Last night I had the pleasure of announcing Valerie Tereshchenko as the 2017 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award winner.

As we celebrated another year of this fantastic program, we recognised Valerie for her exceptional talent and outstanding achievement, and awarded her with a $20,000 cash prize to help her catapult her career even further.

Spending her early childhood in Kiev, Ukraine, it wasn’t until Valerie’s family immigrated to Australia when she was six that they could finally afford to enrol her in her first ballet class.

Joining The Australian Ballet in 2015, her fascination and passion for the art form accelerated when she took her first class with Amber Scott, former Telstra Ballet Dancer Award winner and now Principal dancer at The Australian Ballet.

Valerie was selected following a judging process throughout the year looking at her contributions to the company, both on and off the stage. This year’s judging panel included David McAllister (Artistic Director, The Australian Ballet), Cynthia Whelan (Group Executive New Business, Telstra), Libby Christie (Executive Director, The Australian Ballet), Cecily Ryan (Features Editor, The Daily Telegraph), Tory Maguire (Editor-in-Chief, Huff Post) and myself.

We also announced the $5,000 Telstra People’s Choice Award which was decided by an online public vote.

To help the public decide who should win the People’s Choice Award in 2017 we created a series of short films showcasing each of our finalists, their talents and what it takes both mentally and physically, to perform so beautifully on stage.

Using their intimate, physical, and emotional relationship with mirrors, the films revealed the two sides of each dancer. Highlighting the stories of what happens beyond the dance, the 5000 hours it takes to perfect a routine and the 120 pointe shoes a dancer goes through before lacing up the final, pristine pair.

The 2017 Telstra People’s Choice Award went to Jake Mangakahia. Jake joined The Australian Ballet in 2012. In 2014 he took a two-year break to fulfill his life-long dream to serve as a Christian missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day-Saints. Whilst Jake was away he trained on his own for six hours a day and upon his return to The Australian Ballet he performed the lead in Nijinsky.

We were thrilled to see a record number of votes for the People’s Choice Award as a result of our short film series this year – and we are incredibly pleased for our winner Jake who captured the attention of many fans during the voting period.

To both of our winners, we say a huge congratulations on their outstanding achievements.

One of the greatest successes in our 33-year partnership with The Australian Ballet has been the establishment and legacy of the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award, which now in its 15th year is dedicated to supporting the growth and future of The Australian Ballet’s rising stars.

We look forward to helping ballet dancers to thrive in their careers and helping audiences to connect with the wonder of Ballet in new and innovative ways for many more years to come.