By Joel Meares
The Sydney Morning Herald
April 19, 2014
Four years ago, dancer Harrison Lee was invited to New York to audition to play Billy Elliot on Broadway. He danced and sang his heart out but missed out on the part by a few centimetres. ”They were looking for someone under four foot 11 (1.5 metres) and Harrison was just a tiny bit too tall,” mother Cindy said.
The role would not have been a stretch – Harrison’s life reflects Elliot’s, right down to the way he stumbled upon ballet. When he was six, Lee’s grandmother dragged him along to his younger sister’s first ballet class. He had wanted to stay in the car (Cindy says he was ”being an angry little ant”), but gran refused and made him sit in. When the music began to play, something changed. ”As soon as it started, I just wanted to get up and dance,” said Harrison, of Castle Hill. ”It just took over my body, it went through me.” He began tapping his feet, his eyes widened. He promptly marched over to the teacher and asked to join in the class.
Harrison, 14, this month took out the world’s most prestigious ballet prize for young people, the Youth America Grand Prix. Over six days, across six venues in New York, Harrison danced in workshops and in staged performances with 440 dancers from 31 countries, all under the gaze of adjudicators and scouts from the world’s best ballet schools.
During the April 9 final, held at the David Koch Theatre at Lincoln Centre, home of the New York City Ballet, Harrison performed a variation from classical ballet Flames of Paris, originally choreographed by Vasily Vainonen. It is a huge task – a dynamic, spiralling, leap-filled piece – and Harrison executed it beautifully, striding cleanly and elegantly ”That was a lot of pressure,” he said of the final performance. ”Everyone else in my section was bringing more to their performances. I just wanted to go out there and smash it and give it my all.”
The next day he won the junior grand prix prize, singling him out as the best overall junior male or female dancer. He received scholarship offers to join the American Ballet Theatre school in New York and the Royal Ballet School in London – he could be living in either city as soon as September – and emails are still rolling in inviting him to more schools.
Backstage during competitions, he ignored the antics of other dancers. ”It’s very fierce,” he said. ”There are a lot of mind games that go on backstage. People put each other off by showing off in front of them to scare them. I usually just stick my headphones in and block everyone else out.”
Cindy said Harrison had not faced much teasing or bullying because of his dancing. ”In year 2, the kids had to stand up and say their name and something about themselves,” Cindy said. ”He stood up and said ‘I’m Harrison and I’m going to be a famous dancer.’ And that was it.”
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