The Australian Ballet Virtual Mentoring Program, brought to you by Telstra
Imagine, for a moment, that you're a young boy in a regional town who loves doing ballet. You've been taking classes for a while, but you've never had another boy at the barre with you, let alone learnt from a male teacher. Suddenly, you find yourself chatting remotely with a principal artist from The Australian Ballet, who's coaching you in technique, musicality and motivation. Pinch yourself! It's real.
With our theatres dark and our Regional Tour grounded to help halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to get creative to keep connected to our audiences, particularly those outside the city centres. With the help of our Principal Partner Telstra, whose long-standing support is now more than ever invaluable to us, we launched an online mentoring scheme for aspiring dancers. Over the course of the 14-week program, 263 students from 53 regional schools all over the country - from Hobart to Horsham, Bunbury to Mackay - had the opportunity to meet online with one of our dancers to work on a variation, talk about artistry and get some much-needed encouragement in tough times.
Our Artistic Director David McAllister asked our dancers to volunteer as mentors. Despite the fact that all our artists are currently much occupied working in class and through conditioning for their return to the stage, a staggering 35 dancers - almost half the company - volunteered for the program. As Principal Artist Amy Harris says, "As soon I heard about this program, I immediately put up my hand to be involved. We are so lucky to be supported and trained by our fantastic ballet staff during this time, so being involved in virtual mentoring with students feels like we’re giving back to the talented and committed young ballet dancers out there. Our regional tour was scheduled to visit my home town of Ballarat this year, so we hope this initiative still lets them know that we never want them to stop dancing, especially now.”
The students, who ranged over various ages and levels, were given the male or female variations of the Peasant Pas de deux from Giselle to work on with their mentors - it had been adapted for the various levels by our artistic staff. We matched up our dancers with the regional students and, with the help of Telstra and harnessing the power of technology, we put them in touch. After some initial nerves and shyness, the kids blossomed in the sun of their idols' attention. We were so moved to receive dozens of messages from parents and teachers to say that the students, some of whom had lost heart during the time their ballet studios had been closed, or had previously struggled with self-confidence, were jumping out of their skins with excitement and throwing themselves into their practice.
Here are just a few of the testimonials we received:
I am emailing you to express my gratitude for the irreplaceable opportunity you gave me! The Virtual Mentoring Program was such an exciting, amazing and inspiring experience that I will never forget! To get to work with a principal dancer of your beautiful company was just incredible. I also wanted to ask if you could pass my greatest thanks on to Telstra for giving people like me in regional areas these amazing opportunities.
My son Gabriel has been extremely fortunate to have such a fabulous and wonderful mentor as Ty [King-Wall], and Gabriel thoroughly enjoyed the mentoring sessions with him - Gabe benefited greatly from this experience especially during these challenging times, with their long periods of isolation and limited interaction with others. We deeply appreciate the wonderful opportunity that The Australian Ballet has provided, and we thank Ty very much for his positivity, valuable time, kindness, and his dedication to nurturing Gabriel's love of ballet."
My daughter Milly is in tears tonight after class with Benedicte [Bemet]! She absolutely loved it so much!! Can you please pass on a special thank you she has absolutely made her day/week!! Milly is a girl that never thinks she’s good enough and Bene made her feel the exact opposite! Amazing!
As Coryphée Drew Hedditch says, "It’s a really great opportunity for us as professional dancers (many of us from small towns ourselves) to give back to these communities where it all began for us as well. [These young dancers] are the future of dance in Australia and we might just be the key to giving them inspiration to get through this time."