Thomas Bradley on the far-left at LOVETRAIN2020 by Emanuel Gat Dance. Image: Julia Gat. Costume design by Thomas Bradley.

Cootamundra dance product Thomas Bradley may be many miles away in Budapest at the moment, thriving with a professional dance career in Europe, but his legacy and presence in the Riverina is still being felt after more than a decade on.

Last month, the Thomas Bradley Encouragement Award marked its 11th year running with Jamie Byrnes of James Fallon High School the recipient of the award.

This was accompanied by a monetary scholarship valued at $1,000 sponsored by Thomas Bradley, Sydney Dance Company, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Father Peter Williams and Rev. Dr Arthur Bridge (Ars Musica Australis).

Mr Bradley intended for the award to support travel and accommodation costs related to the recipient’s participation in a dance related development opportunity, but primarily to encourage young male dancers to pursue their interest in dance.

Being on the international stage today, Mr Bradley is hoping to be a model for many young dancers, and male young dancers in particular, that they can achieve their dreams despite growing up in a remote setting.

Thomas started dancing in year six and spent a lot of time with local dance teachers Chris Edwards and Christine Wishart.

Christine who owns her own dance studio, said Thomas was always technically gifted and had always set his sight to achieve bigger things.

“I am very proud of Tom. He is always looking for ways to give back such as previously returning to the region to conduct workshops here,” she noted.

“It’s great that he is still encouraging young people in the Riverina to do dance. He’s very humble and is doing amazing things overseas.”

Up until 2005, The Arts Unit NSW coordinated four Sydney-based dance ensembles inside the NSW Public Schools system.

These ensembles gave dance students living within two hours of Sydney City, the opportunity to train and rehearse once a week with dance industry professionals, focused on building performances for the State Dance Festival and Schools Spectacular.

In 2004, Thomas joined the most senior of these ensembles as an honorary member and he was scouted by The Arts Unit Director Peter Cook, who invited him to join the ensemble despite living outside the metro area, in Cootamundra.

The Arts Unit organised a small sponsorship opportunity with Qantas, in the form of return flights to Sydney for rehearsals and performances.

Mr Bradley said without the sponsorship, his family would not have been able to afford the travel expenses.

Fast-track a few years and in 2012 Thomas was accepted into the Australia’s leading contemporary dance company, Sydney Dance Company, after interning with them during his final year of training at the NZ School of Dance.

“I had my eye on the company since I was about 14 years old after seeing the company perform in Canberra,” Thomas said.

“I visited the company every year during my summer holidays to take classes and to ensure my face was familiar around the place.

“By the time I was graduating in 2011, my determination paid off in the form of a three-month contract, which soon became three years.”

Thomas danced with the company as a soloist from 2012 to 2015, touring Australia then internationally to locations such as Hollywood and Moscow, and the countries of Mexico, Peru, China, Ecuador, and Colombia.

This was the best start to his young and promising career, also being named two-time finalist for Best Male dancer at The Australian Dance Awards.

After leaving SDC, he joined Australian Dance Theatre in Adelaide for a short contract before embarking on Europe.

The move to Europe happened in March 2017 followed by the touring of Paris and Montpellier, but also in the UK, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Belgium.

He is also costume designer and in 2019 presented a solo performance at Le Louvre in Paris wearing his own costume design, next to famous artworks and sculptures.

It’s been more than two years since Mr Bradley returned home and said he is really longing for his land and the culture.

“Although it’s all very romantic out here staring at large windows towards Hungarian sunsets, Cootamundra seems a long way and there’s no place like home,” he said.

The Thomas Bradley Encouragement Award was first presented in 2010, after a conversation between his Mum Susan Bradley and DET Arts Coordinator Diana Alexander concerning the support of young dancers in the region.

As well as offering support for the award many years on, each year Thomas contacts the recipient through video call and offers his best advice, including pathways and schools to apply for.

All applicants are required to be based in the Riverina, and perform at the Riverina Dance Festival.

So far there has been no Cootamundra local as a recipient as yet.

“To the younger ones I would say, make as many truly, good friends as possible. They will help you in more ways than you can imagine. To the parents or carers of those young ones interested in the arts, they will need you. It may not be easy but it will all be worth it,” Mr Bradley said.

Thomas was earlier this week featured on ABC Riverina’s Breakfast Show chatting with Sally Bryant.

The TB Encouragement Award is currently looking for sponsors to contribute to the award in 2022. Financial contributions will assist the recipient with travel and accommodation costs related to intercity dance training.

Other forms of sponsorship could include sports/dance wear (shoes and clothing), dance-related literature and assistance with commercial travel.

Christopher Tan