Outstanding talent at this year's McDonald's Ballet Scholarship
The talented winners: Kelsey Stokes and Aaron Kok.
The annual McDonald's Ballet Scholarship, a competition open to dancers aged 16 to 19, is the highlight of the Sydney Eisteddfod's dance program and offers some of the richest prizes for aspiring classical dancers in the Southern Hemisphere. Competitors come from all over Australia, not just for the chance of winning but for the experience of seeing how they measure up to other aspiring dancers. With about a third of this year's 144 entrants coming from interstate, it is perhaps unsurprising that some of the eight finalists had travelled a very long way to take part.
Robyn Begg (trained by Beth James) and Charlotte Price (Sonja Shepherd) came from Western Australia; Liam Morris and Brydee Little (both trained by Christine Walsh) from Victoria and Kelsey Stokes (Prudence Bowen) from Queensland. The remaining three, Aaron Kok (McDonald College), Laura Atencio (Tanya Pearson) and Kenji Wilkie (Alegria) were all from Sydney, NSW. In the weeks leading up to their final round performances on July 22, each of these dancers had successfully passed through several stages of competition as assessed by adjudicators Rani Luther and Colin Peasley, a significant achievement in itself. Now they would perform on the stage of the Concert Hall in the Sydney Opera House with a packed auditorium and two major scholarships to be awarded at the end of the evening.
On the night itself the use of such an iconic venue contributed to an air of importance and excitement.
The first and second scholarships were awarded by Rani Luther and Colin Peasley in conjunction with David McAllister, artistic director of the Australian Ballet, who was a guest adjudicator on the night. The first scholarship (who receives $18,000) went to Kelsey Stokes, a 16-year-old New Zealander currently training with Prudence Bowen in Queensland. Luther describes her as having "real ballerina potential, with grace, elegance and a strong stage presence". NZ-born Kelsey and her family moved from New Zealand (where she trained with Elizabeth Russell at the Northern Dance Academy) to the Gold Coast at the beginning of this year to enable Kelsey to study fulltime.
It was no surprise that the second scholarship (worth $12,000) went to 17-year-old Aaron Kok who "delivered the best all round performance, with beautiful turns and jumps", according to Luther. Aaron has been training with Josephine Jason, Allan Cross and Jacqui Dumont at the McDonald College, where he has had the opportunity to refine his performance skills in many productions of the Premier State Youth Ballet Company.
The program was not just for ballet lovers and the Jazz Dance Groups added sparkle and sass to the evening with their sharply synchronised ensembles. There were eight finalists in this section but two schools dominated, with Brent St and Village Performing Arts fielding two groups each. There were a wide range of choreographic influences from different finalists which emphasised how flexible the definition of jazz dance has become over time. Adjudicated by PJ Clarke, Kate Wormald and Ramon Doringo, first place went to Brent Street B, second place to Village Performing Arts A and third to National College of Dance.
- GERALDINE HIGGINSON
See a more detailed account of the McDonald's Ballet Scholarship, with more photos, in the Oct/Nov issue of 'Dance Australia'.