Sydney dancer gets Royal solo treatment

The Australian twang is gaining volume at one of the world's most prestigious dance companies, Britain's Royal Ballet, with the appointment of a Sydney dancer to its senior ranks.

Alexander Campbell, 24, said he had long dreamt of joining the company and was thrilled to be offered a position as soloist, starting next month.

He joins a troupe that already has Australian star power in principal dancer Steven McRae, hailed as one of the most exciting ballerinos in Britain.

Campbell said there had always been ''a few of us'' Australians at the Royal Ballet but having a second one join its upper reaches was a significant boost.

At England's Birmingham Royal Ballet, where Campbell has danced for the past six years, Australia is mentioned regularly. ''They say, 'gee, you've got a lot of Aussies','' he said. ''But it's never a bad thing. They always comment on how the Australians are all so strong when they come over.''

On being offered a Royal Ballet contract, however, Campbell kept the London company guessing for a day. ''I apologised at the time to the director. I said, 'Can I just have a bit of a think about it?' '' Campbell said. Take your time, she replied. But ''I walked out the door and within 30 seconds I'd realised that's what I wanted to do''.

Campbell, once of Five Dock, trained at Sydney's Academy Ballet for a decade as a child before leaving home at 16 to pursue dance abroad. An Australian ballet scholarship he won in 2002 - edging out McRae - helped him fund studies at London's Royal Ballet School.

The McDonald's Ballet Scholarship, part of the Sydney Eisteddfod, has proven to be a breeding ground for tomorrow's dance stars. Campbell is among several winners who have gone on to join leading ballet companies. Its 2008 recipient, Claudia Dean, of the Gold Coast, is also joining the Royal Ballet next month.

Eight finalists will vie for this year's scholarship on Sunday at Sydney Opera House.

Campbell said during a Sydney visit that his main priority on taking up his Royal Ballet post in two weeks was to make a good impression quickly: ''Get in, work hard and just hope for an opportunity [to advance] to come along.''

His first production will be George Balanchine's Jewels, being staged at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Ballet runs in Campbell's family. His maternal grandparents met while professional dancers with London's renowned Ballet Rambert in the 1950s. Campbell took up dancing aged about five after seeing a school show his grandmother was coaching, he said. ''It sparked something.''

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