By Joel Meares
The Sydney Morning Herald
February 13, 2015
[Castle Hill, New South Wales, Australia] – At first, Harrison Lee thought he was in trouble. His mother had called him into her bedroom early in the morning, and he was “a little scared” – this was not the regular morning routine at their Castle Hill home. Then she gave him the news: “She sat me down on her bed and said, ‘Congratulations, you’re going to Switzerland!'”
It was the news the 15-year-old had been waiting more than a month to hear, ever since he sent a DVD of himself performing a variation from the ballet Flames of Paris to the judges of the Prix de Lausanne, among the world’s most prestigious competitions for young dancers. From 300 entrants, he was one of 70 invited to Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva, for a week of classes and performances.
“When she told me I got in, happiness just took over my body,” says Lee. But he did not leap down the road, Billy Elliot-style, painting his delight for the world in pirouettes and arabesques. “I’m not one to scream and shout and go crazy,” he says calmly. “It just took over inside.”
Last week, after eight days of classes and major performances, Lee took top prize in Lausanne. He again showed trademark control when called forward from a line of finalists – some three and four years his senior. “I was shocked, and I was getting very emotional so I had to hold that in until it was over.” He adds with a laugh: “I didn’t want to watch this back five years later and see myself crying.”
The Lausanne win comes just shy of a year since Lee took out the equally prestigious Youth America Grand Prix: the one-two punch puts him among the most promising, and prized, young dancers in the world. Watching the YouTube video of Lee performing his classical variation at the Lausanne finals – a video that has clocked 37,000 views in less than a week – it is easy to see why. His control and strength astounds: he springs to impossible heights from the raked stage; his toes arch improbably towards his heel. One commenter writes under the video: “Good lord those feet are so good they should pay taxes!”
Brisbane’s Lucid Dance Theatre founder Louise Deleur was a choreographer at the Prix, and watched Harrison on stage and in classes, where the dancers are also scored. “He was blessed with these long legs and beautiful feet,” says Deleur, “but what also stood out about Harrison was his humility and graciousness in class. He’s a beautiful soul to work with.”
Lee spent a week in London before the competition taking classes at the Royal Ballet School. He did some sightseeing – Harry Potter World, even though he’s not a great fan of the boy wizard – but mostly it was business. It’s the same at home: he takes two hours of ballet every day at the McDonald College, and three more hours every day after school. His diet “is not as strict as the girls” but he watches what he eats. He points out, humbly, that teachers Josephine Jason, Jane Kesby and Allan Cross have sacrificed as much as he has for his success.
The goal, Lee says, is to become the principal dancer at a company so that “I can dance as many lead roles as I can”. He’s not being unrealistic. Following his successful 12 months, Lee now has his choice of schools: by September he will be living in New York and attending the American Ballet Theatre, or in London at the Royal Ballet, or anywhere else he chooses to attend in Europe. Recruiters are clamouring.
“It’s weird to think at 16 I will be on the other side of the world, living by myself and cooking and cleaning and washing up,” says Lee. “It’s scary, but it’s what I’ve been training for.”
For mother Cindy, a travel agent, the prospect of Harrison moving is bittersweet. The family delights in his success – his brother skipped schoolies to go to Switzerland and watch Harrison compete; Cindy gets giddy recalling how Li Cunxin (of Mao’s Last Dancer fame) told her he was looking forward to seeing her son dance.
“But it’s sad too to think of your child travelling so far away at such a young age,” she admits. “A lot of people probably don’t understand it – people who don’t have a child with a passion or dream and the talent don’t understand how you could see your child do that. We’re happy to see him reach his goals.”
And wherever Lee lands, mum will be visiting. A lot. “It will be a path well worn, I imagine,” she says.
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