Taking centre stage


JUNE 3, 2013

Young Western Australian ballet dancers will compete nationally in the Lucie Saronova Memorial Award in Melbourne on July 5.

The competition opens Cecchetti Ballet‘s annual national conference, with up to four ballet students representing each state.

Dancers under 15 years of age compete in the silver section and those 16 to 18 compete in the gold section.

The award is one of only a handful of national ballet awards for young dancers.

Despite this, young competitors receive little recognition, according to a senior ballet teacher.

Director of the Perth School of Ballet, Janine Ban, said that while ballet dancers were training they got practically no publicity.

“There’s a big imbalance between the recognition [young dancers] are getting and the work they’re putting in,” Mrs Ban said.

The Perth School of Ballet has two dancers competing in the Lucie Saronova competition this year.

Mrs Ban said despite having students win national awards and receive placements at international schools, including the Royal Ballet School, the media had never approached her school for an interview.

“You don’t see [up-and-coming dancers] in the paper like 17-year-old up-and-coming football players might be,” she said.

Fellow director of the Perth School of Ballet, Simone Jackson-Pike, said she doubted young football players would be training as hard as young dancers.

“My 14-year-old is doing 28 hours a week alongside full-time school,” Mrs Jackson-Pike said.

By comparison, the schedule for Claremont Football Club’s WAFL Development Squad for 15 to 16-year-olds shows seven hours of formal training a week.

Mrs Jackson-Pike’s daughter Bronte will represent WA in the silver section of the award.

“It’s not that the footballers don’t put in effort,” Mrs Jackson-Pike said.

“It’s that [footballers] get recognition and [dancers] don’t.”

Mrs Ban said the lack of publicity surrounding the Lucie Saronova award represented the views of society.

“I think society, especially probably Australian society, just supports sports more than the arts,” she said.

Cecchetti Ballet Australia chairman Carole Hall said the award got publicity within Cecchetti Ballet Australia, but its publicity could not be compared to the ubiquitous promotion of football.

“I mean [the media] goes berserk over football,” she said.

“[Ballet] is nowhere near as represented as football.”

Ms Hall said the audience for ballet was not as widespread as football.

“Ballet is very much more specific,” she said.

“But we obviously do want ballet to be spoken about.”

Mrs Ban said she thought TV programs such as So You Think You Can Dance were helping to encourage a wider audience to support the arts.

“I think [dance] is generally getting appreciated more by Australian audiences,” she said.

WA silver representative Bronte Pike, 14, said that juggling school and ballet was a challenge.

“I find it really hard to get homework done and I don’t sleep very well either because there’s so much stuff I don’t have time to do,” Pike said.

She said friends outside of ballet were unaware of the Lucie Saronova Memorial Award.

“They just don’t really get it,” she said it.

Past Lucie Saronova Memorial Award winners have gone on to win international awards and work in prestigious companies such as the Royal Ballet and the New York City Ballet.

WA gold representative Genevieve MacNulty, 18, is in full-time ballet training, meaning she is completing year 12 through correspondence due to her heavy dance workload.

“I don’t have as much time to put into my studies, but that’s okay because [ballet] is what I want to do with my life,” MacNulty said.

She said recognition of the arts in Australia was a lot better than in her native South Africa, but largely the Australian public were unaware of the reality of being a ballerina.

“When people talk about being a ballerina they think of a 3-year-old little girl in a pink little tutu,” she said.

“If you’re in the [ballet] community you know what’s what, but if you’re outside of it there’s not really much understanding.”

MacNulty dances every day, and on average 40 hours per week.

She began training for the award almost six months ago.

Her training includes tuition with Australian ballet legend, Lucette Aldous, best known for having partnered the late Rudolf Nureyev in the Australian Ballet production of Don Quixote in the early 1970s.

MacNulty said winning the gold section of the Lucie Saronova Memorial Award would be well recognised in the ballet community.

“I really want to win it,” she said.

“It would be a good thing to put on your resume.

“A lot of people in the dancing world would see that and recognise the award.

“Even the fact that I’m a finalist for it is quite an achievement.”

Mrs Jackson-Pike said the award was more about prestige than money.

“When they compete, it’s not in front of a normal audience, it’s in front of Cecchetti Ballet Australia,” she said.

Mrs Ban said the audience for the award was generally full of trained eyes.

“[Winning would be] a feather in their cap as far as recognition goes,” she said.

“If they were looking for placements in full-time finishing schools, they could absolutely write down that they’d won and it would be recognised.”

WA dancers won both the gold and silver sections of the award last year.

Pike said she just wanted to do her best.

“There’s so many other good dancers so I feel really lucky that I was chosen,” she said.

MacNulty said she was feeling confident about competing.

“I’ve got a lot riding on [the competition] and a lot riding on me, but I’m excited and I have a good inclination that I’ll do very well,” she said.

Photos Tessa Maybery

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