Ella Havelka was seven years old when her mother played her an old VHS recording of a performance of Swan Lake, unknowingly setting her on a course to become the first Indigenous ballerina in the 50-year history of the Australian Ballet.
“She went to the library one day and must have been looking at different things on the shelves and thought it was something I could try,” Havelka says.
“That’s when she found the VHS and brought it home for me to watch in the living room.
“She asked me if I wanted to try it and I said ‘yes’ … so then she took me along to my first ballet class in this little old run down church in Dubbo that’s not there anymore.”
The story of Havelka’s rise to the pinnacle of Australian dance is the subject of a documentary, Ella, showing in cinemas around Australia. The film, directed by Douglas Watkin, premiered in August at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
Havelka, a descendent of the Wiradjuri people in NSW, says she agreed to the documentary partly because of the hard work her mother put into her career.
She hopes it will inspire young dancers.
“I don’t shy away from that trail blazer, role model,” she says.
“But I like to remind people that there have been other Indigenous dancers before me who have gone on and had amazing careers, not necessarily with the Australian Ballet company.
“They obviously were the trail blazers for me, to inspire me. To pay tribute to them I also have to do the same. A continual line of people proving it is possible to achieve whatever you want to achieve despite circumstances that are out of your control.
“I feel like it’s a blessing to be in my position as well as a responsibility”.
The only child of a single mother, Havelka was accepted into the prestigious National Ballet School, performed with the Bangarra Dance Theatre and joined the Australian Ballet in 2013.
The things that captured her interest as a child watching Swan Lake, still hold it today.
“I quite liked the idea of people dressing up and being an animal and pretending to fly around the stage. It wasn’t so much the glamour of it as the creativity and artistic freedom that inspired me,” she says.
Ella is screening at Cinema Nova in Melbourne, Event Cinemas Manuka in Canberra and Event Cinemas Bondi Junction from today (November 17).
There will also be a special question and answer session with Havelka at Event Cinemas Bondi Junction on Sunday (November 20). Bookings are essential.
The Mercury cinema in Adelaide will screen the documentary on December 2 and December 11.