London recital honours Rocky homegrown ballerina
It’s a long way from the little St Andrew’s Church hall in Denison St to Australia House in London.
Rockhampton-born Leanne Benjamin AM OBE was honoured with a recital in London on November 20 to celebrate her Queensland Agent-General Award.
The inaugural award recognises an outstanding Queenslander’s achievements in the United Kingdom, where Ms Benjamin worked with the Royal Ballet Company.
In her speech, Ms Benjamin said her heart never left Australia, and she was indebted to the people of Queensland.
“Its positive and outgoing spirit is very much in my DNA,” she said.
“I know I could not have achieved what I have, without the people and values from my home town Rockhampton, who gave me my start.”
Ms Benjamin’s parents both came from musical families, but her mother couldn’t attend dance classes.
“It was the Depression era so we didn’t have the means to sew costumes,” Leanne’s mother Jill Benjamin said.
“We settled for singing and music.
“But when Leanne was only three or four, we saw an ad for kindy classes at a little hall in Denison St.”
It was a quick drive down the hill for Mrs Benjamin who lived on Agnes St and ran an antiques business.
“It’s not like in Sydney where my other daughter spends an hour driving her daughter to ballet school,” she said.
“The girls spent half their time performing at the little St Andrews church in Bolsover St, and the rest of the time at the School of Arts (which is now part of the library).”
Leanne and her sister Madonna studied with Jan Moore and Valeria Hanson.
Mrs Benjamin remembers Leanne doing a version of Animal Crackers for the Tiny Tots show.
“She just started winning everything she went in for,” she said.
“She was always noticed by people visiting for summer schools and even Margot Fonteyn, who said she didn’t just win a prize, she walked away with it.
“But Leanne always had a beautiful nature; she always helped other dancers.”
Since Leanne Benjamin retired from the Royal Ballet, she has returned to both Queensland and Australia Ballet, to help them prepare for productions of Romeo and Juliet and Giselle respectively.
She said she was excited to expand other Australian dancers’ horizons through the Tait Memorial Trust’s awards which are named in her honour.
In putting together the awards recital, Ms Benjamin introduced the audience to a violinist from Queensland, an Australian soprano, and past recipients of the Tait Memorial trust.