A 16-year-old Sydney girl has taken out the top prize at the biggest ballet competition in the southern hemisphere.
Lania Atkins out-performed about 160 dancers aged between 16 and 19 from across Australia and New Zealand, to win the Sydney Eisteddfod and a $18,000 scholarship.
The tallest of the eight finalists, Lania was elegant in a sparkling white tutu, and performed one of the great classical variations from the ballet Raymonda at the Sydney Opera House.
“When you finish the solo you hear the crowd clap and you just get this amazing feeling when you’ve finished and it’s just so – oh, it’s just indescribable,” she said.
The teenager from Bronte in Sydney’s eastern suburbs started dancing at the age of three.
She said she would use the money to continue her training at the Dutch National Ballet Academy.
For Lania’s proud mother, Jen Atkins, it was a dream come true.
“This Eisteddfod, particularly this final … is the pinnacle of Eisteddfods in Australia” she said.
The family has attended the final as spectators for the last six years “to watch the older ones, admire them – kind of go ‘Oh my God, I just hope I’m on that stage one day'”, Ms Atkins said.
“I said to her before it, ‘You’re a winner, whether you win or not’.”
Queensland’s Joshua Price from Robina on the Gold Coast was the runner-up, and took home a $12,000 prize.
He began dancing at the age of eight, after years of trying to convince his mum to let him take ballet lessons.
“I’ve got no words” he exclaimed.
“There’s definitely ups and downs and things you miss out on – parties, sleepovers and all that.
“Just the experience at the end of the day … and be on stage and perform: it’s just amazing.
“Stick to your dreams and keep going, because it’s an amazing opportunity to be able to do these things and you’ll love it,” was his advice to other boys who want to dance.
Bright future for winners
Seventeen-year-old Harrison Lee has been studying London at the prestigious Royal Ballet School since winning last year’s competition.
“It’s been an incredible opportunity … it’s vital for any young dancer,” he said.
According to Harrison, the Eisteddfod gave students important stage experience and invaluable exposure to dance directors and ballet schools.
This year’s judges included the artistic director of the Australian Ballet, David McAllister.
“The standard was fantastic and it’s always great to see all of those young kids at that very exciting point of their career getting up onto the Opera House stage and really just dancing with such joy,” Mr McAllister said.
“I can’t even remember if I could put one foot in front of the other when I was 16, but I think it’s a great testament to their families and to their teachers to be able to really focus and to be the best they can be at that young age”.
So will these young performers make it in the competitive world of professional ballet?
“Oh yes, definitely,” Mr McAllister said.
“In every ballet company all around the world there’s at least one Australian.
“We have a world class company here in Australia as well. So we should be very proud as Australians of producing extraordinary dancers.”