The Australian edge in dance competitions

There’s no doubt that for young Australian dancers, their experience of competition gives them an advantage when they move to full time ballet schools overseas, or companies around the world.

Stage experience is much more rare for students in Canada or the United Kingdom, to name just two countries. Often the end of year concert is their only chance to perform before an audience.

Dance competitions can bring rich rewards but of course they can also be very dispiriting yet the high chance of early elimination did not deter a record number of boys and girls who this year entered the richest dance competition in Australia.

The 2013 Sydney Eisteddfod’s McDonald’s Ballet Scholarship attracted more than 170 entrants between the ages of 16 to 19, with the eight finalists selected by the adjudicators, Marilyn Jones and Andris Toppe, to dance at the Sydney Opera House on 4 August.

Among those eight, three have competed in one of the toughest competitions in the world, the Prix de Lausanne, and one has danced his way through many performances as Billy in the musical, Billy Elliot.

Josh Denyer was one of the Billys in 2009 and is the only Sydney-based dancer to make it into the McDonald’s finals this year.

The McDonald’s finalists who competed at the Prix de Lausanne earlier this year are Alysha Martignago, Kiely Groenegwegen and Nathan Mennis.

The Prix is a good marker of which countries have the biggest appetite for competition.

This year, 32 of the 82 selected candidates were from Japan, South Korea and China.

Eight Australians were selected to compete, and while that seems a small number it’s substantial in comparison with those from Canada and the United Kingdom (one from each country) and, in terms of population, with the 10 selected candidates from the United States.

Alysha Martignago was one of only two Australian finalists in the Prix this year. The other finalist was Joel Woellner who has just become a corps de ballet member at the Houston Ballet.

Here are the eight McDonald’s finalists for 2013

Jessica Allison-Walker, 16. Trained at the Christa Cameron School of Ballet in Melbourne and, from the beginning of this year, with Prudence Bowen in the Gold Coast, Queensland

Belle Beasley, 16. Trains at the National College of Dance, Newcastle, New South Wales

Kiely Groenegwegen, 16. Studies with Christine Walsh and Ricardo Ella at the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet in Melbourne, Victoria

Alysha Martignago, 15, studies with Janine McGrath of Classical Coaching, Brisbane, Queensland

Josh Denyer, 18, trains at Ecole Ballet & Dance Theatre with Jane Allyn and Ashley Killar in Sydney, New South Wales

Caleb Durbin, 16, trains at the National College of Dance in Newcastle, New South Wales

Nathan Mennis, 18, studies with with Martyn Fleming at the Queensland National Ballet School in Brisbane, Queensland

Tyson Powell, 17, studies at the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, Melbourne, Victoria

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Belle Beasley, photo © WinkiPop Media

Kiely Groenewegen, photo © WinkiPop Media

Alysha Martignago, photo © WinkiPop Media

Caleb Durbin, photo © WinkiPop Media

Jessica Allison-Walker, photo © WinkiPop Media

Josh Denyer, photo © WinkiPop Media

Josh Denyer as Billy Elliot, photo © Luis Enrique Ascui/Getty Images AsiaPac

Nathan Mennis, photo © WinkiPop Media

Tyson Powell, photo © WinkiPop Media