Sunday August 28, The Sydney Eisteddfod Ballet Fellowship final returned to the stage at the newly refurbished Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. It was the first time that what was historically an annual event could be held in three years, and demand is definitely still strong, as evidenced by the record 226 admissions this year!
Of course, a considerable amount of judging took place behind the scenes in the weeks leading up to the final, and only eight finalists made it to this final stage. This year, two were from Queensland, two from Victoria and four from New South Wales.
Amelie 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 Academy of Dance, New South Wales)
Emily Sprout (Prima Youth Classical Academy, Qld)
Tahlia Kirke (Australia Workshop, Qld)
Ben Moss (Alegria Dance Studios, New South Wales).
The level of finalists at the Sydney Eisteddfod is always high, but it seemed to be even higher this year, which is extraordinary when you consider the considerable interruptions to so many dance formations in recent years due to pandemic restrictions. Collectively, this group of finalists were not only technically strong, but also betrayed little nervousness in their solo performances, projecting themselves confidently to the audience on what must surely have been a daunting stage.
It was hard to choose who would be the winners this year. But in the end, I don’t think anyone in the audience would have been surprised to see Emily Sprout in the top spot. This young dancer from Queensland is only 15 (he will turn 16 in September) and trains at the Prima Youth Classical Academy. She delivered a radiant Aurora Act 3 Variation and a contrasting and dramatic Free Variation called The shadow. Emily has hypertensive legs and beautifully arched feet, but she’s surprisingly strong for a young dancer with this physique. She has a beautiful arabesque, a dynamic leap and full 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 $3,000 to further her studies in classical ballet. She also had the opportunity for 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 still has no major sponsor.
Second prize went to Noah Cosgriff, a Victorian dancer from the Jane Moore Academy of Ballet. Like Emily, Noah had exceptionally beautiful legs and feet. He is 19 years old but looks younger on stage. His interpretation of Basilio (from Act 3 of Don Quixote) was strong and well presented. Noah also performed a neoclassical free variation called human spirit which showed its classic line. He receives a total prize of $10,000, consisting of an $8,000 and $2,000 scholarship, sponsored by the Sydney Eisteddfod Jubilee Fund.
Other standout performances included Tahlia Kirke’s Odette Act 2 variation, beautifully detailed and danced with a smooth, lyrical quality that gave it a sophistication beyond its years. Free variation by LilySophia Dashwood Indecision showed her to be an authentic and moving dancer – unafraid to be vulnerable on stage, and Amelia Soh was exceptional in both her Black Swan variation and her freestyle variation. Evolve – in which she demonstrated a superb range of dynamic contrast and control throughout her body. Joseph Dufty’s Free Variation Thrown into the depths was quirky and engaging, showing him that he was adept at a range of dance styles beyond ballet.
In their comments during the presentation ceremony, the judges noted how high the standard was, noting that all of the finalists had achieved so much simply by qualifying for the final eight. And what judges they were! Referees 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 delayed a bit overnight as the judges needed a few more minutes to make their final decisions, but experienced comrade Nicole Chettle handled the situation with aplomb. Since we had just watched the guest performances, the National Youth Ballet Company, she invited Brett Morgan on stage to speak briefly about the aim of this new Newcastle-based organization, until the judges were ready from.
Interestingly, there were six additional bonus awards, in the form of one-week placements at specific Australian companies and/or attached schools, compared to previous years (see results box). Although generous, it was perhaps a little late for some, as at least three finalists already had internships at prestigious pre-professional schools abroad which they left shortly after the competition. They were Joseph Dufty (San Francisco Ballet School, USA), Tahlia Kirke (Royal Ballet School, UK) and Chelsea Potter (Elmhurst Ballet School), UK.
The jazz dance group finalists showed excellent technique and timing in what was, as usual, a hotly contested event. There seems to be a general trend to include more acrobatic moves in the choreography for this event and several routines were danced to tracks that included popular songs from Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. First prize went to Ablaze Dance Academy (Adamstown, NSW) for Brave heart. Second prize at the National College of Dance (Lambton, NSW) for Mandate. And third prize at 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 showed a very high level of performance. It wasn’t easy for judges Kristina Wallbank-Hutton, Mark Hodge and Ian Knowles to select the winners in this category.
Finally, congratulations to Pelagia Karakontis (The Dance Spot, Randwick, NSW) who won the Capezio Award for Most Promising Young Dancer. Although she didn’t perform on the night, by all accounts she did very well at several dance events at Sydney Eisteddfod 2022.
– GERALDINE HIGGINSON
(This article will be included in the October/November/December print issue of “Dance Australia”, which will be out soon. The print is forever! Subscribe now to receive your copy or buy at your favorite retailer or single issues online here.)