New York’s New Preprofessional Companies
New York’s Joffrey Ballet School recently launched a preprofessional company for its “Joffrey Ballet” program, and plans to start two more companies for its other two divisions (which include “Classical Ballet,” led by Gelsey Kirkland and Michael Chernov, and “Jazz and Contemporary Dance”).
Each of the three companies will be completely separate from the others. The dancers will be chosen from the ranks of their respective programs through auditions run as objectively as possible in order to prepare the dancers for professional open calls.
The directors hope to mimic the second company experience, helping students make the leap to becoming professional dancers. “We try our best to run the company like a professional troupe,” says
Davis Robertson, director of the “Joffrey Ballet” program’s company, “but at the same time we act as mentors and give the dancers honest critiques of their technique, presentation, movement quality and professionalism, as well as an understanding ear.” His troupe has already performed five new works, including ballets by Julie Bour, formerly of Ballet Preljocaj, and Africa Guzman, associate director of Spain’s Compañia Nacional de Danza. For more, visit joffreyballetschool.com/touring-company-overview.
Ivy League Ballet
Getting an Ivy League education no longer means you have to give up performing. Several top universities, including Columbia, Princeton and Harvard, host student-run companies for classically trained dancers. And they’re more than just clubs for amateurs—they boast professional-caliber dancers and distinguished choreographers.
“I like that I get to be in an academically challenging program—but also dance as much as I want,” says Harvard Ballet Company’s current director Hazel Lever, a sophomore majoring in history and science with a secondary major in global health and health policy.
None of the companies offer training as rigorous as an official dance major. But members receive regular open classes and biannual performance opportunities, often dancing in work set or created on them by esteemed choreographers. Harvard Ballet Company—which currently has about 50 active members, including dancers who’ve performed with Zurich Ballet, Boston Ballet, Los Angeles Ballet and ABT II—performed a new ballet by Peter Pucci and brought in Deborah Wingert to set Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet this fall. Columbia Ballet Collaborative has danced premieres by Matthew Neenan, Emery LeCrone and Adam Hendrickson, and the 24 dancers have been joined by guest artists such as New York City Ballet principal Amar Ramasar. Princeton University Ballet’s 19 dancers have performed work by Christopher Fleming and Susan Jaffe. All three companies also offer opportunities for students to choreograph.
If you’re visiting campuses this spring, catch the companies in action. Columbia Ballet Collaborative performs April 9 and 10. Harvard Ballet Company performs April 15 and 16. Princeton University Ballet will perform the week of May 2. Find out more at danceu101.com.
In Makarova’s Footsteps
No matter your technical level, you can now learn directly from teachers who’ve trained the Kirov’s top dancers in the studios where Makarova, Baryshnikov and Nureyev once took class. St. Petersburg Travel, Inc., offers a unique trip for students, teachers and ballet enthusiasts to attend the annual Vaganova Method Conference and Demonstration at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. The 10-day tour includes master classes taught by Vaganova Academy teachers, plus lectures on dance theory, ballet dancer psychology, nutrition and injury prevention. In addition, participants get to observe regular classes at the Academy, meet with the teachers for question-and-answer sessions and attend performances by the Kirov Ballet and Academy students. The trip also includes tours of St. Petersburg’s historic sites, palaces and museums. The reservation deadline is May 1. To learn more, go to trips2russia.com.
The end of the school year means spring performances. That can be a chance to impress company directors. But what signals to them that an advanced student is ready to be a professional? Joffrey Ballet artistic director Ashley Wheater shares his advice as students from the Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet in Chicago prepare to perform Sleeping Beauty May 20–22.
Pointe: How many current Joffrey dancers came through the Academy?
Ashley Wheater: In the two years since it opened, I’ve hired four into the company.
PT: When you attend a student performance, what do you want to see?
AW: That they understand the ballet they’re performing. The classics are hard and demanding because if you make a mistake, we all know it. But you can’t forget that technique is just a means to an end. Aurora should burst onto the stage with joy, knowing that everyone is there to celebrate her 16th birthday. Think about why those particular steps are in there. Doing them nicely is just the beginning.
PT: What do you look for in students you’re considering hiring?
AW: You’ve got to be able to apply the style the choreographer is asking for. I don’t just look for talent, but how dancers learn—both the steps and the music. They have to know how to be a corps dancer. Are they aware of where they are on the stage? Do they remember corrections? I also look for people who are really versatile, and who show they understand that all movement comes from the spine.
PT: What makes your eye gravitate to one student over another onstage?
AW: My eye always goes to the dancer who really knows how to breathe with the music. Even if she’s moving absolutely together with a corps of 32 people, she always stands out.