By Grace Edwards.
Many local ballet students dream of becoming a nominee for the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award. For 22-year-old New Zealand-born corps de ballet member Karen Nanasca the dream has come true. “The announcement was made after our daily class one morning back in February. I was sitting on the floor at the back of the studio amongst my fellow dancers wondering who the last nominee was going to be. I couldn’t believe it when my name was called!”
Karen, who joined the Australian Ballet in 2009 upon graduating from the Australian Ballet School, will compete alongside colleagues Rudy Hawkes, Robyn Hendricks, Luke Marchant, Brett Chynoweth and Chengwu Guo for a cash prize of $20,000. The winner is to be chosen by an industry judging panel, who will assess the dancers on the quality of their dancing, personal development and potential for the future. Australian Ballet fans will also get their say, deciding by popular vote the winner of the equally coveted $5,000 People’s Choice Award.
In addition, Karen and the other contestants will also have to submit a written piece to convince the judges why they should win. The process culminates in September when she and the other contestants will be interviewed by the judging panel. The winner will be announced in December. Last year the contest ended in an unprecedented tie, with winners Ty King-Wall and Dana Stephensen receiving $20,000 each.
Having made the transition to company life quite recently compared to the other nominees, Karen is more than ready for the journey. “There were only seven girls in my final year at The Australian Ballet School, and there are 35 girls in The Australian Ballet,” she recalls. “It was quite a change to work with a much larger group of dancers and subsequently receive less individual attention from ballet staff than I was used to at the school. But I’ve learnt now to work more independently and how to navigate my way around in such a big ballet class.”
Already she has had to cope with one of the art form’s biggest downsides. “I had a stress fracture in my second metatarsal going into my first year at The Australian Ballet School, and I re-fractured the bone after my initial recovery a few months later into that year,” says Karen. “Any dancer who has had an injury knows how frustrating it can be when you can’t dance. It was tough for me for all the months I was off. But I came out of it a stronger and smarter dancer. I think it’s important to stay positive, have family and friends around to support you, and always have a goal to work towards. The injury really put into perspective how important our bodies are for dance, and how important it is to look after them properly!”
Whilst it might be easy to focus on such potential pitfalls, Karen insists that the joy of dancing is worth the pain. She is quite clear about her favourite aspect of dancing with the Australian Ballet: “getting to do what I love everyday – and getting paid for it! I love the feeling of being on stage, the adrenaline rush and the emotion of it all. It’s also rewarding to hear the positive response from the audience.” This is fortunate, as the company’s hectic schedule doesn’t leave much time or energy for other interests. “After a performance and once I’m home, I usually have something to eat and watch TV or read until I start to get sleepy. This doesn’t normally take very long…”
A few fun facts about Karen
When I am not dancing I am…sleeping!
I have a personal weakness for…Chanel nail polish.
One day I’d like to…win the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award!
My idol is..Tamara Rojo, principal, the Royal Ballet.
A memorable stage moment…Last year I danced in Principal Artist Daniel Gaudiello’s South of Eden, as part of the Bodytorque.a.la.mode season. In the piece there was one lift where John-Paul Idaszak, the tallest male dancer in the company, lifted and tossed me over his head, and I was caught on the other side by dancer Matthew Donnelly. It felt like I was flying!
Vote for Karen or any of the other talented dancers in the TBDA People’s Choice Award by visiting
Top photo: Karen Nanasca and Jacob Sofer by Jeff Busby