Ballet scholarships and life thereafter

Sixteen-year-old Courtney Macmillan last night won the richest ballet competition in Australia.

Awarded $18,000, she was the outright winner of the Sydney Eisteddfod McDonald’s Ballet Scholarship,

Dann Wilkinson, also 16, received the second scholarship of $12,000.

The finals of the annual awards, held at the Sydney Opera House, were judged by Wim Broeckx, artistic president of the Prix de Lausanne, Karen Donovan, former principal of Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet – now Birmingham Royal Ballet – and David McAllister, artistic director of The Australian Ballet.

Last night was the culmination of an arduous judging process. Each year, the candidates in this competition dance their classical variation, after which quarter finalists are chosen to perform their contemporary variations.

From this round, semi finalists are chosen to take a master class from which eight finalists are selected.

Courtney Macmillan, who danced the Sugar Plum Fairy variation and a contemporary solo on pointe, is a very experienced participant in dance competitions.

She travelled to Las Vegas to compete when she was aged only 14 and last year, was the only female finalist in the Genee Awards who was not a student of the Royal Ballet School in London.

Last Easter, she was first runner up at the Alana Haines Australasian Ballet Competition in Auckland where one of the three adjudicators, Gailene Stock, director of the Royal Ballet School in London, offered her a partial scholarship to enter first year in the upper school.

Although her training has been mainly in Queensland, Australia, Courtney has moved around schools, beginning at the Ballet Factory at Tweed Heads with Christine Fraser.

She was also coached by Prudence Bowen and is now studying with Suzanne Way at Professional Classical Ballet Coaching at the Industry Dance Studios, also in Tweed Heads.

This is a long preamble to a very short finale about life for a talented newcomer to the Royal Ballet School.

One of the annoying things that are said to first time parents is: “Now you’ll really know you’re alive”.

What they mean is, “life’s been a sweet ride until now”.

When a young ballet student moves half way around the world with the aim of having a professional career they face many challenges.

Talented newcomers from overseas are viewed with suspicion and must make friends quickly if they can.

They are no longer the star of the studio.

The pressure is on to win a professional contract, as third year – the graduation year – always looms.

There is a consolation: most students do find a supportive new circle of friends and by third year, have never had more fun in their life.

Graduation year can be so satisfying and so much fun that it carries the young hopeful into the next major challenge of their lives: how to adapt to being a humble member of a professional company’s corps de ballet.

And then, yes, it all starts again.

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