Talented teenager Tala Lee-Turton is preparing to leave life in Barnsley behind as she heads off to Moscow as the first girl from Yorkshire ever to train with the Bolshoi Ballet. Jeni Harvey meets her.
WITH their GCSE exams behind them, most 16-year-old girls will be looking forward to a long and relaxing summer holiday, with perhaps nothing more taxing than a part-time job or regular shopping trips to fill their days.
But for one exceptionally talented teenager from Barnsley, the next two months will be a frantic race against time as her family and friends desperately try to raise the thousands of pounds she needs to fulfil her ballet dreams and fly out to train in Moscow this September.
Tala-Lee-Turton has become the first ever student from Yorkshire, and only the ninth British student ever, to be accepted to train with the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet since the school was established in 1773.
Paying for Tala to train with the Bolshoi will cost around £20,000 a year for four years, once fees, kit, flights and health insurance are taken into account.
Her family are now trying to raise about three quarters of that £80,000 through sponsorship as, with no grants available, it’s down to single mother Sara Turton to try and find the money for her daughter to fulfil her potential in Moscow.
And, at the same time, Tala - who is anticipated to gain a string of A* grades in her GCSEs - is desperately trying to learn Russian, so she’ll be able to cope on her own when she’s almost 2,000 miles from home.
“As far as I know, there’s no history of dancing in the family”, Ms Turton said.
“It’s just Tala really - it’s her ambition that’s driven this - and being involved in the dancing world has been a steep learning curve for both of us.”
Tala, from Barnsley, began dance training in the town as a small child, gaining her love for ballet at the Fearons-Middleton School of Dance and also enjoying outreach dance schemes with companies including the Northern Ballet, the Royal Ballet and the Yorkshire Ballet Scholarship Centre.
Five years ago, she began boarding at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts in Hertfordshire, where she combined daily dance sessions with academic study - but she still returned home to Wombwell each weekend.
On stage, Tala has performed with both the English National Ballet and American Ballet Theatre at the Coliseum in London, in performances of “The Nutcracker” and “Le Corsaire.”
The teenager said: “I began dancing at my local dance school when I was about four.
“Then, when I was 11, I auditioned and got a Music and Dance Scheme (MDS) scholarship for Tring.
“A couple of years ago I started going to classes at the Bristol Russian Ballet School, which is when I discovered how much I love the Russian style of dancing.
“That was what encouraged me to audition for Russian schools.
“The Russian style is really expressive. There’s a flamboyancy added to everything. which sets it apart from other styles of ballet.”
Keen to continue her ballet training among the world’s best after she completed her GCSEs, Tala auditioned for both the Kirov Academy of Ballet, in Washington DC, and the Bolshoi.
“I got into both, but I chose the Bolshoi”, she said.
“Term starts in September but I’m going out there a bit earlier.
“I’m looking forward to it - it’s a dream come true.”
In order to win a place at the Russian ballet school, Tala had to record an audition DVD showcasing specific dance skills.
Within a week, the Bolshoi Ballet had written back to her, offering her a place at their training academy.
As well as her ballet training, in the first year at the Bolshoi Tala will learn the Russian language, so that in the second, third and fourth years, she can study academic subjects alongside dancing.
However, Ms Turton said that the uncomfortable reality is that, if the money isn’t raised in time, Tala won’t be able to go.
“It was a very exciting moment when that email arrived”, she said.
“However, it’s very, very expensive and it’s been a big decision to take.
“We’ve had to consider very hard how we’re going to fund this.
“I’ve organised several fundraisers and I’ve been writing out to lots of companies, to see if we can attract any corporate sponsorship to fund her out there.”
Ms Turton added: “There have already been sacrifices on a family level over the years, for the two of us, because finding the time to do all of these things is difficult.
“We have to do the research for summer schools, do all the planning - it’s very time-consuming.
“We didn’t know anything about the ballet world, so we’re really starting from scratch.
“The hidden costs are the ones that catch you out.
“We know what the school fees are and we know what the flights cost, but then health insurance is about £2,000 a year on top, and the kit is another expense.
“Ballet is not a cheap pastime, and it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted.
“I’m so, so proud of her. I’ve seen all the work that she’s put into this, and it hasn’t always been easy.”
Although Tala’s life at the Bolshoi Academy will be far from easy, she’s used to hard work.
Her school day in Tring began at 8.30am each morning with academic classes, before dance training every afternoon.
Students would then typically return to their dormitories at 8.30pm each night, after a full 12-hour day of work.
School holidays also weren’t time to rest, as Tala would travel around the country from one summer school to another.
Three years ago, she also had to take a year out of training after having an operation for bone spurs on each of her ankles.
“Because she couldn’t perform, it really affected her morale”, Ms Turton said.
“She’s fought hard to get back from these setbacks. She couldn’t have got there through talent alone, it’s down to all the hard work and determination as well.
“I’ve watched her totally dedicate herself to ballet and become the best dancer she can possibly be.”
Tala is now hoping that the funding will fall into place, so she can go to Moscow and do what she’s spent a lifetime training for.
“I never dreamed I’d get to this stage”, she said.
“I took it one step at a time, and started building from there, and now I know the Bolshoi is the best place I could be.
“I’m hoping the training there and the work I put in will prepare me for the best ballet companies in the world.”
To find out more about sponsoring Tala, email her mother at email@example.com