Sarah Lauder, 16, and American Jesse Campbell have lead roles in the upcoming Season of Ballet performance at the Theatre Royal. Photo: Phillip Rollo.

Top ballet in Nelson


The Gillian Francis Nelson Academy of Dance has been able to obtain an international lead for its upcoming showcase.

Season of Dance will be held at the Theatre Royal on August 9, 10 and 11, and features three ballets including Through the Fire, Desert Rose and excerpts from the famous Don Quixote. The final performance will be led by United States ballet dancer Jesse Campbell and 16 year old Nelson resident Sarah Lauder. The excerpts have been described as a “fun, flirty ballet with plenty of Spanish flair”. It is from 1869.

Nelson Academy of Dance principal Gillian Francis was thrilled to have a male dancer of Jesse’s calibre involved in the show and confirmed that he was the first male lead the academy had used in a number of years. Gillian also praised the skill set that Sarah offered, despite being reasonably new to dancing. “She actually came from gymnastics. She’s done very well. Jesse is also a very good dancer and a personable guy. They’re all getting on very well,” she says.

Initially a martial artist, Jesse says he was pushed into becoming a dancer by members of the neighbouring jazz school. “A few of the girls said you’d be much better off if you did ballet too. I said I was not interested but then ended up taking one class a week.”

It didn’t take long for Jesse’s passion for ballet to grow and the following summer he had secured himself a scholarship to a ballet school in Chicago. “That’s when I learnt how to partner, how to jump and found out what it was really about. I was hooked,” he explains.

When he was dancing in New York, Jesse met dancers from all over the globe, including a girl from New Zealand. Her mother ran a dance school in Christchurch and the opportunity came up for him to perform as the male lead down under in 2010. The same school brought Jesse back for this year, but he doubled up by also appearing in Nelson. “My chances of coming to New Zealand for anything else were pretty slim so to get this opportunity was great. It’s really good to experience the art form in a different way.”

Close to 100 dancers have been learning the three performances over the past couple of months. Jesse, on the other hand, has come in very late in the piece and only has two weeks to learn the entire dance. The most important part to learning the routine is building chemistry with his fellow lead.

Tickets can be bought from the Theatre Royal or online at They cost $16 plus additional service fees. Each performance begins at 7pm with the Saturday matinee starting at 3:30pm.