The Margot Fonteyn International Ballet Competition, named after famed ballerina Margot Fonteyn DBE, also the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD)’s longest serving president, is an annual event held by the RAD. Formerly known as the Genée, the competition was renamed in May 2019, a week after Fonteyn would have turned 100.
The competition, which will be held in London from 21 – 29 October, is dedicated to promoting and rewarding standards of excellence in young ballet dancers internationally. Participants are given the opportunity to work with world-renowned choreographers and professionals, and to perform on an international stage.
Here, Dance Informa speaks with five former Fonteyn medallists to see how the competition helped launch their career and further their training, and to find out “where are they now?”
When did you participate in The Fonteyn competition, and what did you perform and also place in?
Darrion Sellman, Prix de Lausanne dancer for The Royal Ballet
“I participated in The Fonteyn in 2019, and had the opportunity to perform the Jean de Brienne Act III variation from Raymonda; my Dancer’s Own piece ‘Cavalier Concerto,’ choreographed by Andrea Paris-Gutierrez; and the Commissioned Variation for the competition, choreographed by Gioconda Barbuto. I won the gold medal at that year’s competition.”
Amelia Soh, training at San Francisco Ballet School
“I participated in The Fonteyn competition in 2020. I performed the third soloist shade from La Bayadère and received the bronze medal.”
Amber Mitchell-Knight, company artist at Queensland Ballet
“I participated in The Fonteyn in 2021, during the competition’s first year as The Margot Fonteyn International Ballet Competition. I chose the classical variation, Raymonda Act II Variation II, along with a contemporary piece choreographed by Mr Damian Smith titled ‘Fusion.’ I was fortunate enough to have been chosen as a finalist and received the Audience Choice Award. Earlier in 2019, I competed in the Genée International Ballet Competition as a semi-finalist, travelling to Toronto, Canada, as the RAD Bursary recipient.”
Alice McArthur, training at the John Cranko School in Stuttgart, Germany
“I participated in The Fonteyn competition in September 2021, where I performed Swan Lake first Pas de Trois, my own solo choreography and a set variation taught to us by Ashley Page. I was awarded the gold medal.”
Milei Lee, training at the English National Ballet School
“I participated in The Fonteyn competition in 2021. I performed the second variation from Raymonda Act 2, as well as a self-choreographed solo for the Dancer’s Own called ‘Romance Op.6,’ to the beautiful and dramatically intense music by Sergey Rachmaninov. I am beyond humbled to have won the silver medal in RAD’s first Fonteyn competition.”
What did you love about the competition? What was your experience like?
“The Fonteyn competition like a week-long intensive with a culminating performance at the end. For me, this gave a sense of relief and allowed me to enjoy my time there rather than feel pressured about competing. This is what makes The Fonteyn different to most other competitions and especially why I loved it. In my experience, I also felt very supported by the other candidates and teachers. When I arrived in Toronto, and the week had started, I had gotten ill for the first two days. All the staff were very nurturing and helpful, making sure I would get better to continue with the competition. The other candidates also created a very friendly environment instead of a competitive one. I believe this allowed all of us to thrive and push ourselves to our very best, while also enjoying the opportunity to perform.”
“I would describe my experience as unique. COVID-19 was still heavily influencing the world and, unfortunately due to travel restrictions, the competition had to be held online. As unfortunate as this was, I still consider myself lucky to have had access to the technology, space and teaching to still make competing possible. That said, challenges proved plentiful throughout the process of the competition. Although my experience was very different and unique from the ideal international competition experience, I still could not have asked for a better opportunity, to take part in the first-ever Margot Fonteyn International Ballet Competition. I was able to experience so much through the world’s ability to connect online. I was able to take class still, although at odd times, from many incredibly inspirational people online, including Ernst Meisner. I received coaching sessions from Garry Trinder, Janek Schergen and Ashley Page. The ability to compete internationally during a worldwide pandemic and continue to partake in and share my love for the art of ballet throughout this period meant the world to me.”
“My experience was very unusual, as The Fonteyn in 2021 was completely online. However, even though the competition was completely online, I loved still being able to learn so much. I had to train a difficult variation with my teachers, and I loved having the opportunity for both my classical and contemporary solo to be coached by other international teachers. The RAD made every effort to simulate an in-person competition with many elements adapted for the online experience such as including class work created by Artistic Director Gerard Charles and learning and performing a short solo by the renowned choreographer Ashley Page. We learnt the solo in small groups on Zoom late at night (due to different time zones) with the other candidates, which helped us feel more connected throughout the competition.”
Following the competition, what was your journey to where you are today? How do you think The Fonteyn helped in your journey and preparation for your career?
“Since participating in The Fonteyn, I have progressed to my graduation year at John Cranko Schule. The competition helped me get started with choreographing, and I am hoping that my first group choreography will be performed in July. The exposure and validation from placing in the competition by such an esteemed judging panel also helped me feel that I had something to offer as a performer, something that a company might value one day, and I found this encouragement really helpful. Additionally, the competition provided class and performance practice during a time when opportunities to dance, especially to perform, were limited.”
“With the competition being online, there was a lot of filming that took place, and I’ve come to realise how filming is such an important aspect in a dancer’s career in regards to audition filming for companies, especially now that I’m in my final year at school. I truly believe that The Fonteyn pushed me to explore the finer aspects of the filming process which gave me a good understanding of what to expect for audition filming and prepare what to do in order to present myself at my highest standard. This is definitely a valuable tool that I consider a very crucial part to my journey of a professional career. To now be part of a treasured legacy and seeing the past successes of so many dancers involved in this competition, this has continued to motivate me for the years to come in my professional career. Not to mention, this competition is a great addition to my CV which would catch the eye of several company directors!”
“After The Fonteyn in 2021, I auditioned for the Prix de Lausanne. I was fortunate enough to be selected and then travelled to Switzerland in February 2022. I had an in-person international competition experience in Europe, and met many talented dancers. After the Prix de Lausanne, I toured to America, where I took some classes at San Francisco Ballet School and fell in love with the school and its atmosphere. I ultimately received a full scholarship to San Francisco Ballet School that started in September of 2022, which is where I train today. The Fonteyn was an invaluable experience as it connected me with dancers from around the world. Being able to dance and compete with them was extremely inspirational and motivating. The Fonteyn was also my first international competition. This prepared me very well for the standard that I would face later at the Prix de Lausanne and even further at school and company auditions.”
“After The Fonteyn, I had the opportunity to go to the Académie Princesse Grace in Monaco, where I trained for three years. In my graduating year, I got to attend the 2022 Prix de Lausanne competition in Montreux, where I won the gold medal and apprenticeship to The Royal Ballet in London. Now, I have had the chance to experience my first year as a professional dancer with this prestigious company, and I’m looking forward to what the future brings. I believe that The Fonteyn has helped me in my journey through giving me a platform to be seen. Being at a well-known international competition allowed me to present myself to a much wider audience than before, ultimately leading me to attending a professional ballet school and company.”
“Following The Fonteyn, I submitted audition videos to a few companies, focusing more within Australia due to the harsh travelling restrictions still in place. In October 2021, I received an email and telephone call from the Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet, Li Cunxin, offering me a contract as a Jette Parker Young Artist for 2022. I was in awe and incredibly grateful that my dream of making it as a professional dancer might not be just a dream after all. I signed my first contract and finished my year completing my Advanced Diploma at The National Ballet School before moving from Melbourne to the sunny Queensland to start work in January 2022. To work amongst such kind, inspiring professionals and diverse artistic staff at Queensland Ballet has been a dream come true. During my first year I was able to accomplish more than I could ever have imagined or expected.
Two weeks after moving into my apartment in West End, I was flooded in. As terrible as this was, a few days later, unfortunately some other dancers were still stuck at home which gave me the opportunity to participate in the regional tour of Giselle for my first performance and experience as a professional dancer. In June, along with my fellow YAs, I was extremely fortunate to travel to London to perform in the Next Generation Festival at the Royal Opera House. What an amazing experience this was and just after less than six months in the Company. Later that year, I received many performance opportunities during the blockbuster season of Manon and the yearly traditional season of The Nutcracker. Finally, to my delight, toward the end of 2022, I was offered a promotion to Company Artist for 2023. I could not have asked for a better outcome out of the year I had just experienced. This year, in 2023, I have already performed on the regional tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I have just completed the Brisbane season of Giselle at Queensland Performing Arts Centre. Participating in The Fonteyn provided me with the experience and desire to push myself and further my training to become a better dancer. It helped me to build upon my confidence and artistic ability, which is just as important as the technique, transitioning to a professional career.”
Why do you think younger dancers and aspiring professionals should participate in The Fonteyn?
“It will not be like any other competition. Not only is it a great opportunity for you to learn, grow and progress in your career, it is an experience you will remember. The people you meet, friends you make and bonds you create will be long-lasting. Getting the chance to perform your variation and own piece, while also learning a commissioned variation will prepare you for your future as a professional dancer. Taking class with the teachers and getting individual feedback on your solos will also let you take corrections from an outside perspective. The best moment in my opinion, though, is the feeling of accomplishment once you have finished. After you have given all you can give and performed at your very best, you can feel very proud of the work you’ve done to reach this point. If you decide to participate, you will truly experience something incredible.”
“I believe that competitions such as The Fonteyn are valuable for younger dancers and aspiring professionals, regardless of the outcome. Having a goal to train for, the excitement of competing, the connections made with others, the learning at the competition and the performing experience are all beneficial. The Fonteyn, with its prestige and legacy, provides additional opportunities for exposure to international schools and companies.”
“I would highly recommend young, aspiring dancers to participate in The Fonteyn, as it is a great platform to be seen by world renowned figures of the ballet industry. Being part of this competition was a huge gain for me as an individual artist, and it truly changed my life and perspective in ways I wouldn’t even dream of.”
“I think that younger dancers and aspiring professionals should participate in The Fonteyn, as it’s one of the best opportunities to showcase their talent, perform and compete with other dancers from around the world. It is also an incredible chance to learn from experienced judges and teachers as you receive direct feedback on your solos from them throughout the competition. Lastly, participating in The Fonteyn gave me confidence for future experiences as I felt that I had grown and learnt a lot as a dancer from the competition and was ready to use and apply this knowledge in other endeavours.”
“Exposure and experience is how you grow and learn. It is important to continue to challenge yourself and explore new and different opportunities. There is nothing to lose through participating in The Fonteyn, but everything to gain. You grow and learn so much, and the feedback you receive from worldwide artists can only aid you in your journey to becoming a better dancer. You never want to feel too comfortable. You want to always be pushing yourself and never stop learning. The ballet world is also incredibly varied, and through participating in The Fonteyn, you not only grow technically and artistically, but you meet so many incredible people and fellow dancers, making friends and contacts internationally.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add about The Fonteyn or what you’ve been up to now?
“Since The Fonteyn, I have finished the complete RAD syllabus and was awarded the RAD Solo Seal in 2022. As I received a distinction in all my RAD exams from Grade 3 to Advanced 2, this was very satisfactory closure to my time with the RAD training. Since training in America, I found that the RAD has given me an expectational foundation as I continue my professional training and adapt to new styles at San Francisco Ballet School.”
“I recently visited RAD headquarters, and it was exciting to finally be there in person. I feel a strong connection to the organisation that I have been involved with since I was young. Looking ahead, I have an apprenticeship with the Stuttgart Ballet Company starting in September of this year, and I am very excited to begin my professional journey.”
“Since The Fonteyn, I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with the English National Ballet for its Nutcracker season in 2022, and I am now currently working with Hong Kong Ballet for Vladimir Malakhov’s La Bayadère. This production will feature guest principles Marianela Núñez, Vadim Muntagirov from The Royal Ballet and Iana Salenko from Staatsballett Berlin, a real pinch-me moment! After this, I will be returning to London to graduate the English National Ballet School in July.”
“I’d like to add how grateful I am to the RAD for their continued support toward me and other young dancers around the world. I remember The Fonteyn truly being an experience like no other, thanks to the support of everyone involved. A special memory I have during the competition is stepping out on the stage during the Final at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto. Once I had walked out with the spotlight on me, ready to perform my commissioned variation, I simply felt like I was meant to be there. I felt calm, like I was dancing alone with no one watching. I have that vivid memory still with me today, and it reminds me to not let the stress or anxiety of performing get to me. It taught me that when I’m out there on stage, I should only focus on doing my best and having fun.”
“I want to thank The Fonteyn and RAD Committee for giving dancers the opportunities to take part in such a prestigious international competition. Growth is so important, and gaining knowledge from many influential people can just change your life. I truly believe The Fonteyn guided and aided me to where I am today and the type of dancer I have become and in helping set me on this fantastic journey I am only just beginning. I can’t wait for the next adventure!”
By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.