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TO reach the top in ballet takes more than just talent and two young dancers at the National Capital Ballet School are perfect examples of what it takes.
Abigail Davidson and Soraya Sullivan have both been dancing since age 3 and both are heading for the international arena with two big opportunities.
ABIGAIL (“Abby”), aged 12 and a student at St Clare’s College, has been selected as a finalist in the Asian Grand Prix International Ballet Competition to run in Hong Kong during August, while Soraya, aged 11, a Radford College pupil, has won a place in the Bolshoi Summer Intensive in Italy and Russia.
When “CityNews” visits the school’s centre in Phillip, Abby is joined by senior teacher at the National Capital Ballet School, Daniel Convery, who helps shield the shy 12-year old from fearsome journalistic questions.
Soraya, it will be seen, needs no such protection.
The school, Daniel notes, is marking 50 years since its founding by Janet Karin and the late Brian Lawrence in 1968 and is planning a knees-up during November.
“I’ve been dancing since I was three,” Abby says, adding that her sister also attends the school and her brother does judo, but that she’s the serious one.
She hasn’t travelled much but she’s off on a family holiday to Vietnam soon, which means she’ll have her passport ready for to Hong Kong, where her parents will accompany her.
Abby was permitted to post her video entry to the Asian Grand Prix a week late, but nonetheless made it in.
“She is very meticulous and fit, incredibly hard-working, diligent and inspired,” Daniel says admiringly.
The annual Grand Prix was created to inspire excellence in passionate and dedicated ballet dancers, and jurors, including Australia’s Marilyn Rowe, will come from China, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, NZ and the UK in the first year that it’s extended beyond Asia.
“I do 15 to 30 hours a week here at the school,” Abby says, but there are some who do up to 60 hours a week.
Abby’s still studying full-time at St Clare’s, but some dancers take home schooling and do the bare minimum of studies in English, maths and science to get through.
Dance training presents a different set of challenges, she tells us, listing her technical achievements – “strength, points, partnering, anatomy and repertoire”.
She knows it’s going to be tough in Hong Kong when she competes in the Grand Prix, but the ballet school has had American expert Joy Womack help her prepare.
Classical ballet is her favourite kind and the piece she has chosen for all levels of the competition in Hong Kong is from Petipa/Minkus’ “Don Quixote”, where she dances the role of Cupid.
“I like the way it feels when the music is playing, I like the flowing of the dance,” Abby says.
SORAYA needs no protection from the press and in the one-to-one chat with “CityNews” that follows, it’s hard to get a word in, with a smooth, articulate style of talk that belies her 11 years and would not be amiss in a senior public relations rep.
She studied elsewhere before joining the National Capital Ballet School but has gone ahead in leaps and bounds since the change. Soraya is very serious about dance but concedes that her brother, who’s “obsessed with Michael Jackson”, also loves dancing.
“It’s amazing all the things we do here,” she says, and while she enjoys her Radford subjects, such as media arts and drama, the 20 hours a week she spends at the Ballet School are “definitely my absolute favourite”.
Soraya cheerfully admits that she’s a good talker, saying: “I like talking to people and I don’t like to go off topic…I love taking corrections and I love giving them, too. At my school I gave a talk about ballet, so interesting and intriguing.”
Unlike Abby, whom she knows from Daniel’s elite group, to which they both belong, she’s split between classical and contemporary, which she describes as “another side of the dance world”.
A seasoned traveller, Soraya has been with her parents to places such as Malaysia, Paris, London (where she saw the Royal Ballet) and even Wagga Wagga, where she competed.
After winning a scholarship to the Dutch National Ballet Academy, she fractured the growth plate in the left ankle and had to pull out. But at only 11 years old, her body is still flexible so it only took eight weeks for her to recover.
Now she’s got another chance, this time to go to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, travelling with another Australian and her ballet teacher as chaperone.
“I go to Italy first for three weeks and then on to the Bolshoi in Moscow for a week,” she says.
“We get to board at the Academy, where we do really long days, but everything is provided… people can be selected for the actual Bolshoi from that school.”
She’d like to be a dance teacher much later in life, “like my amazing ballet teacher Daniel, who is incredible”, but is presently absorbed in the here and now.