No surprise: Jessi Seymour takes top prize at Sydney Eisteddfod
Geraldine Higginson reports from the 2017 Sydney Eisteddfod Ballet Scholarship
On Sunday 30 July, Sydney Eisteddfod’s annual Ballet Scholarship finals drew a crowd of dancers and dance lovers to the Sydney Opera House. It is, quite simply, the richest prize for aspiring ballet dancers in the Southern Hemisphere, and, as such, the eight finalists have already been through several rounds of classes and performances by the time they get to the Concert Hall stage. It’s always hard to guess which way the judges will go in picking a winner; but this year I don’t think anyone was surprised to see sixteen-year old Jessi Seymour take out the top prize.
A student of Hilary Kaplan and Archibald McKenzie at Alegria Dance Studios in Sydney’s Surry Hills, Jessi danced a stylistically polished and technically assured Esmeralda’s Variation from Act I, La Esmeralda and a lyrical contemporary solo choreographed by Shelley Moore. Strong and elegant - with finely detailed features, Jessi has a pleasingly spontaneous, slightly unpredictable quality on stage despite the hours of practice and rehearsal she, like all the finalists, would have put into preparing solos for such a competition.
In second place, eighteen-year old Cameron Holmes danced a spirited Basilio’s Variation from Act III, Don Quixote and a self-choreographed contemporary variation. He displayed plenty of energy and charisma, showing both dramatic and choreographic potential, and is blessed with the kind of expressive face that draws an audience into a dancer’s performance. Cameron is a student of Lucinda Dunn at the Tanya Pearson Classical Coaching Academy and appears to have a promising future ahead of him. In addition to the second-place scholarship of $12,000, Cameron was also awarded the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet’s Performance Award.
As the outright winner, Jessi Seymour won a total of $18,000 ($3,000 cash plus a $15,000 Scholarship) which will undoubtedly be of great assistance when she moves to London to take up a place at the Royal Ballet School. The two major prizes were generously donated this year by the Guillermo Keys-Arenas Dance Trust and the Scott Family Bequest as Sydney Eisteddfod’s Ballet Scholarship is still without a corporate sponsor.
Jessi Seymour was also awarded the Tanya Pearson Artistry Award (new this year) of an original bronze sculpture by artist Linda Klarfeld which has been specially designed and forged in honour of prominent Sydney dance teacher Mrs Tanya Pearson. 2017 marks Tanya Pearson’s 80th birthday and a Grand Defile choreographed by Paul Boyd and performed by students from a range of schools was staged in her honour. In addition to this, two professional guest artists from the Hamburg Ballet, Hayley Page (former Tanya Pearson student and Ballet Scholarship finalist) and Matthieu Rouvaux, danced the Pas de Deux from Neumeier’s A Cinderella Story.
Last but not least, the Secondary School Dance Group Finalists performed with a precision and force that was amplified by the large numbers of dancers in each routine. Two groups from Pymble Ladies’ College took out the first and second prizes with "Book of One" and "Talk Like That". Both were well danced, but "Book of One" really took the creative and theatrical possibilities of a group routine to a new level with their innovative choreography and use of props. In third place, Northern Beaches School (Mackellar Girls Campus) danced a snazzy, tightly synchronised routine with considerable flair.
- GERALDINE HIGGINSON