As soon as I started Cecchetti Ballet with Mrs Valerie Jenkins in 2001 I was aware of the BBM Youth Support Award program because it had already been awarded to several other students, including Juliet Burnett, now Senior Artist with the Australian Ballet. Gradually I became aware of the wider ranging scope of the Award, and during the 2005 Ashes Series heard Adam Gilchrist, one of Australia’s greatest wicketkeepers, praise the BBM Youth Support Award and the opportunities that it gave him at the start of his cricket career.
In 2010 I graduated from the Australian Ballet School. I wanted to travel and was so pleased to be awarded a BBM Youth Support Award to allow me to do this, because as Oscar Wilde said, ‘Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing.’ Mrs Jenkins suggested participating in the Cecchetti International Ballet Competition which was being held in Manchester in July this year. Being in Britain in the summer holiday meant that even though not able to attend ballet company classes, I would be able to see a variety of festivals and performances. Lots of people had suggestions. I even bumped into Darcey Bussell at my physiotherapist’s and she discussed the differences between the two main professional ballet studios in London, Danceworks and Pineapple.
My trip began with the Cecchetti International Ballet Competition in Manchester. A week of ballet and contemporary classes was followed by a weekend of competition. The classes were a great, intense experience where we were pushed to achieve as much as possible in a short time. As the jet-lag wore off the classes prepared us for the competition. We also saw the incredible Carlos Acosta in a programme of contemporary works.
The competition consisted of classical and contemporary classes and solos. Mrs Jenkins and Vicki Attard coached my Classical Variation ‘Le Corsaire’ (see photo left). My contemporary solo was created for me by Kay Armstrong based on the life of a soldier suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a subject of which she had some personal experience. The choreographic process was very fulfilling as Kay is amazing to work with and she also challenged me to help create the movement vocabulary.
Working on both solos with coaches who all pay great attention to detail really stretched me, but was a great preparation for the competition and I was very satisfied to be selected as a finalist. This meant I enjoyed the maximum amount of time on stage and received lots of positive feedback from the adjudicators, and members of the audience! I also asked people for advice on how to make the most of the next leg of my trip – going to London.
Anita Young, Ballet Mistress for the Cecchetti International Ballet Competition, had recommended working with Roland Price at Pineapple Dance Studios. I met him on my first day at Pineapple and he gave a good class with lots of corrections. He was very friendly to a fellow Sydneysider, so I went regularly during my three weeks in London. I also learnt a lot from watching other dancers in the studio. These included David Hallberg, the great American dancer, who was a Guest Principal with the Mariinsky Ballet, and several other Mariinsky principals. I had booked tickets to the Mariinsky’s London tour from Sydney, but had no idea I would be so fortunate as to see the principals in class as well as on stage.
Staying at youth hostels in the centre of London meant I was close to the West End where I had booked lots of shows. I saw the legendary Mariinsky Ballet Company perform Swan Lake, Anna Karenina, a Balanchine/ Robbins programme and La Bayadere at the Royal Opera House. It was the first time I had seen a full length live version of La Bayadere which was incredible. Stomp presented their interesting and fun mixture of contemporary tap-percussion-dance-theatre. I met up with a friend to go to a Proms concert of Liszt, Gliere and Rachmaninov at the Royal Albert Hall which was a great experience. We didn’t realise we could have brought a picnic into the auditorium! Many people recommended musicals in the West End, especially Warhorse which was a very moving production using large scale horse puppets which were incredibly life-like. I also saw the classic musical Chicago, one of my favourites because of the amazing choreography of Bob Fosse.
The riots erupting in the first week of my stay meant that I wasn’t as adventurous in exploring London as I intended to be, but I still went to the British Museum, the Transport Museum, the V&A and many central Cathedrals and churches where I heard some organ recitals. UK-based competitors I met in Manchester welcomed me as I travelled past their homes, even making the effort to meet me if I was stopping brieflyto change trains. The riots delayed the start of the English Premier League, but I still managed to see, from a local pub, Liverpool (my EPL team) defeat Arsenal before I left London for Scotland and the Edinburgh Festival.
Coming from Australia I wasn’t expecting a typical Sydney summer, and so far the weather had been cool but pleasant. In Edinburgh, on the other hand, it rained every day. Undeterred, thousands of festival-goers continued to participate in every aspect of the festival, but I was a bit self-conscious arriving at the different venues totally soaked. The Scottish Ballet performed a varied neoclassical programme including the MacMillan ‘Song of the Earth’ and a World Premiere ‘Kings 2 Ends’ by Jorma Elo. The other dance piece I saw was by a Classical Indian Company, and I also had the opportunity to take a company class with them. I was the only person not wearing a sari! The class really helped me understand the meaning behind the movements in their choreography. After years of watching it on New Year’s Eve I was very excited to see the Edinburgh Tattoo live at the Castle. It lived up to my expectations, but the traditional Scottish summer weather means that I will be very happy to see it from the couch next time around. Other highlights included hearing the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields, and bumping into a Scottish comedian I had seen earlier this year when he was touring Sydney. Like many of the other performers, he was promoting his show out on the street (in the rain!).
When Robina Beard called to tell me I had been awarded a BBM Youth Support Award I already had many ideas about what I could do in the UK. I wanted to participate in the Cecchetti International Ballet Competition, take professional ballet classes, work with a variety of teachers, watch professional dancers in class, see a range of ballet and theatre shows and absorb the British culture in general. I made a huge mistake choosing a Manchester City-supporting cab driver to take me to the Old Trafford Premier Inn – right beside Manchester United’s home ground! The highlight of my trip was making the final of the competition, but I looked forward to all the different ballet experiences, and they lived up to my expectations. It was as if I lived a whole year in those six weeks.
It is true that ‘experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing.’ Apart from the time and effort I spent planning the trip and training for the competition, the challenge of travelling around a foreign country alone and the shock of being caught in the middle of the riots, I was lucky to have support from so many people. However, there is obviously a huge financial cost that made all these amazing experiences possible, and for that I gratefully thank BBM.Update Your Details