For ballet dancer Jasmin Durham, being nominated for the most prestigious award in Australian ballet today, the Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards (TBDA), represents the fact that she has truly carved out a place for herself in The Australian Ballet.
“This is my tenth year in the company, and I feel like because you’re nominated by your peers, I feel like my contributions are admired. And that’s just about as good as it gets,” Durham told The Latch.
For Durham, who is a Corypheé with the company, the challenges of 2020 and the widespread closures of entertainment venues across the country, provided an unexpected and welcome opportunity to work on her self-worth.
“I worked a lot on mental health,” Durham said. “I’ve never really had an injury, I’ve never had time off. So I took it as a bit of a rest. For me, it was like a blessing in disguise. I feel really bad saying that, because for the arts it was so awful. But personally, it’s the best thing that could have happened.”
She elaborated, “I feel like in the ballet company, you’re constantly comparing yourself to other people around you. And you can’t do that in lockdown. I kind of just really focused on myself for the first time. And it actually brought out the best in me. So when I came back to the studio, I actually felt stronger and so I felt more focused on myself, I’m less focused on what other people think now.”
The young dancer is deeply passionate about helping other young women to own their self-worth and overcome self-doubt, something that Durham herself has struggled with over the course of her life.
She told The Latch, “I used to always think there were strengths and weaknesses. But instead, you should always think of it as strength and challenges. Instead of seeing something as a weakness, see it as a challenge, and focus on your strengths and celebrate your strengths.”
Ballet, as an industry, has undergone something of an evolution in recent years, finding that it needed to adapt as conversations around body image have shifted and the parameters for “ideals” have seen their goal posts moved.
“I think it has come so far, but it will always have a way to go, in my opinion,” Durham mused. “But I definitely feel represented. I feel like there has been a time where I would’ve felt like I had to hide and be ashamed of my body type. But I definitely feel like I can be proud of who I am now. And that’s definitely been within the last couple of years.”
Durham, who was born in Hong Kong but moved to Canberra when she was three months old, began learning ballet at the age of three. Her mother, who she cites as her biggest fan, was a lover of the art form and made many sacrifices so that Jasmin, and her sister, could participate in classes.
“They did so much to be able to afford for me to move to Melbourne and go to the Australian Ballet School,” said Durham. “And my sister now is in Paris and is a Moulin Rouge dancer. So we had so much support, and they definitely said to us; ‘you know what, if you love this, you really need to work hard and give it everything you have’”.
While Durham’s parents have sacrificed a lot to help their daughters achieve their goals, the ballet dancer herself has had to make several of her own.
“I don’t have a social life, I didn’t get to finish Year 12, I didn’t get that gap year or things like that,” Durham said. “I just feel like I’ve really dedicated my life to ballet. And it’s worth it. Because it makes me feel so alive every time I do it. It’s such a giving art form. And I feel like we give so much and we receive so much back with the supportive environment that we’re in. I feel extremely passionate about the art form and I think being passionate about something is just the best thing.”
The future is undoubtedly bright for Durham, whose dream ballet to perform in is Romeo and Juliet, and yet the supremely talented dancer remains refreshingly humble. When asked which stage, anywhere in the world, she would choose to perform on, her answer is sweet and simple.
“This sounds really strange, but I would actually dance in the Canberra Theatre, just because it’s where I grew up. And, you know, my dad is quite a bit older, and he can’t come to any theatre other than the Canberra Theatre at the moment. So I think for me, that’s the first thing that came to my mind. I was like, ‘oh, should I say somewhere overseas?’ But no, that’s where my passion for dancing started.”
To vote in the Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards People’s Choice Awards, please visit www.telstra.com/ballet.