Zai Calliste: Australian Semi-Finalist in The Fonteyn 2023:

  1. What does it mean to you to be selected as one of the semi-finalists for The Fonteyn? How does it feel to be part of this event? 

Participating in the Margot Fonteyn International Ballet Competition as one of the semi-finalists, encapsulates the penultimate pinnacle of all I have striven to embody as a dancer. The Fonteyn provides a unique platform, where we as dancers can mesh our years of world-class RAD syllabus training, artistry and love of dance, while working with world-renowned choreographers and professionals, culminating in a prestigious opportunity to perform on an international stage.  

Being afforded the opportunity to take part in such a prestigious event is humbling, exhilarating and awe-inspiring, as it provides not only a steppingstone to facilitating a career in dance, but an opportunity to dance and work with and alongside likeminded and talented dancers, teachers, renowned choreographers, perform at in international level, whilst embracing and embodying the journey of continued learning.

  1. Can you tell us about your journey in ballet and what inspired you to pursue dance at such a high level? 

Embarking on my dancing journey at the age of 7, I was immediately drawn to the precision and prowess of dance movement, the diversity of dance styles, the artistry, and the power of expression through the body that dance afforded me. Participating in the 2016 Junior Genee, in Sydney, age 12, became the springboard for the pursuit of a career in dance. Ten years on and dedicating countless hours developing, learning and honing my skills combined with a drive to succeed, I vehemently decided to embark on a career in classical dance with the aim of becoming a principal dancer as my penultimate dream.

Curiously, my first steps into the world of dance were taken through Scottish Highland Dancing, which was unique, as I was born in London to a Caribbean dad and an Australian mum. Although, before long, I expanded my repertoire and ventured into the worlds of ballet, jazz and contemporary dance, undertaking my formative years training with Jane Pirani at The Ann Roberts School of Dance. At the age of 16, having been awarded a full scholarship, I relocated to Brisbane to attend the Annette Roselli Dance Academy – under the guidance of Miss Annette, to dance full time in the Elite Training Program. During my time with Annette, I was invited to attend the English National Ballet School (ENBS) finals auditions in London, where I was offered, accepted a full-time place at the school, and currently I am in my second year.

  1. The Fonteyn showcases exceptional talent from around the world. How have you been preparing for this competition, both physically and mentally?

Preparation for the Fonteyn has included a well-rounded balance of physical fitness, routine refinement, technical skills unpacking and application, discipline, artistry development and mental durability. The key for me personally, is developing a consistent preparation plan that combines structured time for nutrition, relaxation, goal setting, a healthy sense of humour – for the days when things don’t quite go to plan, mental and physical warmups, alongside the daily practice and training essential for such a prestigious event as the Fonteyn, but also looking further afield, these skill become an essential everyday practice for a long-term career as a professional dancer.

  1. What advice would you give to other aspiring young ballet dancers who aspire to participate in prestigious competitions like The Fonteyn International Ballet Competition?

The world of dance and navigating the journey of becoming a dancer is incredibly personal – as no two experiences are the same. My personal perspective and ethos – a professional classical dancer requires a plethora of diverse dexterities and an innate talent to interpret and communicate stories and feelings through the aesthetical form of dance. Yet what appears artful and flawless onstage is the result of much more than natural talent. There are other characteristics necessitated in the pursuit of career in dance, such as physical and mental stamina, perseverance, memory retention, patience and ongoing working knowledge to provoke and connect audiences to the magic of performance.

Combined with these attributes is finding the ‘right fit’ and the ‘right place’ that will work for you – just as I found with Annette Roselli. We are all different with individual strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to find the right team of people that you feel you can build a rapport and trust with, as you work closely under their guidance. Additionally, building a healthy perspective to competition. It is crucial to develop a constructive and proactive relationship to the talent that surrounds you. It’s imperative to cultivate an ability to structure your work and progress strategically. In short realising, accepting and appreciating that there are a lot of talented people in the one room, and it is essential to stay focused on yourself and utilise the competition as an impetus to grow and build the more unique side of your dancing rather than comparing yourself to others. And finally – Patience. Patience is not our enemy, rather a dancer’s best friend. Patience is needed for the days when things are not going your way, or your body isn’t playing the game, patience for yourself as you retrain and relearn each and every day. The journey is your own, and it’s the journey through patience that sees personal gains, no matter how big or small.

Ultimately dance for me is an expression of something deeply within and this permeates through every performance, every rehearsal and every class. Dance for me is both intensely personal and externally expressive. It is the marriage between personal fulfilment and external expressions of joy.

  1.  Finally, could you please share one interesting and ‘fun fact’ about yourself?

A ‘fun fact’ – I love going on a long run through the streets of London or playing a game of footy (soccer) with the boys on the weekend. This helps me to unwind and relax, maintains balance in my life and most of all it keeps things in perspective, while I pursue my career and love of dance.

For media enquiries please contact:
Olivia Weeks
National Marketing Manager
Royal Academy of Dance Australia
(02) 9380 1907