2019 Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards’ ‘Rising Star’ and 'People's Choice' winners
Entertainment |

The 2019 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award winner is…

By Genelle Sharples November 30, 2019

Recently, a panel of judges spent an afternoon locked in a room deliberating on who would take out the 2019 Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards’ ‘Rising Star’, while over the last couple of months, you have been casting votes for the ‘People’s Choice’ winner. With the votes now counted we’re proud to crown the winners.

Our CEO, Andy Penn, took the stage at the Sydney Opera House on the Opening Night performance of The Nutcracker to make the announcement.

It’s a pleasure to announce that the 2019 Rising Star winner of the Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards is Jill Ogai, Soloist with the Australian Ballet. Jill receives a cash prize of $20,000 for her amazing win.

Born in Sydney in 1993, Jill Ogai grew up in Bondi Beach. At the age of four, she and her twin brother begged their parents to start ballet classes after their tennis-coach father played a film of Swan Lake. Her family later moved to Adelaide where she continued training before moving to Melbourne at age 14 to begin full-time studies at The Australian Ballet School.

Jill joined The Australian Ballet in 2012 and was promoted to Soloist in 2018. The award follows an exciting year for Jill, who this Sydney season is playing lead roles in Sylvia and The Nutcracker. Earlier this year she also starred with Kevin Jackson in Stephen Baynes’ Unspoken Dialogues at the prestigious Joyce Theater in New York.

Speaking to us as part of this year’s awards, Jill said that her biggest career highlight so far is dancing a piece called Unspoken Dialogues in New York earlier this year. “I was lucky enough to dance it…only a handful of dancers have ever danced that piece, and it was a huge accomplishment for me,” she added.

Meanwhile, the People’s Choice vote was hotly contested this year. After a tight race, Marcus Morelli emerged as the winner. With over 52,000 votes counted, 2019 represents the biggest ever year for the People’s Choice category. Marcus’ win represents his second in the category, after taking out the People’s Choice award in 2015 also. He receives a $5000 cash prize for his win. We congratulate him for this amazing achievement.

The nominees were judged by a panel of incredible talent. This year David McAllister, AM (Artistic Director, The Australian Ballet), Libby Christie (Executive Director, The Australian Ballet), Carmel Mulhern (Group General Counsel, Telstra), Nadia Fairfax (Editor, Fairfax Journal), Sophie Tedmanson (Executive Editor, Qantas Magazine) and myself came together to assess the contributions of the dancers both on and off the stage.

The crowning of Jill and Marcus marks the 17th year of the Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards. The awards are designed to nurture Australia’s ballet talent and support rising artists in the field. We want to recognise and showcase the passion and artistry of these dancers and elevate their work to the national stage.

Not only do we congratulate the winners, but we also congratulate the other four nominees who make up a prestigious cohort of dancers. We applaud Corps de Ballet Dancer Isobelle Dashwood; Senior Artist Cristiano Martino; Soloist Sharni Spencer; and Corps de Ballet Dancer Yichuan Wang for their efforts this year.

We’re proud to continue supporting these talented artists and the contribution this partnership has done to raise the profile of ballet in Australia. Congratulations to both Jill and Marcus on their wins.

Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards
Entertainment |

Peak performance: what it takes to be one of Australia’s best ballet dancers

By Luke Hopewell October 14, 2019

Limitless patience; incredible support; a life-long love of dancing and the arts. That’s what the nominees of the Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards identify as being necessary to be one of the nation’s peak ballet dancers. We spoke to the nominees about their passion for dance, and how they got to where they are today.

Our partnership with The Australian Ballet continues to nurture Australia’s brilliant ballet talent, and the Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards represent the pinnacle of our partnership every year. The Awards allow us to support some of Australia’s brightest young stars with new opportunities and career experiences, to challenge and encourage them on their chosen path.

The six dancers nominated for the award this year include Corps de Ballet Dancer Isobelle Dashwood, Soloist Jill Ogai, Senior Artist Cristiano Martino, Senior Artist Marcus Morelli, Soloist Sharni Spencer, and Corps de Ballet Dancer Yichuan Wang.

We hosted a virtual roundtable with the nominees to find out what it takes to become one of the nation’s best dancers.

What’s your inspiration for dancing? How did you get started?

Sharni Spencer (Soloist): I’ve just always loved to move and dance! I grew up in Tamworth, we had a massive backyard and I was always outdoors, running around, dancing, jumping on the trampoline, bike riding, you name it I would be doing it! My parents used to do ballroom dancing and some rock’n’roll classes and would love to watch them busting a move. I’ve just always been drawn to and dance ended up being the thing that I would keep choosing when after school activity times would clash. I started taking classes at the scout hall just in the laneway behind our house. As I progressed my teachers told my parents that I had good foundations for ballet and could continue potentially into a career if I furthered my training elsewhere.

Isobelle Dashwood (Corps de Ballet Dancer): Ballet has been a huge part of my life since I can remember. My mum is a ballet teacher and as the middle of 5 children, I grew up wanting to follow my older sisters everywhere including ballet class. I was always quite shy as a child but when I danced around the house, I felt so free. 

It wasn’t until I was 12 however that I really felt a big connection with the feeling ballet gave me. I loved to strive for new goals and to dance to beautiful music. The marriage of all the aspects of a show coming together to create a seamless piece of art inspired and excited me and I couldn’t get enough. As I’ve grown in the industry, I’ve definitely noticed a shift in what I find important or want to focus on. Technique will always be a foundation that supports our capability to dance and dance well, but I’m slowly learning that feeling things more emotively or taking energy from other parts of my body enhances what I do both technically and artistically. Dance is exciting because it’s a continuously evolving and changing art form with so many incredible aspects shaping the magic we share onstage and that inspires me every day to work at my best. 

Being a very tall dancer has also made me appreciate differences and uniqueness. I don’t fit a mold but I’m creating my own and hopefully, that inspires others to feel that they can go after any dream that they have with hard work, passion and courage. 

Jill Ogai (Soloist): I started after watching a video of Swan Lake with my twin brother. We both always loved moving, and so when we saw ballet, we wanted to try it. It’s always felt great and very right for me to move and express to music. On tougher days, it’s the most important thing to remember; why I started dancing, and how great it feels. 

Cristiano Martino (Senior Artist): Really it can depend on the day. Sometimes I’m inspired by the work we’re doing in that moment, it can be the beautiful music we are dancing to or the person I’m dancing with. I find lots of inspiration in my friends/colleagues. But probably my partner Andrew Killian who is performing his 20th year & season with The Australian Ballet. He is an exceptional, humble & talented artist and a constant source of my inspiration.

I started dancing after I asked my mum if I could go along with my sister because I was always copying her routines in the lounge room when she would practice. I was a very energetic child & I’ve never been able to sit still so initially I think I just loved being able to channel my energy into something. I never really knew I could make a career out of it but I’m so grateful I have.

Yichuan Wang (Corps de Ballet Dancer):  I remember the first time I saw other boys doing some really cool techniques I just felt I really loved it. And after I could successfully get those steps that feeling is awesome!

Marcus Morelli (Senior Artist): I started dancing at the age of 10 after many years of being ‘dragged’ to my sister’s ballet classes/competitions. After lots of encouragement from them and the teacher, I finally gave it a go just so they’d stop telling me to give it a try. Clearly something grabbed me from that first class, as I never stopped going back. I owe my decision to start ballet to my two wonderful sisters as without them, who knows what I’d be doing?

2019 Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards
Entertainment |

Recognising Australia’s rising stars in the 2019 Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards

By Genelle Sharples September 3, 2019

We believe the purpose of technology is to inspire and connect. We want to help current and future generations reach their full potential, and for almost two decades we’ve been helping incredible young dancers to do just that. This year’s six rising ballet stars are nothing short of extraordinary and we think you’ll agree.

Our partnership with The Australian Ballet continues to nurture Australia’s brilliant ballet talent, and the Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards represent the pinnacle of our partnership every year. The Awards allow us to support some of Australia’s brightest young stars with new opportunities and career experiences, to challenge and encourage them on their chosen path.

The six dancers nominated for the award this year include: Corps de Ballet Dancer Isobelle Dashwood; Soloist Jill Ogai; Senior Artist Cristiano Martino; Senior Artist Marcus Morelli; Soloist Sharni Spencer; and Corps de Ballet Dancer Yichuan Wang.

2019 Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards

The Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards comprises two categories: the Telstra Rising Star winner is awarded a cash prize of $20,000 and the Telstra People’s Choice Award winner receives a $5,000 cash prize.

The Telstra Rising Star Award winner is decided by a panel of judges from Telstra and The Australian Ballet and announced on the Opening Night performance of The Nutcracker at the Sydney Opera House on 30 November 2019. The People’s Choice Award winner is decided by you!

We invite you to cast your vote to decide the next rising star of The Australian Ballet and to reward one of these exciting young dancers for their dedication, skill and grace. You can visit our website to view videos of our finalists, before casting your all-important vote. Votes can be cast via the website, or via 0484 BALLET. Voting closes on 17 November 2019.

Ballet is an incredibly demanding art form and this award is an opportunity to recognise the passion and artistry these dancers bring to the stage. We love that we are able to share their stories and their joy of ballet, providing inspiration for all Australians to get involved.

We wish all of our finalists the very best of luck and congratulate them on their already immense achievements in the field of ballet.

For more information on the awards, visit the Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards website.

Entertainment |

Rewarding a rising star in Australian ballet

By Genelle Sharples December 3, 2018

Jade Wood, senior artist with The Australian Ballet, has been selected as the winner of our annual Telstra Ballet Dancer Award for 2018, and will receive a $20,000 prize. Now in its 16th year, the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award recognises emerging talent in the field of ballet, encouraging the dancers to thrive in their pursuit of excellence in the art form.

Jade started dancing at the age of three in Cairns, Queensland and has dedicated her professional life to ballet since. After attending the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne from 2004, she toured with The Dancers Company in 2009 and 2010 and then joined The Australian Ballet a year later. Since then, she’s travelled to the US, China and UK for performances and was recently promoted to senior artist with the company in 2018.

The 2018 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award winner, Jade Wood.

Over the 16 years that we have funded the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award, it has become a key metric for success in the art and a career highlight for some of Ballet’s finest talent. It is one of the longest running arts partnerships in Australia, alongside our ongoing sponsorship of the Telstra NATSIAA.

We’re incredibly proud of our partnership with The Australian Ballet, connecting audiences to the grace and joy of the art and enabling Australia’s best ballet dancers to excel in their already outstanding careers.

Our judges included Telstra’s Carmel Mulhern (Group Executive, Legal and Corporate Affairs) and myself, Libby Christie – Executive Director of The Australian Ballet and David McAllister – Artistic Director, as well as journalist Cecily Ryan from the Sunday Telegraph.

The winner of the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award was announced on stage at the end of the opening night performance of Cinderella at the Sydney Opera House. As part of the Award, public voting also saw Jade announced as the winner of the Telstra People’s Choice Award, with an additional $5,000 prize.

The six dancers nominated for the award this year were coryphée Nathan Brook, coryphée Corey Herbert, soloist Brodie James (also a 2016 nominee), soloist Rina Nemoto (2014 nominee), senior artist Jade Wood (2016 and 2014 nominee) and corps de ballet Lucien Xu.

Telstra Ballet Award winner is awarded
Entertainment |

And the winner of the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award is…

By Joe Pollard December 5, 2017

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.