “In this ballet, I really got to act. I got to play a very innocent girl who loses her sanity and becomes a ghost who dances for forgiveness. It was very special.”

Today, it is Ako’s quest for connection which continues to inform her craft, and the desire to transport the audience to another dimension. “Ballet can entertain people, make them happy,” she smiles. “It’s a dream and a fantasy. I feel very lucky that I get to do this job, and help people travel to a different world.” This feeling is further exacerbated when Ako performs alongside her husband, Chengwu Guo—a fellow Principal Artist at The Australian Ballet. Together, the pair—who also have a one-year-old son, George­—elicit an undeniable, real-life chemistry. “When we perform in a real love story, like Don Quixote or Cinderella, I feel like I can be myself on stage. I look him in the eyes, and I think, ‘I love him.’ That’s real. And when it’s real inside, it’s real out there. You don’t need to act.” 

On Resilience and Expression

For Ako, resilience is a characteristic that she believes is instrumental to any artist or dancer. “Resilience is so important in ballet. It’s important to push for better outcomes … I have a lot of personal resilience; I think that’s why I am where I am, doing what I’m doing on stage.” When asked when she first cultivated this type of thinking, Ako points to her earliest years. “I think it starts quite young,” she reflects. “You start competing with the other dancers and that can be quite stressful. You question if you’re good enough. You start pushing yourself, thinking you need to do more. At the same time, you’re wondering, ‘Is this for me?’ Ballet is a challenging industry, but it’s rewarding at the same time. I feel very lucky that I found something that I love.” 

When our conversation naturally turns towards the expression of an artist in ballet, Ako points to the intrinsic storytelling and acting which is required. “An artist is felt from the body and the musicality,” she says. “I have to feel something in my heart. That’s hard as a dancer, because sometimes we get can get carried away and focus on the technique. And the technique is so important. But on top of that you have to act, you have artistry, you have musicality … I try to express what I believe in, through my body. Believing in who you are and becoming who that character is, is so important. Our job is to make the audience believe who that we are that character.” 

A Journey into Skin Confidence

Proud, yet unwaveringly humble, Ako has spoken of her strength, resilience, and learnings in many facets of her life, but she points to one area that took a toll on her confidence. “During puberty, my teenage years, and even into my time at The Australian Ballet, I had acne, very dry skin and breakouts,” she says. “We wear very heavy stage makeup, sometimes eight times a week. My skin was sad, and I was sad. I lost confidence and I didn’t want to be out. Then, throughout my pregnancy with George, my skin was really bad. I had acne on my forehead. At one point, my skin started flaking.”

            Having experienced such a strained, on-going journey with her skin, it came as a welcome surprise to Ako when RATIONALE approached her to be Ambassador for our partnership with The Australian Ballet. “When I was first asked, I thought, ‘Me? I don’t have glowing skin’.” Never one to shy from a challenge, Ako accepted. “I was excited to go on this journey. I wanted to see how my skin would react.” To her delight, the results were instant. “After my first facial treatment, I visually saw that my skin was different. It was glowing. I couldn’t believe it,” she recalls. Things continued to improve after undergoing the Signature Skin Consultation and being prescribed her customised ritual. “Within one month, I felt a difference in my skin’s texture,” she adds. “The acne and congestion are gone, and the dryness has improved so much. Now, it’s more hydrated and balanced. I feel like my skin is bouncy—it’s like sticky rice Mochi! … I’m more confident and happier in general. Skin is such an important part of us. It can really affect how you feel,” she adds. “So, I’m happy to share my journey.” 

Reflecting on her role as Partnership Ambassador, Ako expresses nothing but gratitude, along with an admiration of the synergies between RATIONALE and The Australian Ballet. “I’m very honoured,” she says. “I think both brands go for the best quality; that’s the common theme. I know that Richard [Parker] has created the best products that work on any skin, bringing out the best outcomes. And we [The Australian Ballet] are the same. We work on the best performance for the audience to enjoy. We both work to make the clients and audience happy.”

“I love #2 The Hydragel. My skin feels moisturised and hydrated all day. When we dance, we sweat a lot. And the gel isn’t too heavy—it stays nice a fresh for the day.”

Finding a Deeper Purpose

During our video interview, Ako and Chengwu’s son, George, runs up to her, turning his attention to the screen. As bright and effervescent as his parents, George waves and smiles. When asked about the most significant lessons that Ako has learnt as a mother, she points to George as her teacher. “He teaches me how to be happy,” she says. “He’s a very social little boy. He’s so friendly. I’m a bit more closed off … See how he gave you a big hug and a smile? He makes people instantly happy.”

For Ako, love is the common thread that binds her two life’s purposes: “I’m basically doing the two things I love in my life: being a mum and being a ballet dancer.” Reflecting on the question of balancing both roles, which she is commonly asked, Ako acknowledges that it’s a constant focus. “I’m always balancing and I’m challenging myself. It’s definitely a big change in my life and my career. After finishing a late show and getting home to bed at 1am, I’m now up at 6.30am starting the day again. I feel, somehow, that because you’re a mum, you want to do it. But you also want to work because ballet is what I love. Yes, I do feel exhausted, but then I don’t because I love it ... I’m a very organised and determined person, in both ballet and motherhood. I think being a mum I use that organisation and determination.”

And when it comes to balancing their roles as Principal Artists and parents to George, Ako speaks of nothing but adoration. “I really appreciate the partnership, belief and trust that we have,” she says. “[Chengwu] is an amazing dancer. He is an amazing partner, and an amazing dad to George. It’s a rare case for a married couple to understand what we’re going through. He understands … I am very thankful that we share this industry together.” Chengwu once told me: “You have to do what you believe in,” she recalls. “When I was first on stage, I tried to dance for others. Now, I dance for myself. When you don’t believe in what you’re doing, it really comes out on stage. So, you have to believe. That [advice] has changed my life. Being a mum, I have to believe in what I’m doing—for George.”

“At nighttime, I use #6 The GelCrème. I love it. Because I have very dry skin, I put that on and my skin instantly feels moisturised. And even in the morning, when I wash my face, I can still feel the hydration on my skin.”

Ako is a RATIONALE Partnership Ambassador. Her upcoming performances with The Australian ballet include:

 Identity, Arts Centre
Melbourne, 16 - 24 June

 Jewels, Arts Centre
Melbourne, 29 June - 8 July

Purchase tickets here.

Shop Ako's RATIONALE Ritual