Hot Talent Watch | Harrison Lee
Dancer Receives $50k from Marten Bequest to Support his Ballet Ambition
Just shy of 18, Harrison Lee is already a big name in the ballet world. He has won prestigious competitions like the Youth America Grand Prix and Prix de Lausanne and is now realising a life dream of completing his training at The Royal Ballet School in London.
Lee was recently announced as one of 12 young Australian artists – and the only dancer – to be awarded the prestigious travelling scholarships from the Marten Bequest administered by the Australia Council. The scholarships, established by John Chisholm Marten, provide financial support in a number of disciplines to help talented Australian artists achieve their dreams and develop their artistic gifts through travelling either overseas or interstate.
We recently caught up with Harrison in London to congratulate him and see what he has been up to since he left Australia.
Interview by Heather Clements
Q: Congratulations Harrison! When did you learn that you’d been successful in receiving the Marten Bequest scholarship and how did you feel being the only dancer in the list of recipients?
“Thank you. We submitted my application a few months ago, and to be honest because I am so busy at the moment, I had not realised that the decision had been made. When the email arrived earlier this month, my parents had to wait until I was awake before they could call me here in the UK to read the decision. It took a few minutes for it to sink in. I was shocked to think that the Australia Council had acknowledged my submission and to be the only dancer was hard to comprehend; particularly because there are so many incredibly talented emerging Australian dancers.
“I really feel very honoured and extremely grateful for the generosity and vision of John Chisholm Marten who established The Marten Bequest traveling Scholarship through his estate, which is set up to help provide financial support for young Australian artists to help achieve their dreams. ”
Q: What does receiving the Marten Bequest mean to you and your training?
“Living and training in London is incredibly expensive… my family has made many sacrifices, like most families of dancers. They have all sacrificed a lot to keep me here, so receiving any sort of assistance … let alone one as generous as this! … means that I can now completely focus on my third and final year of training, knowing that my place here is secure. It means a very big burden is eased on all of us and the funds will allow me to travel to auditions later in the year as well.”
Q: When will your training at The Royal Ballet School conclude? And how has the experience been for you so far?
“In London the school year starts in September and concludes in July, so I am about to finish my second year. I have one more year left, which will commence in September this year. The Royal Ballet School has been everything I had hoped and more! I am trained by exceptional teachers and danced alongside very talented dancers. It is so motivating and inspiring.”
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
“I have not long returned from Canada where I participated in Assemblée Internationale hosted by Canada’s National Ballet School … which was amazing! Now we are in the final weeks of rehearsal for our end of year performances at Royal Ballet School. We perform over a few nights at an outdoor theatre in Holland Park and then a week later our final performance is on the main stage at The Royal Opera House.”
Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of moving to London to train? And also, what has been the best?
“The most challenging is easily the distance between my family and friends. It is terribly hard at times; but living in London and going to school every day in Covent Garden at The Royal Ballet School is a ballet dancers dream. We see so many amazing dancers around the school and in the canteen… and get to see most of the Royal ballet productions as well. I still pinch myself in case I am dreaming.”
Q: You are almost 18 … and have achieved so much already! … What has been your career highlight so far, and what is your next big goal?
“I realise that I have been fortunate to have had so amazing opportunities and experiences. I really don’t take anything or any of them for granted and I really appreciate all the support I have received. If I were to be honest, I’d say possibly my highlight so far was to dance the lead role of the Blue Boy from Ashton’s Les Patineurs at The Royal Opera House at last year’s end of year performance. To dance at The Royal Opera House in my first year was a definite highlight. I would never had imagined that ever being possible a few years ago.
“From here my plan is to work as hard as possible in my final year, and I really hope to get a job so that will be the focus and my goal.”
Q: As a former student of The McDonald College in Sydney, what are your memories of the school and how did it prepare you for a career as a professional dancer while also balancing academics?
“What I am doing now is a continuation of what I was doing at The McDonald College. At The Royal Ballet School we still have to complete academic studies so my day is very similar, academics in the morning and a mix of ballet classes afterwards. I am particularly grateful to my ballet and contemporary teachers… they have taught me a lot, believed in me and have been, and still are, a great support to me. I have immense respect for them all.”
Q: When not in the studio, what do you like to do?
“Sleep!… I find it very easy to sleep.”
Q: Besides dancing, what are your interests?
“Ballet takes up so much of my time but when I am home I love the beach and surfing.”
Q: Finally, What do you miss about home and Australia, and how often do you get to return?
“I miss the beautiful blue sky and the Australian beaches. I have been home a few times throughout the year but I feel that is about to change as the workload and performance aspect in third year increase.”
BIO | Harrison Lee
17 year old Harrison Lee from Castle Hill first began dancing at age 6 after attending his sisters dance class and for a number of years enjoyed all styles of dance up until age 11, when Harrison’s passion for classical ballet was realised. Harrison pursued his love of ballet and continued with his academic studies whilst attending The McDonald College in North Strathfield, Sydney.
At age 8, Harrison successfully auditioned for The Australian Ballet School’s interstate training program and was invited to join the program with an immediate start. Harrison has performed with The Australian Ballet in their Sydney seasons of Manon, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.
Harrison is trained in the Royal Academy of Dance ballet Syllabus and has received distinction in all examinations and was awarded the RAD Isobel Anderson award for the most outstanding dancer at The Isobel Anderson awards for 3 consecutive years.
Whilst studying at The McDonald College, Harrison danced on average just 3 hours per day. In 2012 Harrison was awarded The Anne McDonald Junior Classical award for the most outstanding student. In 2013 Harrison was awarded the Robert and Elizabeth Albert Award for Classical Ballet at The McDonald College and in 2014 Harrison was awarded The Anne McDonald Senior Classical award for the most outstanding student.
In 2013 Harrison travelled to New Zealand where he was awarded first place for the junior scholars in The Alana Haines Australasia awards. Later in 2013 Harrison was also awarded first place for the Sydney Eisteddfod, Robert and Elizabeth Albert junior ballet scholarship and was named the most promising boy for Sydney Eisteddfod.
In 2014 Harrison was awarded The Youth Grand Prix award for the most outstanding junior dancer at The Youth America Grand Prix, New York City Finals. Harrison was also awarded first place at the Australian Institute of Classical Dance International Ballet Awards in Adelaide, a week after returning from New York.
In February 2015 Harrison travelled to Lausanne Switzerland to attend the prestigious Prix De Lausanne where he was honoured to have been awarded the gold medal and at 15 was one of the youngest candidates to have won gold in the history of Prix. Harrison returned to New Zealand in April and was placed first in the Alaina Haines Australasian awards for the Supreme A section. In August of 2015, Harrison was named the winner of The Sydney Eisteddfod senior ballet scholarship where he fulfilled one of his dreams, to dance a solo on the stage of the iconic Sydney Opera House.
In September 2015 Harrison realised a long term dream, to attend the prestigious Royal Ballet School. At the end of first year at The Royal Ballet School, Harrison was presented with The Ballet Association award for outstanding male student.
Harrison was honoured to have been chosen to dance the lead role, of Blue Boy from Frederick Ashton’s, Les Patineurs in The Royal Ballet School’s end of year performance, a role usually saved for graduating year students. Harrison is currently in 2nd year at The Royal Ballet School.