Top prize a win-win for ballet dancer Valerie Tereshchenko

Valerie Tereshchenko, a soloist with The Australian Ballet, this week won the prestigious Telstra Ballet Dancer Award for 2017. Picture: Toby Zerna

Valerie Tereshchenko, a soloist with The Australian Ballet, sometimes gets home to her tiny apartment to find that her mum Iryna has popped by and left some homemade borscht in the fridge.

It’s just another little act of support from a mother who grew up in Ukraine, captivated by re-runs of the ballet on a tiny black and white television set.

Iryna’s parents could never afford ballet lessons for her. So when Iryna migrated to Melbourne with husband Gregory and six-year-old daughter Valerie, she enrolled her daughter in ballet classes.

Iryna’s aim was only for Valerie to experience the art form she herself loved. But Valerie loves it too, and this week she won the prestigious $20,000 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award, recognising dedication and artistry by a performer in The Australian Ballet and judged by the company’s artistic director David McAllister and Cecily Ryan, Daily Telegraph head of lifestyle, among others.

Tereshchenko had ranked her chances so low against the other five finalists that she told Iryna and Gregory not to spend money on flying from Melbourne for the Sydney announcement.

Telstra Ballet Dancer of the Year winner Valerie Tereshchenko (at left) with the other award finalists, Jake Mangakahia (who took out the People’s Choice), Francois-Eloi Lavignac, Sharni Spencer, Drew Hedditch and Isobelle Dashwood. Picture: Toby Zerna

The presentation was made at the end of Tuesday’s opening night performance of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland at the Capitol Theatre where Tereshchenko’s colleague, coryphee Jake Mangakahia, was also awarded the $5000 People’s Choice. Both had danced two roles each in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and were still in costume as “cards”.

Later that night, Tereshchenko sent her parents a selfie, holding her huge bouquet of flowers.

“They sent me one back holding two little glasses of wine and giving each other a kiss,” Tereshchenko says.

“They were so cute. They’re always surprised and shocked about these things. They never take anything for granted and say ‘we knew you would win’.”

In Ukraine, Gregory was a fighter pilot and Iryna worked in a laboratory testing fuel for the army. Settling in Melbourne they set up a shoe repair and clothing alteration shop in St Kilda, where they still work. Gregory makes model aircraft in his spare time.

“He can rattle off all the details of every plane,” Tereshchenko says.

She’s happy when her parents are proud of her.

“I do understand how much they have had to sacrifice in their lives and their dreams just for me. They believe in me sometimes more than I believe in myself,” she says.

Family is also close to Mangakahia’s heart. Raised a Mormon, he left The Australian Ballet in 2014 for missionary work in Canada where he used performance to inspire orphaned children to “create your own culture and your own stories”.

Jake Mangakahia, a dancer with The Australian Ballet, who this week won the People’s Choice in the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award for 2017. Picture: Toby Zerna

Two years later, he rejoined The Australian Ballet. This is his second Telstra People’s Choice award.

Like Tereshchenko, Mangakahia’s work ethic is huge. “It’s hard work being effortless,” he says.

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