Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Lead role at 16 points to bright future

Yayoi Matches, 16, says full time dance school is so demanding there's no time for study.
Yayoi Matches, 16, says full time dance school is so demanding there's no time for study.

While young Yayoi Matches won't be among the thousands of students sitting NCEA exams this month, she'll be under a very real pressure of her own.

The 16-year-old from Herne Bay has quit school to boldly throw herself at a career in ballet, and next week takes centre-stage in one of the New Zealand School of Dance's premier productions.

Although the youngest student at the Wellington-based school, and still in her first year, Yayoi has landed the lead role in Solitaire, a highlight of the school's graduation season.

It was a surprise to be chosen, she said.

"Especially being a first-year student - to be a main character in grad, when you're not even graduating, is a real honour."

Yayoi completed NCEA Level One last year and had to participate in correspondence school before she turned 16 in April.

With her days taken up by physically demanding, back-to-back classes, she admitted she was too busy to worry about academic studies.

"There's not much time to do it - it's quite full-on here."

After three years at the school, high-pressure, competitive auditions mean the difference between getting places in companies or not, and many miss out.

"These days it's very difficult, because we're competing against others from overseas in places like Europe."

Dancers had to have a combination of musicality, performance skill and technique to succeed.

"You need to be an athlete and an artist at the same time. You have to be really dedicated and committed to doing it, because it's a hard life.

"Sometimes I don't realise how much pressure I'm under, and it's only after the weekend I realise I haven't had much time for myself."

Solitaire, an early work by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, the principal choreographer of London's Royal Ballet for many years, held much meaning for her school.

Its founding director, Sara Neil, danced in the original cast when Solitaire premiered with Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet in London in 1956.

Lynn Wallis, the artistic director of the Royal Academy of Dance in Britain, coached the school's classical students in MacMillan's wistful ballet on a visit to New Zealand in August.

The graduation season, also featuring several other highlights, is considered the school's annual performance platform before students begin careers as professional dancers.

Many graduates have gone on to make contributions to the dance world both nationally and internationally, dancing with companies such as the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the Australian Ballet, Sydney Dance Company, Footnote Dance and the National Ballet of Canada.

- NZ Herald

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