Three Royal men
It is a rare and proud achievement for any school to have a pupil accepted into the Royal Ballet in London. It is even more astonishing, then, to have three dancing with that prestigious institution. Yet Alegria Dance Studios in Sydney, directed by Hilary Kaplan and Archibald McKenzie, has achieved just that.
Alumnus Steven McRae joined in 2004 and is now a well-established and internationally renown principal dancer. Harry Churches joined in 2016 and is now an artist. The latest recruit is Brayden Gallucci, who has just joined this year as a member of the Aud Jebsen Young Dancers Programme.
Brayden started dancing at the age of three at the Lake Macquarie Dance Centre in his home town of Newcastle. From the age of 15 he began studying under McKenzie and Kaplan at Alegria.
“When I first saw Brayden,” recounts Alegria principal Hilary Kaplan, “I went ‘wow’.”
Brayden proved to not only have “all the physical attributes any future professional dancer could wish for”, as Kaplan says, but also to be “incredibly self-motivated”. His studies at Alegria involved a five-hour round trip by train to Sydney. He attended the Hunter School of Performing Arts for his academic studies, switching to distance education when he began his ballet training full-time.
His dedication began to pay off: he won a Silver Medal at the 2016 RAD International Genee Competition, and was selected as a finalist for the 2017 Prix de Lausanne, but by that time he had already been offered a scholarship for the Royal Ballet School. No wonder: “Brayden is blessed with ideal proportions,” Kaplan says, “– beautiful long legs and arms and beautiful feet. He now has fine muscular definition without being overdeveloped. He is an excellent height for a male dancer, looks ‘princely’ and is super flexible. His penchees are exquisite.
“His attitude to his work is amazing – he is so focused, a perfectionist, determined to achieve what is asked of him. He is someone you know will not let you down.”
Brayden is thrilled to be following in the footsteps of former Alegria students. “My teachers had sent many students there, which set up a path I aspired to follow as well – that in addition to the school and company being among some of the best in the world.”
Leaving home at such a young age for another country is a big move. Kaplan organised a quick meeting with McRae and “I often saw both of [him and Harry] around the Royal Opera House whenever I was there,” Gallucci says. “Both had offered to help me if I was ever in need, and knowing I had other men there who knew where I came from and how difficult it was being so far from home added a sense of relief.
“Being at the Royal Ballet School meant I was able to watch company rehearsals and performances regularly and also gave me the chance to meet talented dancers from all over the world.” Overseas pupils live in one of two boarding houses: “I thoroughly enjoyed this experience as I got to live with my friends and further develop my independence.”
After two years at the RBS, Gallucci gained his spot with the company in 2019. “ I get the opportunity to be surrounded by some of the world’s finest classical ballet dancers as well as perform fantastic repertoire. The lifestyle within the company is very different from life at school. I feel a greater sense of responsibility for myself and my dancing.
“So far I have performed in Manon, which opened the season at the beginning of October. However, I had the opportunity to perform with the company as a student last season in ballets such as La Bayadere, Don Quixote and The Firebird.”
Gallucci hopes to eventually perform the roles in the big classical ballets as well as contemporary works.
The three Alegria men join a number of other Australians: at last look they were Calvin Richardson (Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School), Benjamin Ella (Australian Conservatoire of Ballet) and Amelia Townsend (Annette Roselli Dance Academy).
– KAREN VAN ULZEN
This article was first published in the Dec 19/Jan 20 issue of 'Dance Australia'. Since this article was written, Brayden has been thrilled to accept a full contract with the Royal Ballet.