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Get to know the 2019 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award nominees

Telstra Ballet Dancer Award nominees.
Telstra Ballet Dancer Award nominees.

The Australian Ballet and Telstra have announced that six talented young dancers have been selected as nominees for the prestigious and coveted Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards 2019. Those dancers include Corps de Ballet Dancer Isobelle Dashwood, Soloist Jill Ogai, Senior Artist Cristiano Martino, Senior Artist Marcus Morelli, Soloist Sharni Spencer and Corps de Ballet Dancer Yichuan Wang. 

Telstra Ballet Dancer Award.
Telstra Ballet Dancer Award.

The Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards comprise the Telstra Rising Star award, which will see a $20,000 prize awarded to the winner. The nominees will also be in contention for the Telstra People’s Choice Award. The winner will receive a $5,000 prize and is decided by a public vote. Now in its 17thyear, the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award is one of the most presitigous ballet prizes in the country. It has been a special career highlight for some of ballet’s brightest stars. As many as seven former winners who have received the award continued on to become principal artists of The Australian Ballet.

Here, get to know the talented 2019 nominees. 

What does it mean to you to be a nominee for this year’s Telstra Ballet Dancer Award?

Sharni Spencer, soloist 

Sharni Spencer.
Sharni Spencer.

“I think the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award is such an important collaboration between The Australian Ballet and Telstra. It really supports and encourages emerging dancers, giving them the confidence needed to reach their goals. It also opens up a different way to connect and engage with the audience on another level. It means so much to me to be nominated for this award, to be recognised for my commitment and hard work, on stage and also the work behind the curtain. It’s a huge encouragement, and I am so grateful to be nominated for a third time!”

Isobelle Dashwood, corps de ballet

“I was incredibly shocked when I heard my name called as a nominee. It’s so humbling, and I feel so honored to be amongst the incredible nominees this year. I think this award is a wonderful way to boost dancers’ confidence and act as a platform for careers to thrive. I’ve been so inspired by so many past nominees and winners, so to now have my name in that group in my second nomination is surreal. I’ve always had doubts about myself as a professional. Being 5’10” has often made me feel the need to shrink to fit a stereotype or mould, but I’ve learned that it’s a great asset and strength of mine. To feel the support of my colleagues through this nomination has inspired me to push harder and continue to strive everyday for more freedom and expression on stage, in the studio and in everyday life.”

Jill Ogai, soloist 

“It’s hugely important to me as nominees become the face of ballet in Australia! It’s so important to show young Australians that ballet dancers come in all different shapes and sizes, and with different strengths, something I didn’t see so much growing up. The more kids we can inspire to dance, the more diversity we can get in the industry, and that’s so important for ballet and dance in Australia and the world!”

Cristiano Martino, senior artist

Cristiano Martino.
Cristiano Martino.

“Being nominated for the 2019 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award is really exciting because not only has this award been a catalyst for launching some of the company’s biggest stars, but it’s also a great way to get ballet to reach the general public and a wider audience through the generous support and collaboration with Telstra. The thing that also makes being nominated for the award even lovelier is that it’s recognition of your work from your colleagues (past winners/principal artists and ballet staff who pick the nominees). Whether that be acknowledgement of triumphs, overcoming hardships or continual tenacity or kindness, it’s just really lovely to have those things be recognized.”

Marcus Morelli, senior artist

“Being nominated for the Telstra Ballet Dancer of the Year Award is hugely fulfilling. To know that my peers believe in me is motivating and makes me want to do them and myself proud. Having seen numerous heroes of mine be a part of the award over the years, it’s incredibly humbling to share that similarity.”

Yichuan Wang.
Yichuan Wang.

Yichuan Wang, corps de ballet

“For me, this nomination is definitely exciting. I think this is also affirmation of my efforts, from company workmates and staffs. And it gives me motivation every day in work, every time on stage.”

How would you spend the prize award if you won?

Martino 

“I would probably hold on to the money for a little while. I might use some of it to travel if I were ever suffering from a lull in inspiration or motivation to experience different art, cultures and companies, which would enrich my dancing.”

Isobelle Dashwood.
Isobelle Dashwood.

Dashwood 

“If I were lucky enough to win, I would love to travel more throughout the world, experiencing all of the incredible choreographers, companies, dancers and continue opening my eyes to the art, culture and joy of this form of storytelling to enhance my own art. There is so much out there to discover.”

Wang 

“I want to study the teachers training course from The Australian Ballet School. I’m really interested in the way of education here. I think it’s not only helpful for my dancing career but also for my future and life.”

Spencer 

“It would open up some wonderful possibilities! I am not someone to lash out and spend it all in one go on an expensive luxury item. I think I would put it away until the right opportunity came along. I would like to potentially use it to study, and I have a home loan, so it would sit in my offset for awhile until then, allowing me to focus on following my hopes and dreams of dancing now.”

Ogai

Jill Ogai.
Jill Ogai.

“A huge growing moment for me as a dancer was going on scholarship overseas and taking class and watching shows all over Europe. I’m a very visual learner, so I soak a lot up from watching! I’d put a lot of the money toward doing something like that again, as it benefited me, my dancing and my knowledge as a company member hugely.”

Morelli

“If I won the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award, the prize money would go toward updating my current ballet gear (clothes, equipment), and also my first property. This would enable me to be close to my home at the ballet but also to where the rest of my family live.”

Marcus Morelli.
Marcus Morelli.

Is there anything you’re working on, technically or artistically, this year? Things you’re working on or are hoping to achieve this coming year?

Wang

“I’m practicing classical variations in my spare time. I want to do the Varna International Ballet Competition next year. I want more challenges, and also I want to see how other dancers dance.”

Martino

“In terms of artistic goals, I’m really focusing on learning how to become a better storyteller. I’ve noticed the artists I’m drawn to are the most genuinely themselves on and off the stage, and I think knowing and seeing people backstage, you don’t realize how much of your personality comes through even when you don’t mean for it to in any/various roles. I’m working on having the capability and confidence to be fully myself every time I’m out on stage. It’s really confronting sometimes and a bit scary, but I think it’s what makes what we do even more beautiful!”

Telstra Ballet Dancer Award nominees.
Telstra Ballet Dancer Award nominees.

Spencer 

“I am covering the role of Sugarplum in our upcoming performances of The Nutcracker. It is a very tough role, incredibly challenging and very pure classical ballet. I have worked on this role in past years, performing several times at local ballet schools in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne for their school Christmas concerts, after our shows with The Australian Ballet finish for the year. It’s always such a wonderful experience to share the stage and connect with all these bright eyed, hopeful young dancers. It’s always very inspiring! I’d really love to now perform this role with The Australian Ballet. I’m a cover, and have a history of last minute appearances, so I guess anything could happen!”

Ogai

“So much of what I’ve learnt and strived for in my career so far is coming to fruition this year. I debuted as Clara in Sir Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker! For me, this year is a time to trust my technique, let my intuition take over, really feel every moment and just dance.”

Dashwood

“Being an impressionable young adult when I joined the company, I often felt nervous when it came to my individuality. I think I’ve felt before like I’ve had to dance a certain way technically before I could add any of ‘me’ on top. I’m constantly reminded, however, that the freedom of movement and what you feel is what separates ballet from sport. We are a part of something so unique yet so real and relatable, and I want to continue to work on the marriage of the intense skill set with the human emotion. Using my whole body to feel and portray movements and not just steps. Being a different kind of dancer makes me unique, and I am constantly working on refining my technique and allowing myself to flow freely through everything I do.”

Telstra Ballet Dancer Award nominees.
Telstra Ballet Dancer Award nominees.

Morelli 

“Ballet as an art form is the pinnacle of striving for perfection. While we always search for that unattainable goal, the things I’m working on specifically are the cleanliness of my dancing and being a more secure partner. The roles I’ve danced so far have also really opened me up as an actor/storyteller, and I look forward to more opportunities to tell dramatic narratives and hopefully awaken something in our audiences and make them feel something.”

By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa. 

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