Why the Pros Keep Spending Their Summers With Ellison Ballet

Sponsored by Ellison Ballet
November 18, 2022

Once dancers Austin Eyler and Kouadio Davis got a taste of Edward Ellison’s approach to ballet, they couldn’t stay away. Eyler, now a 24-year-old soloist with Philadelphia Ballet, first attended a New York City–based Ellison Ballet summer program when he was 19, and has gone back every summer since (except during the height of the pandemic). And after attending his first summer program at age 17, Davis fell so hard for Ellison’s style that he moved to New York City to join the school year-round. Now a member of Dance Theatre of Harlem, Davis still drops in for class whenever he can. “Until I went to the first summer program, I hadn’t really met a master teacher,” says Davis. “Mr. Ellison totally reshaped my practice and my relationship to classical dance.” 

A black-and-white image of Edward Ellison coaching Kouadio Davis as he demonstrates tendu derrière.
Dance Theatre of Harlem company member Kouadio Davis working with Edward Ellison. Photo by Clarissa Lapolla, courtesy Ellison Ballet.

The effectiveness—and thrill—of an Ellison Ballet summer program speaks for itself. This summer, Ellison will bring his expertise to the West Coast for the second year in a row, this time to premiere a brand-new program: the International Repertoire Intensive. The two-week course will run June 5 to 16, 2023, in Los Angeles. And although a mix of students and young professionals has always filled Ellison’s studios, this summer he’s making it official: The intensive is open to male and female students ages 12 to 19, and professional ballet dancers up to age 24. “Studying under a world-class faculty, the aim is to provide participants with a positive, challenging and inspiring environment,” says Ellison. “They will come away with further honed skills, heightened artistic understanding and an exciting performance experience they’ll never forget.” 

The L.A. Advantage

Ellison Ballet’s International Repertoire Intensive will be held at the Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center on University of Southern California’s Los Angeles campus. Participants will spend their days in state-of-the-art studios complete with high ceilings and beautiful natural light, and they’ll have access to the school’s first-rate dorms and dining halls. With all of their needs within walking distance, this safe, on-campus experience will allow the dancers to focus completely on their classes and to cultivate a sense of community. For Ellison, a former soloist with San Francisco Ballet and a former faculty member at SFB School, bringing his approach to the West Coast feels like something of a homecoming. “The West Coast has a special part in my heart, as I’m originally from San Francisco, and I’ve lived in L.A. and San Diego,” he says.

Two ballet dancers photographed in the air in split leaps.
2022 summer intensive students at the Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center on University of Southern California’s campus. Photo by Diane di Stasio, courtesy Ellison Ballet.

Well-Rounded Training

Though Ellison Ballet focuses on Vaganova technique, the International Repertoire Intensive expands to also include classes in Balanchine, French and Bournonville styles. “Choreography will be staged and coached by some of the most sought-after masters of each style, and the intensive will culminate with an exciting performance,” says Ellison, who adds that while he sees a strong and flexible foundation in one technique as being of utmost importance to a ballet student, “it is also important to learn styles of choreography from around the world, as that adds depth of knowledge and versatility, and therefore become of greater value to a company and choreographers.”

While the full roster of faculty and repertoire have yet to be announced, the intensive will include daily technique class, followed by repertoire coaching and rehearsals, allowing students to fully experience Ellison’s unique approach. “His language is so clear,” says Davis. “It makes it easy to make the connection from your mind to your body because of the vocabulary that he uses.” Though Davis learned classics like Swan Lake, Paquita and Don Quixote at Ellison’s summer intensives (“He taught us the variations, the coda and the pas de deux”), his biggest takeaway is the sense of rigor and respect that Ellison instilled in him. “He was really unrelenting in his vision for my dancing and for me,” says Davis. “He took me very seriously and asked I take myself very seriously. It was exactly what I needed; my career would be really different if it wasn’t for him. But it’s really a workout—it’s not for the faint of heart.”

Philadelphia Ballet’s Austin Eyler continues to benefit from training with Ellison Ballet. Photo by Clarissa Lapolla, courtesy Ellison Ballet.

Eyler agrees. He attended his first Ellison Ballet summer program while an apprentice with Philadelphia Ballet, and was promoted to the corps shortly after. “I think it was because of all the improvements I made that summer,” he says. “I definitely come back to the company in really good shape. I feel like I can do anything, because nothing’s as hard as what Ellison teaches.” Yet, like Davis, Eyler finds that Ellison’s approach ultimately comes down to encouragement. “Once we were doing fondus at barre and a bunch of us were giving out, our calves couldn’t do it anymore. And Ellison just looked at us and said, ‘This is for you. Don’t give up on yourself,’” remembers Eyler. “I think about that all the time.”

A Range of Ages

When Davis first started attending Ellison Ballet summer programs, he found himself inspired by both older alumnae who’d come back to take class and wunderkinds much younger than himself. “It was such a valuable learning experience, because there were people there that could do so much more than I could,” he says. That’s just one of the benefits of having students and professionals work side by side. A sense of community and mentorship is another: Eyler has found that the younger students often ask for advice and firsthand info on what company life is like. “It’s really inspiring to be with them,” he adds.

And while many young professionals may not consider spending their summers solely focused on technique, Eyler has found it incredibly valuable: “Going as a professional is different. It’s completely voluntary. It’s your choice to do all these hard, complicated classes and put yourself in the position of a student again. And I think all of the teachers at Ellison really appreciate that, and nurture the hunger you have to improve.”

For information on how to audition for the brand-new International Repertoire Intensive, click here. For East Coast dancers interested in seeing the Ellison edge in advance of its summer programs, Ellison Ballet’s Professional Training Program students will be performing classical and contemporary works in its Winter Showcase in New York City, December 12–13.