Townsville teenage dancer lands coveted spot at English National Ballet School
A Townsville teenager has beaten thousands of international dancers to a job at one of the most prestigious ballet academies in the world.
Zai Calliste, 17, has been accepted into the English National Ballet School, following in the footsteps of his dancer mother.
“Everything I had worked hard for just came to fruition and it was the most amazing feeling and I felt so proud,” Zai said.
The application process began in December 2021 via video, with the teenager then being invited to London for the final round of intense and “agonizing” auditions.
As a male dancer of Caribbean descent, achieving his dream had its challenges, especially in a regional city.
“There are a lot of things that come with being a male dancer and a male dancer of culture. [It] hasn’t always been the easiest,” says Zai.
Her mother, Nikki Robinson, is also no stranger to the world stage, with a dancing career spanning over 21 years.
Ms Robinson was the main reason her son entered the dance studio 11 years ago.
“I knew he had a little performance bug, and even when he was little he had a really endearing quality that he was able to communicate to the audience,” she says.
“It’s been really wonderful to watch him blossom and progress and, of course, I’m super proud of how he’s adapted to everything he’s had to face over the years.”
Zai started dancing at the age of six while attending one of his mother’s ballet classes.
“I decided I wanted to try and she said she would give me a week and after that if I still wanted to do it she would have me sorted,” he says.
“I lasted the week and have been dancing ever since.”
Now that he has secured his place at the school, Zai has his sights set on joining the world-renowned English National Ballet Company.
Jane Pirani, dance teacher and co-director of the Ann Roberts School of Dancing, says there is still a stigma around male dancers, despite their talents.
“I lost a lot of boys [from the dance school] because they were ostracized at school or in the community for [dancing],” she says.
Ms. Pirani says that for many young male designers, dance is a safe place to express themselves.
The English National Ballet School has been in existence since 1988 and is held in high regard as the company’s nurturing academy.
“The English National Ballet Company is now aligning itself with groups like the Royal Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet,” Ms Pirani said.
Zai is due to move to London later this year.
“It’s the stepping stone now, hit or miss and he’ll have the opportunity to be offered a contract with [the English National Ballet] or audition for other companies,” says Pirani.
She says it’s incredibly rare for a regional dancer to succeed on the international stage, but thinks once Zai gets his first job, he’ll be huge.
“Townsville is behind him; it’s been his dream since he was a little boy, and he really deserves everything he gets because he’s a natural performer and that’s something you can’t teach kids. people,” she said.