The very first Sydney Eisteddfod was held at the Sydney Town Hall in 1933. In a city impacted by the Great Depression, the Eisteddfod lifted people’s spirits with competitions in piano, singing and speech and attracted over 300 competitors. Fast forward 90 years, and the Eisteddfod now holds one of the most valuable and prestigious ballet competitions for students in the Southern Hemisphere.
In July, the Sydney Opera House hosted an exciting Dance Gala event that combined the Sydney Eisteddfod Ballet Scholarship and Dance of Champions. The event saw Artistic Director of the Houston Ballet, Stanton Welch AM, return home to Australia to adjudicate and present lucky students with scholarships to train with the Houston Ballet Academy. The winners of this prize were Summer Edgley, Mantraa Rane, Airran Pillay and Henry Burgess.
“It (was) an honour to return to my roots here in Australia, and support in such a way that opens up international opportunities for the next generation of dancers today,” Welch says. “Participating with my mother, Marilyn Jones O.B.E., in selecting the four recipients of the Sydney Eisteddfod Ballet Scholarship was a great privilege. Through this exchange with Houston Ballet Academy, we can nurture creative development and propel performers toward international careers.”
Dance Informa chatted with scholarship recipients Summer Edgley and Mantraa Rane about their experience at the Eisteddfod and asked them a few questions about their life outside of dance.
Edgley started ballet at the age of three at a small ballet school on the Gold Coast and was a very creative and musical child who would dance around the house, climb trees and jump in the pool at every chance. For the past five years, she has been dancing at BMC Coaching under the guidance of Bethany Cockburn.
Rane also started dancing at age three when her Mum noticed her breaking out into a dance whenever music was playing. Rane’s training commenced at Dance Desires with baby tap and after being inspired by Marianela Núñez, she joined Melbourne Academy of the Arts at age 11, where she has seen her love for ballet grow under director Jasmina Stefkovski.
What was the process of reaching the 2023 Sydney Eisteddfod Ballet Scholarship finals?
“Competing in the Sydney Ballet Scholarship has always been a goal of mine. The first round involved a video selection back in April that we submitted class and solo content for. From that video round, the initial selections were made, and I was thrilled to be chosen to compete in the events in Sydney in July. I had spent the early part of the year working closely with my teacher to prepare my solos for the stage, so I was really looking forward to travelling down to perform. The subsequent rounds involved solo performances and an adjudicated class. After that class, I was one of eight finalists chosen to perform at the Opera House. It was a really exciting weekend, and I’m grateful to have had the support of some wonderful people to help me prepare. It felt like a lovely chance to celebrate all our hard work.”
“In all honesty, I didn’t know what to expect prior to flying up to Sydney. Since I hadn’t done it before, and no one from our studio did it, I didn’t know at all what it was going to be like. My teachers and I rehearsed my variations before as well with an exchange of good luck and hugs! Then we packed our suitcases (with costumes, of course!), and then it was time to fly. The entire experience was so fulfilling, definitely a trip with treasured memories!”
What was it like performing on the Sydney Opera House stage in front of such illustrious adjudicators?
“I’ve always dreamed of performing on the Sydney Opera House stage, and it still feels a little surreal to think that I got the opportunity. It was such a magical experience stepping onto a stage so many incredible dancers have been before me, including my ballet teacher, my mum and even the adjudicators themselves. I remember walking through the hallways and seeing a photograph of a professional ballerina performing Kitri on the stage, and I just started crying because I couldn’t believe I was really there. Of course, I was nervous, but as soon as I stepped onto the stage, I just enjoyed the moment.”
“Reaching the finals was something I only dreamed of doing, let alone being awarded second place! So, to be given the opportunity to perform to the audience of the Sydney Opera House was a highlight moment in my life so far! Stepping on that stage, I had such a full heart and most of all, hearing the audience’s support and love on and off the stage meant the world to me. Like any artist, every performance comes with nerves but also comes that thrill and excitement that you are performing to everyone in the audience. Most of all, I wanted to be happy with my performance, knowing that I did the best version of my dance as possible!”
You were awarded a Professional Development Opportunity from Houston Ballet, congratulations! What are you looking forward to most about going to Houston?
“I am looking forward to every aspect of the opportunity, from the travelling to the training. It will be a great chance to experience American training and learning from some incredible teachers as well as meeting talented dancers from all around America.”
“I am so thankful to be given this opportunity, and I would like to show my gratitude to Director of Houston Ballet, Stanton Welch, for his generous offer. I am really looking forward to immersing myself in the studios and getting to know the style, heritage and artists of Houston Ballet!”
- Adage or allegro? “I would say I am more of an adage dancer, but I love allegro!”
- Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov? “Tchaikovsky.”
- Late nights or early mornings? “Late nights. I am definitely not a morning person!”
- What is the last song you listened to (not ballet-related!)? “‘Logical’ by Olivia Rodrigo.
- What is the last movie you watched? “The Impossible.”
- What do you wear in your pointe shoes? “I usually just wear gel Ouch Pouches.”
- If you could never dance again, what career would you pursue? “This is a really hard question because I would want to be so many things, but I think I would love to be a marine biologist, pediatric nurse, architect or maybe a lawyer?”
- If you could invite six people to dinner (famous or otherwise) who would you invite? “A very random selection, but Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Jonah Hauer-King, Zendaya, Maria Khoreva and Marianela Núñez.”
- Adage or allegro? “Allegro! Give me a grand allegro, and I’ll do it in a heartbeat.”
- Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov? “Tchaikovsky.”
- Late nights or early mornings? “Early mornings – love a good morning routine with wellness and self-care.”
- What is the last song you listened to (not ballet-related!)? “It’s a Bollywood song – ‘Channa Mereya’ by Arijit Singh.”
- What is the last movie you watched? “I think it was on the plane, but I can’t remember because I was half asleep! But I think it was the new Little Mermaid movie.”
- What do you wear in your pointe shoes? “Paper tape and toe pads.”
- If you could never dance again, what career would you pursue? “Definitely something in the medical/scientific fraternity, but I also can’t imagine myself without dance, so that’s a hard question!”
- If you could invite six people to dinner (famous or otherwise) who would you invite? “My parents and all of my family from India (they can count as one), Marianela Núñez, Alina Cojocaru, Misty Copeland, Priyanka Chopra and my best friend.”
What is a fact about you that not many people know?
“I love to cook, and I am currently trying to grow my own produce garden! I also love to read in my spare time.”
“My family and I have a pink car!”
By Rebecca Martin of Dance Informa.