While the sports world was gearing up for its Winter Olympics, the ballet world was gearing up for a winter olympics of its own – the annual, prestigious Prix de Lausanne. Top dance students from all over the world, armed with supreme athleticism, talent and years of training, braved Covid barriers to travel to snowy Switzerland to put themselves to the test. And coming out on the summit was Australian Amy Ronnfeldt, beating a field of 376 to be offered a coveted scholarship.
Amy (18) is in her final year at the Australian Ballet School. She joined at Level 4 in 2018, but, also like an Olympic athlete, she has been training for years, since she was four, in fact, first for 10 years at the Kimberley Woodger Dance Academy in her hometown of Brisbane. Her specific training for the Prix, however, began in September last year, preparing the solos and presentation videos necessary to apply. She was one of 82 to be selected to compete in person (70 made it to Lausanne).
Because of Covid, however, it was uncertain till the very last moments whether the competition would actually be held at the theatre. Last year's was held entirely on-line. Booking tickets and planning for the trip was contingent on borders staying open, no sudden outbreaks and daily negative tests. But the RATs were kind and Amy and her supporters, including her parents and the artistic director of the ABS, Lisa Pavane, made it to the venue. “Testing negative was a big relief,” Amy says. “Flying all that way and then not being able to do the competition would have been very disappointing.”
Amy impressed the judges with a performance of the lead variation from Paquita as her classical variation, wearing a tutu designed by the former artistic director of the Australian Ballet, David McAllister. She also performed a contemporary solo called Suppress, choreographed by Australian Samuel Winkler, which was a winner of the Young Creator's Award at last year's competition. This new award is designed to identify new choreographic talent, with each year's two winning solos being taught to the next year's contestants as their presentation contemporary solo. Amy was taught hers by the dancer of the solo, Gabriel Barbosa, a pupil at the Hamburg Ballet School.
Unlike a sports competition, however, the Prix is not just about prizes. As Amy points out, the whole event is a week-long experience, with classes and coaching and “building your passion as an artist". “I just loved being exposed to such internationally renown dancers and teachers and directors,” she says, “with such incredible and extensive knowledge. I found it a very fun challenge being taught classes in a quite French style. The ABS has an Australian/Vaganova training, so having teachers like Elisabeth Patel, director of the Paris Opera Ballet School - they all had quite a French way of teaching, very fast footwork, it was something to get used to. It also felt surreal hearing the international accents after being stuck in Australia for so long.
"I loved the coaching by Gabriel Barbosa and also particularly the coaching by Claire Marie (Osta) for the classical variation. She was a principal at the Paris Opera Ballet and had a real eye for detail, which I really enjoyed, it was an absolute pleasure. And of course appearing on stage again was so magical, with the Prix de Lausanne backdrop and the camera in the wings, it was like a dream.”
She was also thrilled that her former teacher, Kimberley Woodger, came to Lausanne especially to support her.
At this stage Amy is undecided where she will take up her scholarship. For the time being she is looking forward to completing her year at the ABS, including a regional tour with the Australian Ballet, but in regard to the award “I haven't yet been able to fully process it”, she laughs.
Amy is no stranger to awards: she won the RAD Advanced 1 Bursury in Qld in 2017 and the RAD Jacqueline Moreland Award the same year and has been a semi-finalist in the Alana Haines Awards in New Zealand. She was also cast as Ariel in the Ballet Theatre of Queensland production of The Little Mermaid in 2017/18.
Amy is bursting with gratitude to her many helpers, including David McAllister for the tutu, Bloch for lots of helpful “goodies”, and her teachers, particularly Lynette Wills, Lucas Jervies and Lisa Pavane “for believing in me and having such patience and commitment in making the trip possible".
“I am so thankful for all their support, even when we were not sure the Prix would even go ahead.”
Note: Of the 70 contestants in Lausanne, 20 were selected for the finals. There were two other Australians finalists: Ned Manning-Lourey and Hyo Shimziu. All finalists who do not receive a scholarship receive a cash prize of 1000 Swiss francs (about $1,500). For more on the 2022 competition, go here and here.
In the Prix de Lausanne finalists above, Amy is at 26:42, Ned at 14.35 and Hyo at 35.57.