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City ballet dancer, 11, on the road to fame
By Robin Henney
Cape Argus News
February 9. 2016
At just 11, Faahkir Bestman has already studied ballet in London, secured a spot at the American Academy of Ballet Summer School for Excellence and is set to perform in the South African International Ballet Competition later this month.
He is due to jet off to New York in July to attend the summer school.
Abeedah Medell, the director of the Eoan Group School for Performing Arts, said she was extremely proud of Faahkir. Described by Medell as “a humble, quiet and beautiful person”, Faahkir has been dancing since the age of two to entertain his six-year-old sister, Abeeda. “How do you deny someone who dances to make someone else’s life better?” Medell asked.
Faahkir, from Hanover Park, lives with his 61-year-old grandmother, Aysha Bestman, and 10 of his relatives, including his severely disabled sister, in a two-bedroom council flat. According to Bestman, Faahkir feeds, cleans and entertains his sister, who is “his main reason for performing”.
Faahkir was awarded a scholarship at the Eoan Group School when he was nine. Medell saw him dance and immediately called the chairman to recommend him for a scholarship. “The ballet world needs a Faahkir,” Medell said.
In July last year, he flew to London to attend the Royal Ballet Summer School. Medell said despite his age and finding himself overwhelmed at times, Faahkir came out top of his class. He was one of two boys to obtain a certificate of excellence.
A crowdfunding venture managed to raise enough money for his upcoming New York trip. He hopes to one day join the Royal Ballet in England.
“I want to travel the world. I want to dance in front of Queen Elizabeth,” he said.
Faahkir practices ballet and modern dance at the Eoan Group during the week. Medell could not contain her excitement for the ballet star’s bright future. “He only practices ballet three times a week and this is only his third year of training. With the right opportunities, imagine what he could be capable of.”
Copyright 2016 Independent Media Ltd.
Read more about Faahkir: Meet Hanover Park’s Billy Elliot
Cape Flats boy’s dance moves earn him the Billy Elliot label
By Tanya Nedft
eNews Channel Africa
March 11, 2016
[Cape Town, South Africa] – – A 12-year-old boy is dancing his way from the dusty streets of the Cape Flats to the Big Apple. He’s earned himself a spot at the prestigious American Academy of Ballet Summer school after impressing the judges at an audition.
Faahkir Bestman’s love of dance started at the tender age of 2. He has since been dubbed the Billy Elliot of the Cape Flats, recently winning gold at the International Ballet Championship. Now he’s been chosen to jet off to New York perfect his skill even more. Watch Tanya Nedft’s full report in the video below:
© 2016 eNews Channel Africa
Hanover Park’s ballet sensation leaps onto world stage
By Qama Qukula
March 14, 2016
[Capetown. South Africa] – Faahkir Bestman is a LeadSA Hero who came to fame for his passion and skilled performance of ballet, despite the odds.
The 12-year-old boy from Hanover Park is leaving the Cape Flats for two weeks in July to study dance at the acclaimed American Academy of Ballet in New York.
The academy awarded him a 25% scholarship and R30 000 was raised through a crowd-funding documentary that was created by two filmmakers.
By Rebecca Scott
February 19, 2016
[Medford, Oregon, USA] – A lifelong, multigenerational passion for ballet and the arts runs deep through the Roxander family. Proud parents of two boys and owners of Studio Roxander Academy of Ballet, David and Elyse Roxander of Medford taught their sons all they know about life and the ballet.
At the Youth America Grand Prix in Seattle, Ashton and Jake Roxander competed against dancers from around the world and received top honors. The Youth America Grand Prix is the world’s largest international student dance competition.
“It’s also a total mob scene,” says Elyse. “There’s a small concrete area behind the stage, basically a loading dock, where the dancers warm up. You’re on stage with 80 or 90 people getting elbowed and knocked around. Then you have 15 minutes of stage time.”
In spite of the tense environment, the brothers excelled at the competition. Ashton, 18, took first place in the Classical Senior Men’s/Women’s Division and second place in the Men’s Contemporary Division.
“It felt great to win first place in the Classical Division for the second year in a row. It was an honor, especially because I was competing against the girls as well as the boys,” says Ashton, who is a trainee with the Boston Ballet and actively pursuing a career as a professional dancer.
Jake, the youngest of the family at age 13, was awarded the elite youth Grand Prix title. The award is presented to the dancer who, according to the jury panel, has exceeded all other male and female scores in their division in both the Classical Ballet and Contemporary/Open Dance categories.
“I was incredibly nervous in Seattle,” says Jake. “When they called my name, I was pretty calm, because I had imagined the scenario in my head so many times. It was just like what happened to one of my heroes, Aran Bell.”
Bell won the Grand Prix when he was 12.
“Heroes of mine are always a huge deal for me,” says Jake. “Aran Bell was an inspiration to keep learning and dancing.”
It wasn’t only the Roxander brothers who were honored at the regional event. David and Elyse received a special award for Outstanding Teacher. “My dad is the most qualified in the area to train male dancers, and that’s not just my opinion,” says Ashton.
David’s experiences with the ballet began as a baby. “My mom was a ballet teacher. She went back to dancing shortly after I was born. She used to put my bassinet under the piano. My earliest memories are sleeping and hearing the piano play.”
David and Elyse initially moved to Southern Oregon from the San Francisco Bay Area for a quieter lifestyle. “We wanted to get out of the rat race,” explains Elyse. “We didn’t plan on opening a business.”
Studio Roxander opened in 2009 and moved to its current location in downtown Medford five years later. Six months before the studio opened, David’s mother passed away. “Before I said goodbye to her, I promised I wouldn’t let her memory die for the boys,” David says. “We decided to open the school in her name. Our logo is one of her drawings, so every time you walk into the main studio, you see her.”
Ashton and Jake each scored a 96 out of 100 at the Youth America Grand Prix, which qualifies them to compete for international titles in their respective categories at a competition in April in New York City. “It’s like the Olympics with no practice,” says David.
The Roxanders will spend eight days in Manhattan, traveling all over the city to different venues. The boys will compete for two days and perform in master classes the remainder of the time. The classes are also judged.
The Roxanders attended the New York competition last year and have an idea of what to expect. “We stayed in an apartment rather than a hotel,” says Elyse. “We’d go back every night, have a normal meal, talk about what happened that day and about tomorrow.”
“You’re riding this toboggan of emotion and drama,” says David. “But family keeps it together. You’re reminded of the power of a family unit.”
While the brothers experience the pressures of performing, David and Elyse feel the weight of being both parents and teachers. “As a teacher you have a buffer, because it’s your student,” says David. “But when it’s your child who is your student, the layers of responsibility are so heavy it’s hard to keep your professional distance. You think about what you’ll say if he loses. You want him to know it’s OK and this is only a stepping stone. Win or lose, this is one event in a lifelong string of experiences.”
Whatever the result of the competitions, David and Elyse know their sons will come out the other side better young men. “I want my sons to be confident and believe in themselves,” says David. “This event will be a valuable experience forever. If they can get through this, they can get through anything.”
© Copyright 2016 Local Media Group, Inc
Related Article: Ballet in the life of Holden Jones
By Terry Collins
The Daily Telegraph
November 23, 2015
[New South Wales, Australia] – When he was five, Thomas Dilley started a dance class with his older sister. A year later, she left the class, but he kept on and now, the Bateau Bay 16-year-old is set to move to Melbourne to study fulltime with the Australian Ballet School.
Thomas will feature as one of just 51 selected artists from all over the state in this year’s Schools Spectacular on Friday and Saturday [November 27th & 28th 2015] ahead of his move to Melbourne early next year.
“Thomas was offered a scholarship to study with the Australian Ballet when he was 13, but at that time, we couldn’t relocate the entire family to Melbourne and we felt he was too young to live so far from home,” his mum Julie Dilley said. “But now the ballet school has a boarders’ residence for its students and we feel the time is right.”
Thomas, who studies via distance education, has applied for a scholarship, but will attend the school next year with or without one. “He will go even if we have to beg, borrow or steal the money to send him,” Mrs Dilley said. “Thomas only started to take ballet seriously when he was 12 after his teachers saw his potential and now it is his sole focus.”
Since his original scholarship offer, Thomas also excelled at the Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition in New York last year, making it to the final 12 from a field of thousands. “He was offered several scholarships at that time to the US, Russia and Monaco, but he was too young at the time and we could not afford fares and accommodation for him,” Mrs Dilley said. “Even so, it was an amazing achievement.”
Thomas can’t wait to further his ballet experience. “I am so excited to be studying at a ballet school with such amazing teachers and facilities,” he said. “My ultimate goal is to join a well-known ballet company, either in Australia or overseas. To be paid to do something I love so much is my dream.”
Thomas looks well set on his path to a professional ballet career.
The young dancer, who trains at least six hours every day, will feature in an ensemble ballet piece and perform a contemporary solo piece at the Spectacular at Qantas Credit Union Arena in Sydney. The show was this year opened to distance education students and it will be his first Spectacular experience. “I’ve wanted to do it for so long, but never had the opportunity before,” he said.
It will be televised on Channel 9.
Copyright 2015 News Limited
Read more about Thomas: Thomas Dilley, 15, to compete in the Youth America Grand Prix
Teenager’s securing of contract as the Paris Opera Ballet’s first Chinese dancer after four years of hard training is highlight of Jean M Wong’s 55 years as a dance teacher, she says of ex-pupil
By Fionnuala McHugh
South China Morning Post
August 15, 2015
[Hong Kong] – In 2011, Lam Chun-wing won a place at the Paris Opera Ballet School. He was then 14, the son of an engineer and primary school teacher. He’d just finished form three at STFA Lee Shau Kee College in Kwai Tsing, he liked listening to Leona Lewis and he loved Black Swan. Of Natalie Portman’s Portman’s unhinged striving for perfection, he once said: “I cried. It took half an hour to calm down – that movie takes your heart out.”
He was a little shy, jet-lagged and sneezy after two weeks of summer school with the Royal Ballet in London, where he’d been desperately homesick. He knew no French. This writer, who interviewed him at the Jean M. Wong School of Ballet’s headquarters in North Point (he’d started at the school’s Tsuen Wan studio, aged seven), wanted to wrap him in cotton wool. How would he fare in the shark tank – forget swans – of the overseas ballet world?
Four years on, Lam has just become the first Chinese member of the Paris Opera Ballet. The achievement is truly remarkable.
The Paris Opera Ballet was founded in 1669, and is the world’s oldest national ballet company. To survive four years of its Darwinian system is a feat of endurance. When Lam started, he and a Ukrainian boy were the only two non-French students in his dance class. “He was my best friend,” says Lam. “And at the end of the first year he was kicked out.”
Jean Wong, sitting in on this interview with her daughter Liat Chen, who’s now the school’s director, winces a little at the term. But she knows the unsentimental winnowing of dance. “The first three years were really, really difficult,” continues Lam, calmly. “Shall I explain?”
He now speaks beautifully measured English and French. He’s just as appealing in face and manner but he seems considerably more confident, and his high-stepping, feline grace draws every eye in the school’s corridors.
“I was always alone because I couldn’t communicate properly,” he says. “I was sleeping in a dormitory and I cried a lot. I couldn’t understand anything.” Because of the time difference between Paris and Hong Kong, he was given special permission to make morning phone calls. He rang his mother every day.
When he came home that first December, his parents told him that his aunt – to whom he was extremely close and who’d been particularly supportive of his dancing – had cancer. She died during his second year. He was allowed back to say goodbye; then he returned to his ballet history, anatomy and music exams (in French).
What saved him – apart from his art – were his weekend host families. The school closes every Friday at 5pm and the pupils disperse until Sunday at 8pm. Through Wong’s contacts, he initially stayed with a family in the 16th arrondissement, one of the most desirable districts in Paris. They later moved, as chance would have it, to Hong Kong.
Another host family have embraced him as a son and taught him to cook; he baked a walnut cake for Wong when she came to visit.
In his fourth year, he moved out of the school to flat-sit for the original family, and that’s when he bloomed. There is, after all, a crucial difference between loneliness and independence. Free from living among strangers, he strove joyfully alone. “He is exceptionally disciplined,” says Chen. “It’s quite scary how determined he is. He understands delayed gratification.”
The Paris Opera Ballet was his ultimate goal, but he auditioned for other companies, including, in February, the Hong Kong Ballet.
“They offered an apprentice contract,” he says. An apprentice is a level below the corps de ballet and the contract runs for 12 months. In Paris, he will be in the corps; and his contract lasts until the unimaginable age of 42. It’s the terpsichorean golden rice bowl.
The director of dance at the Paris Opera Ballet is Benjamin Millepied, husband of actress Natalie Portman. Lam has already danced with the company – the five-degree incline of the Palais Garnier’s raked stage was an initial challenge – and met Millepied.
“I think he’s trying to promote young dancers earlier,” he says. “He’s a lot more open-minded. He didn’t have a career at the Paris Opera and I think he will bring good changes to it.” With that shift in rigid hierarchy, any opportunity for a fiercely focused dancer is possible.
He’s learned to be two people: “a different person in both cities,” he says. He finds himself thinking in French. Some of his Cantonese vocabulary is slipping away, and his knowledge of written characters is fading. He doesn’t have a French name but people address him as Mr Wing, which seems appropriate for someone now taking flight.
Life for the Lam family has been transformed in four years: his older sister was so taken with the French lifestyle she’s now studying translation in Lyon.
Last night and tonight, he’s dancing the role of Basilio in the school’s Stars of Tomorrow gala production of Don Quixote, at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. That’s how it raises money for the kind of scholarship that funded his Paris adventure. One day, he says, he may become a teacher himself. But, first, there will be other roles.
It’s 55 years since Jean Wong, a graduate of London’s Royal Academy of Dance, set up a ballet school in Hong Kong, intended for the Chinese-speaking community, not the colony’s expatriates. She estimates that she’s taught more than 10,000 students in that time.
She’s still a wonderfully straight-backed, commanding presence who has seen a dream come true. “The highlight of my career,” she says – and she repeats this in the foreword of the Don Quixote programme – “is Lam Chun-wing’s admission to the Paris Opera Ballet School.”
Copyright © 2015 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd
Read more about Lam : Our own Billy Elliot
In November 2015, Lam wrote: It was 4 years ago, I was accepted by the Paris Opera Ballet School. While I was feeling overjoyed I made this music video to thank my teacher, Ms. Jean M. Wong for bringing me to audition in Paris and for letting me go aboard for professional ballet training.
This video shows more or less my journey in ballet and each person in the photos contributed a lot to my success today. Very touching to me to watch this again today……
By Tanya Rivero
The Wall Street Journal
December 12, 2014
[New York City, New York, USA] – “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” has been one of New York’s beloved annual Christmas traditions since 1954 when the New York City Ballet first produced the work.
There are 32 roles for boys in two casts of the ballet company’s production. Yet ever since that inaugural production of the classic, girls have had to fill many of those roles, their hair fastened tightly beneath their caps.
In more recent years, the dearth of boys for male roles has eased.
This season, all the roles intended for boys are being danced by boys, and auditions have gotten more competitive as interest has grown. And the ballet company’s affiliated school, the School of American Ballet, which offers free tuition to boys, has seen a jump in enrollment in recent years.
“A wonderful problem,” says Dena Abergel, City Ballet’s children’s ballet master, who casts and rehearses the Nutcracker children. “It’s definitely more competitive, which can be especially good for boys.”
Here’s a look at the changing face of the iconic production.
Copyright ©2014 Dow Jones & Co Inc
Striving to become the next Darcey Bussell or Wayne Sleep takes hours of dedication, determination – and heavy financial investment. Emily Woodrow speaks to five young Welsh dancers with a dream to succeed in the ballet world and discovers the major sacrifices that they and their families have made.
Read more: Blood, sweat & blisters