• Wiradjuri Ballet dancer, Ella Havelka (Dance on Film Premiere Fund)
Ella Havelka is Australia's first Indigenous dancer in the Australian ballet. A landmark achievement which caught the interest of a documentary filmmaker and the Melbourne International Film Festival.
By
Sophie Verass

5 Aug 2016 - 4:22 PM  UPDATED 10 Jul 2018 - 12:12 PM

Ella Havelka knows that she's not the conventional ballerina. She doesn't reflect the art form's centuries-old European roots. Rather than growing up where tutus and private tuition was a rite of passage, Havelka was raised in a modest home in country NSW.

The proud Wiradjuri woman made Australian history in 2012 by becoming the first Aboriginal dancer in the Australian Ballet's 50 year hisotry. Her hard work and determination has not only enabled her reach her goal as a professional dancer, but by doing so, she has changed the face of the Australian ballet industry.

Ms Havelka's journey has sparked national interest and in 2016 her story was told by director, Douglas Watkin and the feature-length documentary, Ella, had it's world premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). 

The documentary not only tells the story of Havelka's success, from the Dubbo Ballet Studio to Bangarra, and finally earning a place at the Australian Ballet, it also highlights the way she continues to engage with her Indigenous heritage; weaving baskets in the traditional style and learning Wiradjuri language.

The documentary shows how Indigenous success isn't one dimensional —community, history and family are inherent in everything. The documentary features family, friends and teachers who have helped and inspired Havelka achieve her dreams. In particular, her mum Janna, who raised her as a single mum on a low income.

In an interview with the ABC, Havelka said the Dubbo dance community often chipped in for tuition and costumes when her teachers noticed her potential.

"My mum definitely wouldn't have been able to afford my tuition had we not had so much help from my teachers in Dubbo and the amazing community around us," she said.

"I think my heritage gives me a unique understanding of the way movement works and the way in which it resonates within my body. I personally dance and perform better when there is a story or intention behind the dance."

Before accepting an invitation to The Australian Ballet, Havelka had a rewarding career with dance company, Bangarra for four years where she learned and developed a new contemporary and cultural style of dance. 

Havelka told NITV, "I think my heritage gives me a unique understanding of the way movement works and the way in which it resonates within my body. I personally dance and perform better when there is a story or intention behind the dance."

Havelka says she comes from a long line of athletes, her mum being a talented sprinter before becoming a nurse and her aunts, uncles and siblings are all strong in the sports arena. While Havelka chose a different kind of athleticism and channeled her energy on stage, she told NITV that she first wanted to be a ballet dancer when she saw a live performance of Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake and the Sydney Opera House as a child. 

"I watched the swans fly off into the wings to that beautiful score I remember thinking thinking that I wanted, needed that feeling in my life," she says. 

Watch Ella on SBS On Demand: