Where are they now?
With over 80 years of history, and increasing prominence in the world of ballet, the competition continues to produce an impressive list of alumni. The competition receives entries from all over the world, many of whom have gone on to great things. Here, we catch up with just a few of them.
Rewinding to the competition’s birth, Australia first made its mark on the competition when Laurel Martyn won gold in 1935. She danced with Sadler’s Wells Ballet, later becoming Principal with the Borovansky Ballet back in Australia. Taught by one RAD founder Phyllis Bedells, Laurel became Director of Ballet Victoria and was awarded an Australian Dance Award for lifetime achievement in 1997. 1947 saw Rowena Jackson strike gold – a New Zealander now living in Australia – and she became Principal of Sadler’s Wells Ballet in 1954 before becoming Director of the National School of Ballet in Wellington.
The Royal Ballet has drawn many of its dancers from Genée candidates. As far back as the 1934 competition, Felicity Gray won gold and joined the Vic-Wells Ballet, as it was then known. John Hart won gold in 1939, joined the company and went on to become assistant director, and Aussie sisters Madonna and Leanne Benjamin each won gold (in 1979 and 1981 respectively), ahead of joining. Specifically, Leanne’s dance career launched with Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, where she rose to Principal. She danced with London Festival Ballet and Deutsche Oper Ballet before joining The Royal Ballet, becoming Principal after her debut as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake in 1993. Others who joined the company more recently include current Principal Steven McRae, another well-known Australian who took gold in 2002.
Genée alumni have travelled extensively and have left their mark all over the world, particularly Down Under. Elisha Willis, who won silver in 1996 and 1999, joined The Australian Ballet and then Birmingham Royal Ballet as Principal in 2004. Just this year, she retired from performing to retrain as a costume maker. Elsewhere eminent names sparkle too. Céline Gittens was born in Trinidad and trained in Canada, taking the gold and Audience Choice Award in 2005.
She too is a Principal in Birmingham, and a member of the Genée Alumni Scheme, helping to promote the competition and its legacy. Others include Samira Saidi, current Head of Intensive Courses & International Relations at RBS and former Director of Dance at English National Ballet School who won silver in 1977 and joined Birmingham Royal Ballet; Xander Parish, who joined The Royal Ballet after winning silver in 2004, becoming the first British dancer to join the Mariinsky Ballet in Russia, and is now a principal with the Mariinsky; and Andre Portasio, who competed in both 1998 and 1999, joined English National Ballet and then founded ArtStreamingTV, with whom we worked to live stream the Final of Genée 2015 in London.
Other names have flourished post-Genée in varying artistic directions. Flora Cheong-Leen, who won silver in 1975 before joining The Royal Ballet, is now a leading Hong Kong arts and culture figure. Following his gold in 1983, Yuri Ng joined The National Ballet of Canada and has since created pieces for the Genée and the RAD’s Solo Seal exam. Linda-Mae Brewer (aka Aeva Mae) competed in 1979. After dancing with South Australian Ballet Company, Ballet Metropolis and Dance Theatre London, she became a well-known face in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, performing in many other musicals and films. Errol Pickford, from the 1984 competition, sadly passed away in June 2018 but was Head of Graduate Performance and Outreach at Elmhurst Ballet School, having performed previously with The Royal Ballet and West Australian Ballet. Finally, Scotsman Iain Mackay, a former Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal, competed in 1999 and is now the Artistic Director of Yorkshire Ballet Seminars, as all as the RAD’s Male Dance Ambassador. What a coup!
Genée success is not limited to yesteryear, however. Jessica Allison-Walker won the Choreographic Award in 2014 and went on to join West Australian Ballet. From the same competition, gold medallist Vida Polakov also joined the company on a Young Artist Scholarship. Other more recent competitors from the 2015 London competition have already joined Joburg Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and FX Šalda Theatre, Czech Republic.
The Genée has a formidable tradition of balletic success, and the world has benefited from the high calibre of its alumni, in and outside of dance. This is a legacy of which we are truly proud, and as the competition goes from strength to strength, the future looks equally promising.
This article originally appeared in the 2016 Genée International Ballet Competition programme.