Bianca Carnovale, aka the “Ballet Busker,” Is Taking Her Art to the Streets
Bianca Carnovale was feeling ready to audition for professional ballet companies when the pandemic hit. She was just finishing a two-year training program at Ballet Academy East, having moved to New York City on her own at age 17 after studying at National College of Dance in her native Australia. “There were no jobs in the ballet world,” she says. So, after graduating, she moved back to her home country, took hospitality jobs, and trained in her apartment until better times came.
As Carnovale sorely missed the joy of performing, her mom suggested that she dance on the street—an idea that she originally dismissed as “crazy.” But while stuck in her apartment during lockdown, Carnovale choreographed a three-minute version of Dying Swan (largely inspired by the work of the same title by Michel Fokine) just so she could dance outdoors. On a sunny day in Melbourne in September 2021, she rolled out her marley onto the streets for the first time, starting an atypical professional journey to bring ballet to the widest audiences possible. “My dreams always used to be getting into a ballet company, but that has changed,” Carnovale says. “My dream now is to be able to share ballet with everyone.”
When Carnovale got a glimpse of the impact she could have through busking, she was hooked. People were often intrigued by seeing her performances, and for many it was their first time watching ballet. As she slowly built her show as the Ballet Busker, many people approached her with big smiles or tears in their eyes. Her audiences quickly included a wide range of ages, professions, and backgrounds, from excited little girls to construction workers to people who were unhoused. “So many people forget ballet exists,” Carnovale says. “I love to go out there and be like, ‘This is what ballet is like.’ It’s actually something that everybody can enjoy.”
She travels often with her show. On her Instagram page, Carnovale can be seen surrounded by diverse crowds of spectators, with Byron Bay beaches or Sydney’s Opera House for backdrop. This summer, the Ballet Busker could be spotted dancing in the bustling streets of New York City—which she visited so she could take classes at Steps on Broadway—and as a street performer at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland. Increasingly, she can also be seen improvising to live music, such as during a chance encounter with a passing military band, or after connecting on Instagram with a busking pianist in New York City. “It’s so freeing to let your mind go and all that’s left is music and movement,” she says.
Dancing outdoors can be especially challenging. Carnovale must carefully select safe enough surfaces to dance on. An ideal spot is even, smooth ground. She keeps much of her dancing, and all pirouettes, on her marley to protect her shoes. Occasionally, she must also handle rain, which will make most grounds slippery, or a heat wave, which will make carrying her heavy equipment around town exhausting before she even starts dancing—in addition to making her pointe shoes unusable a lot quicker.
“I don’t do any jumps when I dance because I don’t want to get shin splints, and I definitely do quite simple movements,” Carnovale says, putting greater emphasis on the arms and facial expressions in her tailored choreographies. But there are times when she just has to compromise on her ballet technique due to the surface and weather conditions. “[I do] less relevé, and I have to work through my feet differently,” Carnovale says. She makes a point to focus on her technique during ballet class, which she takes five days a week.
Admittedly, Carnovale feels she’s missing out on the complex choreographies, full-length ballets, and deep connections with other professional dancers that only come with being part of a company. How often she busks varies a lot depending on her schedule and location and whether she needs to share the spaces with other buskers, she says. But she can now fully support herself through busking and is also often invited to perform at private events. Carnovale, who now describes herself as a freelance dancer, is hoping to leverage her growing social media to also secure guest work in companies; last Christmas, she was a guest artist in The Nutcracker for The Australian Conservatoire of Ballet. “It is definitely still important [to me] to be very much a part of the ballet world,” she says.
Carnovale believes that busking has made her a more confident dancer and a better person through her connections with diverse audiences. For next year, she wants to busk all around Australia to give back to her home country, and she also dreams of dancing among the cherry blossoms in Japan. In the longer term, she can see herself teaching in her own school or having a charity to provide children in developing countries with dancewear and ballet classes. “I have seen the joy that I can bring people from ballet,” she says. “I want to use that gift that I’ve been given to make a difference in people’s lives. I’m very excited to see where it takes me.”