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A Southern Genée

International ballet competitions have become a somewhat necessary evil in the ballet world. Brought to popular culture’s attention by movies such as First Position, they are, by all accounts, high impact events. Artistic directors from world-famous ballet companies line the judging panels to the watch ballet’s rising stars train, perform and compete. The competitors, usually between 15-18 years of age, are devoted individuals, likely type-A personalities, who have already put in years of training. But the exposure of such competitions is priceless. Best case, these young men and women will secure a scholarship to a company school or generous cash prizes to further their training. Worst case, they’ll make a lasting impression in an artistic director’s sub-conscious, ready for audition season.

Genée gold medalist Maeve Nolan. Photograph by Winkipop Media, courtesy of the Royal Academy of Dance

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The Genée International Ballet Competition is held once a year by one of the world’s largest and influential ballet organisations, England’s Royal Academy of Dance (its patron is Queen Elizabeth II). Its flagship event, the Genée, as it is affectionately known, is named after Dame Adeline Genée, the Danish ballerina who laid the foundations of what became the RAD. The competition is only open to students who have trained in the RAD syllabus and attained grades at the highest level. Established in 1931, the 85-year old competition was held in London until 2002. From 2003, the RAD’s long serving artistic director, Lynn Wallis OBE, made the somewhat bold decision to let the competition tour the globe. Its first stop was Sydney in 2002. Since then the Genée has visited Cape Town, Singapore, Toronto and Athens to name a few. In 2016 the Genée returns to Sydney, with the finals being held at the Sydney Opera House, December 11, 2016.

To get to the Genée finals is a gruelling process. First students must have achieved distinction in their Advanced 2 RAD examinations or received the elusive Solo Seal, the RAD’s highest grade, attained only via a performance examination. Those who achieve these grades can then apply to attend the semi-final intensive training week. This year, 86 semi-finalists from 12 countries were selected. Over the semi-finals week, the competitors are coached and observed taking classical and contemporary dance classes, and are trained in three variations that they must perform live if they are selected as a finalist. At the end of the week, 12 finalists are selected to compete for the gold, silver and bronze medals. This year eight young women and four young men were chosen to compete.

On the night of the 2016 final, the Sydney Opera House’s Joan Sutherland Theatre was filled with nervous parents, ballet students and expectant fans alike. The finalists performed their three variations: a commissioned contemporary work, a work chosen by the finalist, and finally a classical ballet variation.

This year’s commissioned work was a short contemporary ballet piece by Tim Harbour, the Australian Ballet’s resident choreographer. Performed in only a leotard for the ladies or tights for the gents, and to live piano accompaniment, there was little room for error. The stand-outs were female finalists Madison Ayton and Jessi Seymour. Joshua Price and Brayden Gallucci were the highlights of the men’s finalists.

The “dancer’s own” work was performed with music and choreography chosen by the dancers, or more accurately, their teachers or trainers. Interestingly, this element of the Genée gives choreographers the opportunity to shine. Of note, Adam Blanch, a prior Genée competitor, choreographed two of the twelve finalists' pieces. Both pieces were memorable, performed by Talia Fidra and Brayden Gallucci, and his works combined wonderfully fluid yet dynamic choreography. Jade Wallace and Connor Williams won the audience’s choices on the night, both performing comedic works. The evening was not short on entertainment with Wallace as a bright and bubbly secretary, and Williams wowing the crowd with fabulous technique and a pair of braces.

Finally, the finalists performed their classical variations. This is the night’s climax—the competitors predominantly train in classical ballet and so this is their chance to showcase their skills. Joshua Price performing the male’s variation from Act III of “Le Corsaire” was exceptional. His technique, his elevation and his showmanship was exemplary, the audience erupting into applause as he finished. It was evident who would be awarded the men’s gold.

Whatever one’s view of ballet competitions, it is clear classical ballet is in good hands. The standard of the Genée finalists, despite a few wobbles here and there, was impressive for students of such a young age. Interestingly, the Genée has the unusual quirk of only awarding gold medals if the judges rule the standard is high enough. This year, gold was awarded in both categories—the men’s gold to Joshua Price, the women’s to Maeve Nolan. It is clear the Genée will continue to give ballet companies their stars for many years to come.

The final of the 2016 Genée International Ballet Competition was held on December 11, 2016 at the Sydney Opera House, New South Wales, Australia.

Mens Medalists:

Gold: Joshua Price
Silver: Brayden Gallucci
Bronze:Hamish Scott

Womens Medalists:

Gold: Maeve Nolan
Silver: Talia Fidra
Bronze: Madison Ayton

2016 Genée Finalists:

Madison Ayton, Australian, trained by Annette Roselli Dance Academy
Talia Fidra, Australian, trained by Heidi Langford & Claudia Dean
Mamiko Inoue, Japanese, trained by Satomi Morikawa
Maeve Nolan, Australian, trained by Marie Walton Mahon
Evelyn Roberts, Australian, trained by Diana de Vos
Jessi Seymour, Australian, trained by Hilary Kaplan
Jade Wallace, British, trained by Denise Whiteman
Alexandra Walton, Australian, trained by Teresa Johnson
Brayden Gallucci, Australian, trained by Hilary Kaplan
Joshua Price, Australian, trained by Janice Heale
Hamish Scott, British, trained by Sarah Dickinson
Connor Williams, British, trained by Denise Whiteman & Sarah Dickinson.

Claudia Lawson

Claudia Lawson is a dance critic based in Sydney, Australia, writing regularly for ABC Radio National, ABC Arts, and Fjord Review. After graduating with degrees in Law and Forensic Science, Claudia worked as a media lawyer for the ABC, FOXTEL and the BBC in London, where she also co-founded Street Sessions dance company. Returning to Sydney, Claudia studied medicine and now works as a doctor. She is the host of the award-winning Talking Pointes Podcast.



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