Steve Meacham June 16, 2012
Dream come true ... Gold Coast ballerina Helena Gjone will study at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Russia. She became entranced by ballet at age seven when her father took her to see The Nutcracker. Photo: Paul Harris
IT'S A far cry from Covent Garden. Or from the Kremlin, for that matter.
But the directions to the Gold Coast dance studio to photograph the Bolshoi Ballet's newest recruit underline the hard graft behind dance's glamorous image: ''Look for 42 Junction Road. It's behind the Hungry Hippo.''
Inside, 16-year-old Helena Gjone (pronounced yoo-na) is busy practising for her big adventure - being fast-tracked into the three-year graduate course of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, established in 1773.
Helena, whose Norwegian parents moved to Australia in 2000, has spent the past two years studying full time at the Tanya Pearson Classical Coaching Academy in St Leonards. Many of her classmates also are headed overseas - to ballet schools in Hamburg, Heidelberg, Munich, Dresden, Houston or Switzerland.
''It is a very competitive industry,'' says Nicole Sharp, general manager of the Tanya Pearson academy.
''Any student who gets offered a place at one of these international schools is obviously an elite athlete in their field.''
But most teenagers choose somewhere less culturally challenging. Usually the Bolshoi insists that its non-Russian students complete a trial year: Helena will start immediately on the graduate course alongside Russian dancers.
''I'll be integrated with students who have already been studying at the Bolshoi for five years, full time,'' Helena says. Isn't she daunted? ''No. I'm sort of worried that I won't be up to the standard, but I'm not worried about going to the Bolshoi itself.''
Helena's passion began when her father, Richard, took her to see The Nutcracker when she was seven.
''She came back and said, 'Mum, I want to be a ballet dancer','' recalls her mother, Aida. ''She nagged and nagged until we found a local ballet school.
''She was off with the fairies to begin with, a very dreamy little kid. But as she got older she became more determined.''
Joining the Bolshoi was always her ambition.
She wanted her parents to send her to Russia when she was 14. ''But she'd never even been on the bus on her own,'' says her mother. ''So we compromised on Sydney.''
For the first eights weeks in Sydney, Helena lived with Julie Wells, one of her classical tutors at Tanya Pearson.
''She's quite a shy, gentle-natured young woman, but she has such determination and focus,'' says the tutor. ''The Bolshoi audition occurred through her tenacity. She enjoys the challenge of the unusual.''
It was Helena who decided to send an audition DVD to the Bolshoi rather than rely on being offered a place by one of the European ballet schools she and her fellow Tanya Pearson graduates visited this year.
Ultimately she had a choice of 12 international schools in Europe and the US.
''Her friends told her she should go to New York for the cheap hamburgers and shopping malls,'' her mother says.
Helena is already learning Russian and the family is exploring fund-raising activities to subsidise the $60,000 the Bolshoi adventure will cost them.
''I think if my dad had known how much my dancing would cost him, I don't think he'd have taken me to The Nutcracker,'' Helena says.