At the barre, Michael Sayre works hard to hide his hard work. The 15-year-old has vise-tight fifth positions, but the effort doesn’t affect his soft port de bras or precise épaulement. There are early signs of a danseur noble’s balance of power and finesse; 10 years on, he could be the next Manuel Legris or Peter Boal.
Bolshoi-trained couple Alexei Kremnev and Anna Reznik became Sayre’s teachers when he was 9, at Southold Dance Theater in South Bend, Indiana. The two were invited to be directors of the Joffrey’s Academy of Dance when the high-rise facility opened in downtown Chicago in 2009. Sayre “piggybacked,” he says, enrolling in the new school to continue with their training.
“Michael’s always been very serious,” says Reznik. “He’s very particular in the way he thinks—he really tries to understand every detail about every exercise.” While many young dancers run to audition for summer programs at other schools, he’s happy to study in Chicago year-round.
Sayre’s commitment to the Academy is a workout for his family. After school, he maybe squeezes in a quick soccer game before biking home for an early dinner. Homework is done during the 100-mile trip to Chicago, finished up on the way back, and then he gets a head-start on sleep. “I stumble out and go to bed,” he says. “We get home just before midnight.”
For Sayre, training under Kremnev and Reznik is worth the extra effort. The pair’s Bolshoi background is evident in their curriculum, which stresses purity and clarity. “Style is style,” says Reznik. “You need it for repertoire but, with our students, it’s about musicality, position, line, details.” The goal of their syllabus, influenced by ABT’s National Training Curriculum, is to generate dancers with impeccable technique and unmatched versatility. “Every year we add something new to the curriculum,” says Kremnev. “Things we would like to see in our students.” The schedule now includes everything from tap to hip hop.
The exposure to new genres has proved a difficult but rewarding adjustment. “It’s been a tough transition,” Sayre admits, “but I really love learning contemporary, jazz, modern and all these cool things.” Following his technique class with Kremnev, Sayre works on a hip-hop routine for the school’s end-of-year performance. The syncopated bass of “Come Around” by M.I.A. fills the studio while Sayre and his classmates are drilled in a particularly tricky bit of floorwork. He’s clearly out of his comfort zone, but keeps pushing himself with the same calm determination displayed earlier at the barre. “Going here is tough,” Sayre says. “You work really hard, but at the end of the day, I usually feel like I’ve done a good job.”
Academy Of Dance, Official School of the Joffrey Ballet
Founded: January 2009
Enrollment: Children’s, youth and preprofessional divisions, 370 students; trainee program, 32 students. Adult open division averages 165 per week. 4,000 students per year are served through a variety of community engagement programs.
Administration: Ashley Wheater, The Joffrey Ballet artistic director; Alexei Kremnev and Anna Reznik, Academy artistic directors; Elizabeth Millman, Academy managing director
Technique Taught: A mix of Russian and American styles
Faculty: Jen Donohoo, Peter Gaona, Katie Garwood, Winifred Haun, Ethan Kirschbaum, Ludmilla Lupu, Christopher Perricelli, Natalie Rast, Kate Rowan, Marcella Squires-Ducsay and others
Classes: Ballet, character, core strength, hip hop, jazz, men’s technique, modern, MoPeD®, pas de deux, Pilates, repertoire and tap
Alumni: BalletMet, Berliner Staatsoper, Cincinnati Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Richmond Ballet