Posted on 12 March 2021 By Behind Ballet Editorial Team

We asked some our dancers on the rise about their favourite costumes, funniest moments on stage and most valuable lockdown lessons. Get to know the nominees for the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award - and vote for your favourites in the People's Choice Award. Voting closes Sunday 21 March.  


Your theme as a nominee is 'Moved by inner strength'. Tell us how this relates to you.
To me the most inspiring dancers are vulnerable and genuine and being like that is the only way I can stay motivated in this profession. 

What’s been your most challenging role, and why?
The Queen of the Wilis in Giselle. I danced the role on our regional tour. It's extremely difficult technically and also performing on a wide range of stages - big, small, raked - was a huge challenge. Dancing the role requires a lot of stamina and I don’t think I’ve ever had to calm myself down before a show as much as I did for this.

Funniest moment on stage?
It was actually when I was dancing the Queen of the Wilis. The first thing you do when you come on is bourrée from one side of the stage to the other with a veil over your head. On opening night I crashed into one of the booms (a pillar of lights in the wings) when I came off: I couldn’t see anything and I had about three seconds to run to position and start the extremely hard adage section of the solo. Anyone who knows this ballet will be laughing or gasping hearing this story! I couldn’t believe it, I was so stressed about the solo and the penché arabesques, which really challenge your balance, and when that happened I just thought, "Oh well, if I can handle this, I can handle anything." 

Photography Daniel Boud

What was the main positive you got out of your time in lockdown? 
I think I realised how much I compared myself to others and how debilitating that was for me. At home you couldn’t do that, you only had yourself to focus on and for me that brought some huge realisations.
I also met a traveller who was visiting Melbourne in early 2020. When the lockdown was announced in March he asked if he could stay here in Melbourne instead of going home and he has recently decided to move here permanently. We have two beautiful guinea pigs named Pepé and Larry.

What is your favourite costume, and why? 
Mrs Stahlbaum's party dress in Peter Wright’s production of The Nutcracker. It's a long crimson dress with a bustle and it makes you feel like a million dollars. 

What is your dream role, and which dream partner would you dance it with?
I love Jiří Kylián works, especially Bella Figura. His style comes quite naturally to me. It's so hard to pick a dream partner because all the men of our company are so beautiful, but if I had to maybe Nathan Brook.

Jasmin with Christopher Rodgers-Wilson in Jiří Kylián's Petite Mort. Photography Jess Bialek


Your theme as a nominee is 'Moved by showmanship'. Tell us how this relates to you.
I am moved by charismatic and influential artists who aren't afraid to push the boundaries and be their authentic self onstage. I believe as a performer you have to be vulnerable as it allows you to connect with the audience, which inspires me.

What’s been your most challenging role, and why?  
The most physically and technically challenging role I have done is Eros in Stanton Welch’s Sylvia. It was my second year with the company and Eros is a principal role; also I had to learn within a short space of time. It involved a lot of difficult partnering and solos. It was an honour to perform such a challenging role so early in my career.

Funniest moment on stage?
In my first year with The Australian Ballet we were performing Maina Geilgud’s Giselle. I and another dancer were huntsmen, and we walked onstage leading two live dogs and holding prop ducks, the huntsmen's kill. During one of the shows the dogs started to excitedly munch on the 'ducks'. All the while I was trying to remain composed and in character.  

Photography Daniel Boud

What is the main positive you got out of lockdown?
Being unable to perform in 2020 made me realise how passionate I am about being onstage and how much I miss my peers at The Australian Ballet. However, I did get to spend a lot time with my family in Sydney; living in Melbourne I don’t get to see them often so I treasured this time.

What is your favourite costume and why?
One of my favourite costumes is Albrecht’s Act II costume from Giselle. It’s classic and understated and I would love to be able to wear that one day.

What is your dream role and which partner would you dance it with?
That’s a really tough question as there are so many roles I would love to perform and so many amazing partners. Basilio from Don Quixote is quite athletic and seems like a fun role. Also Romeo, which has more depth and emotion.  

Cameron in Mason Lovegrove's Fraying. Photography Kate Longley


Your theme as a nominee is 'Moved by good vibes'. Tell us how this relates to you. 
 I’m inspired and moved by the energy a dancer gives both on and off the stage. Positivity is essential for me in enjoying what I do.

What’s been your most challenging role, and why?  
The Peasant Pas de deux from Giselle. This was an inspiring moment for me, as it was my first ever grand pas de deux. It was a massive challenge as I only had one show at the end of a very exhausting Sydney season. It was about finding the balance between the pressure of only having one shot at it and enjoying every moment on stage. I loved the journey this process took me on, and it will forever be one of my favourite performances.

Funniest moment on stage?
I have had many funny moments throughout my career. One that sticks out is when a dancer's wig came off during the garland dance in David McAllister’s production of The Sleeping Beauty. There was a white wig on the floor and almost 20 dancers on stage holding back fits of laughter. There’s nothing quite like the subtle eye contact you make with your peers on stage when you’re on the verge of laughing.

Photography Daniel Boud

What was the main positive you got out of your time in lockdown?
Lockdown was a massive opportunity for me to upskill. I became a bit of a corporate girl and used my new-found tech skills, taught to me by my boyfriend, to start a ballet YouTube channel. I also discovered a passion for teaching. In 2020 I was able to connect with and mentor the broader ballet community. I learnt so much throughout this time, and for that I am grateful.

What’s your favourite costume, and why?
Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room was not only my favourite ballet to perform (I was a Stomper), but a unique opportunity to mix comfort and style onstage. We began the ballet in striped, baggy, pyjama-like top and bottoms. As the ballet went on, we lost layers until we were in a fire-red leotard. My favourite part of the costume was the runners. It’s not every day you get to hang up the pointe shoes and hit the stage in a jogger.

What is your dream role, and which dream partner would you dance it with?
Manon would have to be my dream role. The abandon in the Act III pas des deux is beautiful. Kevin Jackson would be the perfect partner as his strength allows you to feel absolute freedom.

Corey with Callum Linnane in Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room. Photography Kate Longley


Your theme as a nominee is 'Moved by soul'. Tell us how this relates to you. 
As a dancer I’m moved by artists who are generous in their performance and honestly bare their soul. The most exciting artists are emotive and visceral. I respond to that raw emotion and it’s something I strive to channel on stage. In performance, I want to show who I am by sharing my soul. I don’t want to go out there and give a half-baked performance. I want to leave it all out there, transport the audience and make them feel like I’m dancing just for them.

What’s been your most challenging role and why? 
The Prince in The Nutcracker. It was challenging not only for its physical demands but because classical is unforgiving: there is little room for error and it needs to look effortless. My most challenging role in the contemporary repertoire I've danced has been Wayne McGregor’s Chroma. Again, it was physically demanding but I loved the challenge it provided. It pushed my body in ways I hadn’t yet explored. 

Funniest moment on stage?
It was in David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty. I was in the corps de ballet in Act III and one of the girls suddenly fell ill so she left the stage. Not that her illness was funny, it was what followed. To even out the number of couples on stage, our ballet mistress Elizabeth Toohey called out to us from the wings to spread the word that the opposite couple needed to leave the stage (a clever solution I thought). The word travelled - and more than one couple left. We had five out of eight couples left out there. In the final dance we swap partners and have to link up holding hands in some parts. To say the choreography didn’t work was an understatement. There were gaps, people dancing by themselves without a partner for some sections ... In those moments you have to remain professional and keep a straight face so the audience doesn’t know what’s happened, which makes it even harder not to laugh. We could hear Liz whispering to us from the wings to keep us calm, saying, "Excellent darlings!" I think she was being kind as it was far from excellent. I saw some great improvisation skills on stage that night and when we got back to the change room and knew the sick girl was going to be ok there were tears of laughter. 

Photography Daniel Boud

What was the main positive you got out of your time in lockdown? 
I had the time to give back to the community. Telstra gave me the opportunity to mentor ballet students all over Australia via Microsoft Teams. I coached them on solos and spoke all things ballet with them. I also had the opportunity to mentor some students at The Australian Ballet School and teach for many Melbourne ballet schools via Zoom. The amazing thing was that across all ages, we were all in the same boat, dancing in our living rooms. It brought us together and I felt in touch with and a part of the broader dance community in Australia.

What’s your favourite costume and why?
My favourite costume I’ve worn is the Prince from Act II of Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake. The costume is such an iconic part of The Australian Ballet’s history and it meant a great deal to be dancing in the same costume as the male dancers who inspired me to follow a career in ballet. 

What is your dream role and which dream partner would you dance it with? 
A dream role for me has always been des Grieux in Kenneth MacMillan's Manon. There are many incredible women I dream of dancing with but my dream partner, whom I’ve luckily had the pleasure of partnering on occasion, is Dimity Azoury. 

Nathan with Imogen Chapman in the Act II pas de deux from Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake. Photography Kate Longley

Imogen Chapman

Your theme as a nominee is 'Moved by wild nature'. Tell us how this relates to you. 
I love the purity and honesty of nature and growing up surrounded by Australia’s bushland, I have always found it a source of inspiration.

What’s been your most challenging role and why? 
The Queen of the Wilis from Giselle. It’s a demanding role not only physically but dramatically.

Funniest moment on stage? 
I’ll never forget when my partner's wig fell off in Act III of David McAllister's The Sleeping Beauty. I tried so hard to keep it together while the it was falling off but once it fell to the ground and we had to dance around it was very hard to contain the laughter!

What was the main positive you got out of your time in lockdown? 
I completed my Pilates Teacher training with the Australian Physiotherapy and Pilates Institute. It’s always something I’ve been interested in and I decided to use my extra time to focus on something that will potentially help me after my career in ballet.

What’s your favourite costume, and why?
I love simple costumes - a leotard for example. But there’s nothing like a beautiful tutu to make you feel like a ballerina! 

What is your dream role, and which dream partner would you dance it with?
I have always loved the really dramatic ballets. Manon or Romeo and Juliet would be ballets I would love to dance one day. There are so many incredible male dancers in the company but I would I love to dance one of those roles with Cristiano Martino. 

Imogen as Queen of the Wilis in Maina Gielgud's Giselle. Photography Daniel Boud

Serena Graham

Your theme as a nominee is 'Moved by timeless style'. Tell us how this relates to you.
The essence and timelessness of classical style both moves and inspires me. You find this essence in many art and design forms including music, architecture, movies and even fashion. I'm curious about what makes this everlasting essence: it outlives trends and is loved and will continued to be loved into the future.   

What’s been your most challenging role and why? 
My most challenging role to date has been performing as a Wili in Giselle during our long Sydney season. It is tricky and demanding to dance, and it was challenging as a corps de ballet member to perform each night - more than 20 shows in a row - as the role requires considerable stamina, fine detail, moving as one in a synchronised group and maintaining a strong focus, because you are on stage for almost the entire second act of the ballet. Although it was challenging, I loved being a Wili and it was a wonderful opportunity to have so many shows over which to grow and improve.

Funniest moment on stage? 
One of my funniest yet stressful moments on stage was during the 2020 season of Graeme Murphy's The Happy Prince. I was performing as Rita Reed. The scene commences with three Dragonfly boys dragging me onto the stage atop a giant cloth. During one particular show as the boys began to pull me on stage, I noticed only two Dragonflies in front of me … glancing back into the wing I was momentarily entertained at the sight of a very stressed dragonfly boy struggling to free his wing from the boom lights. He apparently got stuck as he was walking past it, and while it was amusing, I suddenly realised the next section on stage wouldn't work without the third boy. For the next five seconds, instead of panicking, I began to prepare myself for the fact I was probably going to have to improvise the next section with just two boys! Thankfully the stuck dragonfly rallied and managed to swiftly run across the stage just in time to join the next section. I still wonder to this day how it would have turned out if he hadn't freed himself! 

Photography Daniel Boud

What was the main positive you got out of your time in lockdown? 
I think the major lesson for everyone was adaptability. Both physically (having to dance in a new and confined space, such as my living room) and also mentally (learning material and choreography remotely on screen and learning to roll with the uncertainty, and to take things day by day. 
I used lockdown as an opportunity to learn some new skills, such as being a co-host of a dancers' webinar series. It was fun to be involved in something that required my speaking voice rather than moving my body. I was also involved with a dance film project called Project Starling where I had an awesome opportunity to choreograph a work alongside Mason Lovegrove on a wonderful group of talented dancers from the company and The Australian Ballet School. It was such a cool and unexpected opportunity to give choreography a go and I enjoyed the process so much - perhaps I will consider pursuing this avenue in the future.  

What’s your favourite costume and why? 
I have had the chance to wear many fun and beautiful costumes. The first one that springs to mind is the Nymph costume designed by Gabriela Tylesova for David McAllister's The Sleeping Beauty. It was so exciting to have that childhood dream come true and wear such magical, sophisticated, exquisitely detailed, green leaf-like fairy tutus, wigs and wings.  

What is your dream role and why? And which dream partner would you dance it with?
Ooh this is a hard question - I have so many! The role of Kitri in Don Quixote would be amazing fun! As I am a tall dancer and Kitri is usually cast on someone shorter, I would love the challenge of having to perform something so stylistic and fiery. My dream dance partner would have to be my fellow corps de ballet member and friend Joseph Romancewicz. We grew up dancing together at The Australian Ballet School and since then I have always found him a wonderful dance partner. Now we are both together in the company it would be a fantastic process to dance professionally together again, particularly as Kitri and Basilio. We would both have a ball with the characters and process of it!  

Serena Graham with Marcus Morelli in Graeme Murphy's The Happy Prince. Photography Jeff Busby