Today Katherine Sonnekus was announced as one of five Telstra Ballet Dancer Award Nominees.
Through sheer tenacity, a defiant spirit and talent, Katherine Sonnekus has risen through the ranks to be recognised as one of the future stars of the ballet world.
Growing up in South Africa, Katherine overcame huge obstacles from breaking both her feet to coping with rounds of rejection to living alone in New York at 17 after winning a scholarship to study at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of American Ballet Theatre with Cynthia Harvey and Ethan Stiefel.
She also trained at the Tanya Pearson Classical Coaching Academy with Lucinda Dunn OAM, whom she praises for mentoring her and inspiring her to never give up, keep learning her craft and push even harder to achieve the dream she had of being a ballet dancer from the age of two.
Here, Katherine – known as Katy – shares her passion for ballet and speaks eloquently about the integrity of the Australian Ballet Company and what ballet means to her and for us as a community.
I believe ballet should be a mirror. We should see in the ballet world what we see in society and I hope that’s something that I can bring into the ballet world. I’m an immigrant. I spent my childhood in South Africa. My parents and I and my sibling immigrated from South Africa to New Zealand when I was 11.
I started doing competitions. I got a scholarship. My parents didn’t have a lot of money. So everywhere I went I needed scholarships. I got a scholarship at Tanya Pearson’s Academy. It was a wonderful choice but it would be a lie to say it was my first choice. My first choice was the Australian Ballet School where I auditioned and I didn’t get in.
There are very very few people who I dance with right now who didn’t come through the Ballet School. The Ballet School trains you to be the type of dancer the company wants so I never ever imagined I would make it into this company, let alone be nominated for this award. So I feel like I am breaking all these moulds already just by being here.
So I didn’t get into the ballet school which was heartbreaking but it was just the reality of living life as a ballet dancer. You get told ‘no’ a lot. I think I’ve been told I will never have a career more than I’ve been told I would have a career which is not something they don’t prepare you for in ballet school.
I was also incredibly lucky because at Tanya Pearson’s I was coached by a woman called Lucinda Dunn OAM. She’s one of the longest reigning principal dancers of this company. She was an absolute powerhouse, she still is. She is going to be dancing in the Identity season coming up for The Australian Ballet and is an absolute icon of this company and she has taught me to be the woman I am today. She is so inspiring. She pushed me and she taught me how to work and she pushed me to go into more competitions. I went to one in London and in Switzerland.
It was a very difficult time for me. I had two broken feet when I went to Switzerland, but I knew that was the way to get scholarships and I needed scholarships. I managed to get a scholarship to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of American Ballet Theatrethe American Ballet Theatre in New York. When I moved to Sydney for Tanya Pearson’s, I was 15. When I moved to New York, I was 17. I spent a year where I learned so much.
I didn’t get a job straight out of school. I then got a job with the Australian Ballet which was a dream come true. But the reality was I wasn’t trained to be in this company, so it took me a while to really learn what it meant to be in this company and choosing to be in this company has been the best choice I have ever made.
I feel like I am unique from the other nominees because I am not from here but I chose to be here and I think that’s even more special because it is not something I stumbled upon. It was a conscious choice to be part of the Australian Ballet and it is an incredibly special place. It feels like my hope for ballet is being changed here at the Australian Ballet. We are making it a safer place, a more inclusive space for people to be.
I am incredibly hopeful for my future and the future of ballet and for what ballet means to people.
Ballet brings people to the present moment. It’s so easy to be distracted through screens and social media. In this day and age, it is so special to be in a place where you can watch people on stage, and you can go somewhere else.
It gives you something to believe in.
I think that art is the ultimate communicator. I grew up speaking another language. I’ve known many people who feel disconnected with the community when they don’t speak that language or they are not from that place. The reality of Australia is that we are a melting pot and I think that ballet brings us together without having to speak, without having to understand. I think there is a human part of all of us who are connected through dance. When you see babies dancing before they know how to walk, that is a very primal instinct and I think it is really special and very important for us all to be united as a people through art and through ballet.
2023 Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards
Telstra and The Australian Ballet today announced the five nominees for the 2023 Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards in what is the 20th anniversary of these prestigious awards.
The five dancers nominated for the 2023 Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards include: Adam Elmes,Isobelle Dashwood, Lilla Harvey,Riley Lapham and Katherine Sonnekus.
To vote in TBDA People’s Choice Awards, visit www.telstra.com/ballet