Your Training: Summer Study Sleuth

Not sure where to train this summer? Figure out which program is the most likely to launch your career.
Published in the February/March 2013 issue.

Advanced girls at the School of American Ballet Summer Course. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

At first glance, all summer intensives seem similar: days full of dancing. Yet the opportunities actually vary widely. The right teacher could plug you in to key directors. A prime performance opportunity could lead to a traineeship or even a company position. But how do you figure out which programs will really deliver? A few tricks can help you scope out your options.

Research
Begin with the concrete: Read every last word of the acceptance package and study the school’s website. Pay attention to class sizes to see how much interaction you’ll have with the faculty. Then Google the program to find out where alumni have gone on to dance. Search for videos of the classes or performances to see the style and repertoire taught—and the level of talent being trained.

Run some name searches to trace the faculty’s connections. What are their backgrounds? Do they have current affiliations with companies you like? Pay attention to how long they’ve been teaching, and whether their curriculum is up-to-date with what companies expect now of dancers. Search for any interviews they’ve given; this could tell you their emphases in class.

Reach Out
Use your connections to get a sense of a program’s reputation. Start with your year-round teachers: Get their opinion on the programs you’re most interested in. They can contextualize a school for you, and explain its distinct characteristics and history. They might even be able to use their connections to your benefit. Michael Owen, director of dance at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, says, “I often make a phone call on behalf of a student, to make a school’s artistic staff aware of her specific talents.”

Also use online social networks to find dancers who have attended the program in the past. Ask how closely they got to interact with the director, whether company dancers ever took class, if ballet masters or artistic directors ever observed, and if they got to work with choreographers. Their responses will be more frank and nuanced than any information packet.

Keep an Open Mind
Don’t pigeonhole yourself by only focusing on your dream company’s school. Aara Krumpe attended the Joffrey Ballet’s summer program four times because she hoped to join the company, but she never received an offer. “It wasn’t the place for me,” she says. “Then I went to Ballet Austin’s summer program at age 19, and it was a much better fit: I was interested in the contemporary rep the company was doing. Now I’m a dancer there and I love it.”

Get the Scoop
Once you’ve done your research, what are the details you should really pay attention to? We broke down the highlights of two popular intensives.

Exploring Ballet With Suzanne Farrell
Director: Former New York City Ballet prima Suzanne Farrell. She is, of course, a direct link to her company, and she also stages co-productions with troupes such as Ballet Austin, Cincinnati Ballet, Sarasota Ballet and National Ballet of Canada.
Size: 30–36 students, all of whom take class together.
Faculty: Farrell teaches every class, so you have plenty of time to build a personal relationship.  
Schedule: There are two two-hour technique classes per day, six days a week, focusing on Farrell’s interpretation of Balanchine technique. Students may get some partnering or conditioning; no other techniques are offered.
Location: The Kennedy Center in D.C., home of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet.  
Alumni: American Ballet Theatre’s Nicola Curry, NYCB’s Dana Jacobson, Pennsylvania Ballet’s Evelyn Kocak, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet’s Jessica Lawrence and Jordyn Richter.  
Performances: In the past, Farrell has choreographed on students for a small presentation.

Kaatsbaan Extreme Ballet
Director: Martine van Hamel, former ABT principal who now teaches at ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.
Size: 40 students are accepted per session, and split into four groups. (Kaatsbaan offers three sessions per summer.)
Faculty: Bonnie Mathis (former Boston Ballet II director) and Lisa Lockwood (former ABT dancer and a current teacher at Steps on Broadway), among others. Alessandra Ferri (former ABT principal) provides coaching. Master classes are taught by Ann Marie DeAngelo (former associate artistic director of Joffrey Ballet who has choreographed on Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Nevada Ballet Theatre and ABT Studio Company), Franco De Vita (JKO principal), Kevin McKenzie (ABT artistic director and Kaatsbaan co-founder) and Craig Salstein (ABT soloist). Most faculty members are former ABT and Joffrey dancers who now teach, choreograph or direct.
Schedule: Morning technique class is taken all together or in groups, and the rest of the classes—including variations and coaching—are composed of one or two groups.
Alumni: Boston Ballet’s Paul Craig, Joffrey Ballet’s Jaime Hickey, Pennsylvania Ballet’s Andrew Daly.
Additional classes: Yoga, Pilates, flamenco, modern, composition, improvisation.
Repertoire: Usually a few classical variations and a group section from the same classical ballet are coached on all students. One or two new works by faculty are often created on students.
Performances: The final in-studio performance is informal, since the program’s focus is on training.

The Brits Are Coming
Want to learn more about the English style?  There’s no need to fly across the pond. The English National Ballet School will hold its first summer intensive in the United States this year. The weeklong program will take place at the Ballet Theatre of Toledo in Ohio from July 22 to 27. There will be separate courses for advanced (ages 13–15), pre-professional (ages 16–18) and professional (ages 18+) dancers, plus evening master classes for intermediate students—all taught by ENBS faculty. Participants can ask to be considered for the school’s year-round program in London. Tuition is $900 for the full course or $50 per master class. Audition by DVD or web link. For more, see ballettheatreoftoledo.org.

Technique Tip
“Once in a rehearsal, a choreographer said to me, ‘Your technique is there; now I want to see the texture in the movement—how a leg develops, or an arm.’ He wanted to see the work involved without my making it look difficult, just texturizing the steps. Those words have stuck with me throughout my career.” —BalletMet’s Adrienne Benz

New Moves
Take out your address book: Two of the biggest ballet competitions for students are relocating this year.

The Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition, formerly the Boston International Ballet Competition, will be held in New York City for the first time this June. “Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen gave me huge support in setting up my competition, but New York is where my home base is, so it’s much easier to put everything together right here,” explains founder Valentina Kozlova. “Plus, it’s the center of the dance world.” Other than a slight tweak to age divisions (18-year-olds will now be part of the seniors, instead of the juniors), everything else about the competition will run the same way it has for the past two years. The deadline for applications is May 1. See vkibc.org.

Also on the move is The American Ballet Competition. It launched in Miami in 2004, then took place in Texas from 2010 to 2012, and this year it will head north to Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Massachusetts. “We wanted to establish a presence in another cultural hot spot, such as New England,” says ABC artistic director Katherine C. Kersten. “Walnut Hill has been an important contributor at ABC for many years. Michael Owen, WH dance director, is on our jury and will continue to award a Walnut Hill scholarship.” This year’s ABC will run from June 5 to 8, and the registration deadline is May 8. Check americanballetcompetition.com for more information.