Qld Ballet Young Artists light up London

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The cast of Southern Lights along with Li Cunxin, Christian Tátchev, Matthew Lawrence and special guest, artistic director of the Royal Ballet, Kevin O'Hare (centre).

The Queensland Ballet’s Jette Parker Young Artists have only just arrived home after a whirlwind trip to London, where they performed at the Royal Ballet’s Next Generation Festival at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre.

They performed "Southern Lights", a vibrant triple bill of original Australian works: Perfect Strangers, performed by QB artists Heidi Freeman and Lewis Formby (both former Jette Parker Young Artists), and the UK premieres of Natalie Weir’s Fallen and Loughlan Prior’s Appearance of Colour.

This unique opportunity came about through the 2021/2022 UK/Australia Ballet Exchange, a major new cultural exchange between Australia and the UK. It was the first time the company has been to the UK since its 2015 season of Peter Schaufuss’ La Sylphide at the London Coliseum. The dancers performed from June 4-6. 

The Jette Parker Young Artist Program is an immersive, year-long apprenticeship program for gifted young dancers who are at the start of their professional careers. The lucky 12 to perform were Luca Armstrong, Heidi Craig, Sophie Kerr, Edison Manuel, Samaël Maurice, Matthew Maxwell, Amber Mitchell-Knight, Frederick Montgomery, Joshua Ostermann, Sophie Smith, Jessica Stratton-Smith and Laura Viola.

Heidi Craig kept a diary of the trip exclusively for Dance Australia. Here is her account, complete with flight delays and a fair bit of shopping! Photos are by fellow JP artist, Sophie Smith.

Wednesday 1 June

The adventure begins today! Wednesday morning at the airport was filled with eagerness, expectations and happiness. Positivity reigned until halfway through our flight to Perth when it was discovered that our London flight had been delayed 11 hours overnight!

Then our adventure really began as we were put up in a hotel in Perth for just a couple hours of sleep before leaving again at two in the morning. The delay wasn’t all bad news for some as it was a perfect opportunity for a quick catch up with some friends living in Perth.

Thursday 2 June

Principals of the Royal Ballet, Francesca Hayward and Marcelino Sambé, during their curtain call after a spectacular premier of Christopher Wheeldon's Like Water for Chocolate

Finally, after continued delays, we landed at London Heathrow half a day later than scheduled. Some of us had managed to secure tickets to the Royal Ballet’s production of Like Water for Chocolate. However, in a mad scramble amongst the traffic and road closures of the Platinum Jubilee, we missed the first act but we were eager to run to catch the final two acts which was amazing. It was great to see the Royal Ballet dancers live on stage and performing something a little different.

Friday 3rd June

Today was a day of exploration! We had most of the day free to check out London which is so strikingly different to Brisbane. The intricately beautiful, historic buildings and obscenely crowded streets reminded us that we were far from home.

The highlight of our day would have to be class at the Royal Opera House. It was the most surreal experience being able to dance and perform in the home of the Royal Ballet dancers we admire from afar. We were all star-struck, and completely unable to stop gaping at everything and everyone around us.

Saturday 4th June

Opening night! We had one tech rehearsal in the afternoon to smooth out any kinks before performing. This meant putting everything together fast, which was especially difficult considering our pieces are particularly technical in terms of lighting and props.

Company dancers Heidi Freeman and Lewis Formby during technical rehearsal for the premier of Jack Lister's Perfect Strangers

The show went smoothly and the audience responded so positively. It was lovely to hear such high praise for ourselves and the choreographers after working so long and hard towards perfection. The post-show function was also a perfect opportunity for us to thank the sponsors who made this amazing trip possible and we were delighted they enjoyed the show!

 Sunday 5th June

This morning we had class before our afternoon show with guest teacher David Peden, a former Senior Soloist with the Royal Ballet. We all enjoyed a new perspective on our daily ballet class as we prepared for our matinee show. Kevin O’Hare, director of the Royal Ballet was amongst our audience members today and his praise was warmly welcomed.

Post show, of course, was more sightseeing around London Eye, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey and a lot of rest before tomorrow’s show.

London streets decorated for the Jubilee celebrations.

Monday 6th June

Our free day before our final show in the evening was used to its fullest as we shopped around London’s huge shopping district. We all made it to the most famous shops such as Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Hamleys toy shop and the Harry Potter store at King’s Cross Station.

The evening show went well and everyone really enjoyed themselves putting everything into the final performance in the big city. Though it was sad to leave it all behind, we finished on a high as the whole experience was just too exciting to feel anything else!

Covent Garden.

 Despite finishing late last night, everyone was up early and ready to make the most of our last day in London as we were due to leave at five that evening. Some dancers went out to see sights like Tower Bridge and Hyde Park and others managed to catch up with friends around London. However, just as we thought we were heading home, our flight was delayed again by twelve hours! This time around, it was not such a bad thing, giving us another night in London to see a couple of shows and hit a few more shops!

Wednesday 8th – Thursday 9th June

After struggling to get ourselves up at 4am the next morning, we headed to the airport tired and not particularly thrilled to board another 17-hour flight but this time it was not so bad because most of us managed to sleep the flight away. After more delays at Sydney airport, we finally made it home late Thursday night, just in time to see the opening of Li’s Choice on Friday night.

It was an amazing tour and an unforgettable experience but now, we are all so exhausted and happy to be back in our own beds. (ENDS)


All smiles at the post show function with the wonderful donors and select guests.


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