On Sunday August 28, the Sydney Eisteddfod’s Ballet Scholarship Final returned to the newly renovated Concert Hall stage of the Sydney Opera House. This was the first time that what has historically been an annual event was able to be held in three years, and the demand for it is definitely still strong, as demonstrated by the record-breaking 226 entries this year!
Of course, a considerable amount of adjudication has gone on behind the scenes in the weeks leading up to the Final, and only eight finalists make it to this last stage. This year two were from Queensland, two from Victoria and four from New South Wales.
They were as follows:
Amelia Soh (Mosman Dance Academy and Sydney Ballet School, NSW)
Noah Cosgriff (Jane Moore Ballet Academy, Vic)
Joseph Dufty (National College of Dance, NSW)
LilySophia Dashwood (Jane Moore Ballet Academy, Vic)
Chelsea Potter (Newcastle Dance Academy, NSW)
Emily Sprout (Prima Youth Classical Academy, Qld)
Tahlia Kirke (Atelier Australia, Qld)
Ben Moss (Alegria Dance Studios, NSW).
The standard of finalists at the Sydney Eisteddfod is always high, but it seemed to be even higher this year, which is extraordinary when you think about the considerable interruptions to so much dance training over the last few years due to pandemic restrictions. Collectively this group of finalists was not just technically strong but also betrayed little evidence of nerves in their solo performances, projecting confidently to the audience on what must surely be an intimidating stage.
It was hard to pick who the winners would be this year. But in the end, I don’t think anyone in the audience would have been surprised to see Emily Sprout in first place. This young dancer from Queensland is only 15 years of age (turning 16 in September) and trains at Prima Youth Classical Academy. She delivered a radiant Aurora Act 3 Variation and a contrastingly moody and dramatic Free Variation called The Shadow. Emily has hyperextended legs and beautifully arched feet, but is surprisingly strong for a young dancer with this physique. She has a lovely arabesque, a buoyant jump and oodles of potential for a future career in ballet. Emily will receive a total prize of $18,000, consisting of a $15,000 scholarship as well as $3000 to further her studies in classical ballet. She also received the opportunity of a short secondment with the Royal Danish Ballet. This scholarship is generously sponsored by the estate of the late Leslie Andrews, as the Sydney Eisteddfod Ballet Scholarship is still without a major corporate sponsor.
Second prize went to 17-year-old Noah Cosgriff, a Victorian dancer from the Jane Moore Academy of Ballet. Like Emily, Noah had exceptionally beautiful legs and feet. His rendition of Basilio (from Act 3 of Don Quixote) was strong and well presented. Noah also performed a neoclassical Free Variation called Human Spirit that showed off his classical line. He receives a total prize of $10,000, consisting of an $8000 scholarship and as well as $2000, sponsored by the Sydney Eisteddfod Jubilee Fund.
Other outstanding performances included Tahlia Kirke’s Odette Act 2 Variation, which was beautifully detailed and danced with a gentle, lyrical quality that gave her a sophistication beyond her years. LilySophia Dashwood’s Free Variation Indecision showed her to be an authentic and soulful dancer – not afraid to be vulnerable onstage, and Amelia Soh was outstanding in both her Black Swan Variation and in her Free Variation Evolve – in which she demonstrated a superb range of dynamic contrast and control throughout her whole body. Joseph Dufty’s Free Variation Thrown In the Deep was original and engaging, showing him to be adept at a range of dance styles beyond ballet.
In their comments at the presentation ceremony, the judges noted just how high the standard was, emphasising that all the finalists had achieved so much simply by making it to the final eight. And what judges they were! Adjudicators Lisa Pavane (Director – Australian Ballet School) and Christian Tatchev (Queensland Ballet Academy) were joined by Li Cunxin (Artistic Director – Queensland Ballet) and Aurelien Scannella (Artistic Director – West Australian Ballet) to make the final decisions. The presentation was held up a little on the night as the judges needed a few more minutes to make their final decisions, but experienced compere Nicole Chettle handled the situation with aplomb. Seeing as we had just been watching performances by invited guests, the National Youth Ballet Company, she invited Brett Morgan up onstage to talk briefly about the purpose behind this newly formed Newcastle based organisation, until the judges were ready to go.
Interestingly there were six more additional prizes, in the form of week-long placements to specific Australian companies and/or attached schools than have been given in previous years (see results box). Though generous, it was perhaps a little late for some, as at least three finalists already had placements at prestigious pre-professional overseas schools which they were leaving for shortly after the competition. These were Joseph Dufty (San Francisco Ballet School, US), Tahlia Kirke (Royal Ballet School, UK) and Chelsea Potter (Elmhurst Ballet School), UK.
The Jazz Dance Group Finalists showed great technique and synchronisation in what was, as usual, a hotly contested event. There seems to be a general trend towards including more acrobatic moves in the choreography for this event and several routines were danced to tracks that included popular songs by Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. First prize went to Ablaze Dance Academy (Adamstown, NSW) for Braveheart. Second prize to National College of Dance (Lambton, NSW) for Mandate. And third prize to TJS Dance Academy (Wollongong, NSW) for Bad Romance.
Congratulations to the remaining finalists, Dance North Academy (Narraweena, NSW). Plie, Groove ‘N’ Shuffle (Cromer, NSW) and CDC Studios (Dulwich Hill, NSW) which all displayed a very high standard of performance. It cannot have been easy for judges Kristina Wallbank-Hutton, Mark Hodge and Ian Knowles to select the winners in this category.
Last but not least, congratulations to Pelagia Karakontis (The Dance Spot, Randwick, NSW) who won the Capezio Award for Most Promising Young Dancer. Although she did not perform on the night, by all accounts she has done very well across several dance events at Sydney Eisteddfod 2022.
– GERALDINE HIGGINSON
(This article will be included in the Oct/Nov/Dec print issue of 'Dance Australia', which will be out soon. Print is for keeps! Subscribe now to receive your copy or buy from your favourite retailer or single issues on-line here.)