The award-winning artist Zi Ling has been announced as the winner of the RAD’s portrait competition, launched to celebrate its brand-new global headquarters.

Artists from across the UK were asked to submit a portrait proposal of pioneering ballet dancer and founding RAD President Dame Adeline Genée, hoping to win a chance to create a painting for the RAD’s new home. The competition was created to honour the legacy of Dame Adeline’s extraordinary contribution to modern British ballet, ensuring that her portrait will be seen and admired by RAD staff, teachers and dancers alike for generations to come.

Zi Ling’s winning design for the portrait.

A judging panel of singer-songwriter Sophie Ellis-Bextor, royal portraitist Ralph Heimans and Shevelle Dynott, former English National Ballet Dancer, alongside RAD President Dame Darcey Bussell, presented the winning commission to Zi Ling, a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour. The judges were hugely impressed by the over 60 entries, but felt Zi’s bold, expressive, and contemporary interpretation truly captured Genée’s essence.

I am very excited about this wonderful project,’ says Zi Ling. ‘As a painter, I specialise in portraits and figurative works – with my favourite subjects being dancers. The spirit of a dancer lies in their movements and rhythm, and I was inspired to paint Dame Adeline because of her distinctive mark on our history and society. In order to capture her beauty as well as her talent, the final portrait will be created in a water-based and pastel medium as a tribute to Degas and his famous ballet dancer paintings.’

Zi Ling.

Dame Darcey Bussell says, ‘I can’t think of a more fitting way to mark this new chapter in the RAD’s history than with this extraordinarily vibrant portrait. I can’t wait to unveil the new commission from Zi Ling in our brand-new home for dance.’ The proposal was also praised by judges Sophie Ellis-Bextor (for ‘her bold use of colour and depiction of Dame Adeline in a thoroughly modern light’) and Shevelle Dynott (‘I am sure Dame Adeline would have been thrilled’). The portrait artist Ralph Heimans adds, ‘with so many strong contenders, it was Zi’s proposal that really captured a sense of movement and bowled the judging panel away with her strong use of colour.’

Five other artists were highly commended in this competition supported by Freed of London: Caroline Assheton, Thea Beyleveld, Sophie Peters, Abby Hope Skinner and Siobhan Tate.



This year, The Margot Fonteyn International Ballet Competition was held entirely online for the first time in its history.

After remote coaching and masterclasses from world-renowned teachers and choreographers, the competition final saw the coveted Genée Gold Medal awarded to New Zealand dancer Alice McArthur, trained by Auckland Academy of Dance and currently Sarah Abendroth at John Cranko School. In a touching coincidence, Alice’s success comes over 30 years after her mother was awarded the silver medal in London.

Australian dancer Milei Lee won the silver medal. Milei has been trained by RAD teachers Liane McRae and Janne Blanch, and English National Ballet School. Bronze medals were presented to British dancer Hannah Martin, trained by RAD teacher Mary Goodhew, and to Australian dancer Amelia Soh, trained by RAD teachers Jasmin Bobyk, Paris Bobyk and Celine Bobyk. The Dancer’s Own Choreographic Award was won by British dancer Olivia Chang Clarke for her self-choreographed solo Rain of tears.

Amelia Soh. Photo: Guy Harman

Australian dancer Amber Mitchell-Knight, trained by RAD teacher Susan Sargison and the National Theatre Ballet School, won this year’s Audience Choice Award, generously supported by the Dame Margot Fonteyn Scholarship Fund. The online vote was held over a 72-hour period, so viewers in all time zones could choose their favourite dancer.

The 15 young dancers were judged by Dame Darcey Bussell, President of the RAD, Director of the Royal Ballet Kevin O’Hare, CEO and Artistic Director of Scottish Ballet Christopher Hampson and Irek Mukhamedov, Ballet Master at the Paris Opéra Ballet. Each dancer performed a 19th- or 20th-century classical variation, a contemporary solo choreographed by or for them (Dancer’s Own), a commissioned solo by choreographer Ashley Page and set class exercises.

Hannah Martin
Milei Lee. Photo: Amber Griffin Photography

Gerard Charles, Artistic Director of the RAD said: ‘I am so pleased that we were able to make the competition happen this year, after what has been an incredibly challenging time for dance students and teachers. It has been so inspiring to see these young dancers surmount unforeseeable challenges of separation, closed studios and lockdowns, just to take part in the competition, let alone take home a medal. This is a true testament to how deeply they value dance.’

The RAD welcomed a record number of applicants, thanks to a new format designed to widen access to this prominent competition. In the early stages, the RAD delivered one-to-one online coaching for 114 dancers from 18 countries. The coaches, all leading professionals, included former Royal Ballet Principals Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin, Miguel Altunaga from Rambert and Amber Scott, Principal with the Australian Ballet. All the solos of the 15 chosen finalists will be sent to artistic directors of leading international companies, providing a potentially crucial stepping stone in their career path.

Alice McArthur


Meet the Fonteyn finalists


Bronze medallist Hannah Martin on her journey to the final



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Where did the name Rowdy come from?

When I moved to England, I started going into the underground hip-hop scene, but there weren’t a lot of girls. I felt I had a lot to prove, to show I wasn’t scared of no boys. I would be overly confident, very cocky and self-assured. It was all a façade, but the rumour started spreading about this girl that was rowdy and over the top, thinking she’s all that. I started to get self-conscious – but then I thought, I haven’t come all the way to another country to feel small, so I decided to take on the name as a badge of honour. You think I’m too rowdy? Yeah, I am rowdy, and you can’t tell me nothing!

You were born in Colombia but grew up in Sweden. What was your experience of school?

I went to a strict, elitist Swedish school. It was very old-fashioned – they were still beating kids, we had to curtsey to the teacher. Me and my brother were the only black kids in the whole school. This was not an era when neurodiversity was noticed. From an early age I struggled when it came to anything mathematic or science-based. I was told: you’re not working hard enough, make much more of an effort. I tried, I really tried. I excelled in anything creative. I couldn’t work out why I was struggling in maths.

Photo: Robert Alleyne

How did you discover dyscalculia?

When I was 17, I happened to come across a news article about this girl who couldn’t see numbers the same way as normal people could. I thought, this girl is describing how I see the world. I’d never heard of ‘dyscalculia’ – but it was like a stone dropping from my chest. It took a while to convince my parents and school, but it completely changed my world.

When did dance come into your life?

Dance was always there. When I was three years old I was moving around the house. I loved watching dance videos and would practice by myself. It was natural to me. I’d been to a dance class where the teacher said, ‘You’re really terrible – you shouldn’t come back.’ He said that in front of all the students. Then I went to another dance class – and there was this tall Black man, in baggy clothing, playing music I’d heard on the radio, with the biggest smile. It was such a change. How could I not go back?

Artwork: Bex Glendining

You’ve taught a lot, including on the RAD’s Step into Dance programme. Do you ever recognise your younger self among the young people you teach?

I would recognise myself in kids that would struggle, or were shy, or maybe aggressive because they felt embarrassed. And I would find a way to reach those kids on a level that they would find a safe space. You don’t know about their life at home – dance might be the only relief or safe space for them. So don’t ever turn away a kid or make them feel unwanted in the space. That is my main goal in teaching.

Why does dance matter to you?

Dance was the one guiding light through everything for me. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I wouldn’t have found my voice. I wouldn’t have found a place where I can call myself a trailblazer for young kids. I would have just been a scared little kid, believing she was stupid. Dance really saved my life.

Why Dance Matters

Why Dance Matters is a new podcast from the RAD – a series of conversations with extraordinary people from the world of dance and beyond. We hope these insightful personal conversations – hosted by David Jays, editor of Dance Gazette – will delight and inspire you.

Other guests in our new season include the star dancers James Whiteside and Leanne Benjamin, choreographer Ashley Page, the Paralympian athlete Libby Clegg, Hannah Martin who won a bronze medal in The Fonteyn this year and RAD Artistic Director Gerald Charles. Please listen and subscribe to Why Dance Matters.

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