Not Just for Kids: Summer Programs for Professional Dancers Provide the Perfect Opportunity to Grow
While New York City Ballet was off last August, corps member Sasonah Huttenbach was hard at work at the Danish Ballet Masters program, a two-week Bournonville workshop in New York City led by former Royal Danish Ballet dancers Mogens Boesen and Linda Hindberg. While they have always offered a student intensive, last summer Boesen and Hindberg added a program for working dancers. “A lot of professionals just lean toward open classes or giving themselves class during layoffs, but sometimes you need the basics because you’re rehearsing and performing so much,” says Huttenbach, who attended the student intensive twice before joining NYCB. “It was great to spend time off perfecting my alignment and technique.”
Wondering about how to spend your summer layoff weeks this year? While teaching or performance gigs are good ways to stay busy, off-time can also be perfect for brushing up your technique, exploring another style and networking with a broader range of dance professionals. From big cities to the beach, programs geared towards professionals can help reinvigorate your career and remind you that you can always go back to summer camp.
Hone Your Technique, Find a Mentor
Boston Ballet principal Kathleen Breen Combes spends her summers at the International Summer Course for Professional Dancers in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which takes place in Spain’s scenic Canary Islands during the last two weeks of July. The annual, yet unofficial, meeting of a small group of international dancers became an official program last year. The intensive is run by former Lyon Opéra Ballet dancers Anatol Yanowsky and Carmen Robles (the parents of Combes’ husband, former Boston Ballet principal Yury Yanowsky) at the Choreographic Centre of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
“You work on rep all season, so this is a chance to fine-tune your technique,” Combes explains. “No matter your rank, you come here and we work hard, together.” Yanowsky and Robles alternate teaching an intense daily technique class from 12 pm to 2 pm. “They don’t want to change your style, but are focused on making your style as clean as it can be,” says Combes. Studios are available in the afternoon for working on gala pieces or choreography, and if you can still walk, evening floor barre and technique classes for pre-professional students are also open to the group. Most recently, Combes has used the summer program to get back in shape after having her first baby. And she admits it doesn’t hurt to be getting your butt kicked five minutes from the beach.
Shelby Elsbree at the International Summer Course for Professional Dancers. Photo Courtesy Kathleen Breen Combes.
In addition to working on her technique, Huttenbach credits the personal attention she received from Boesen and Hindberg with helping her make the transition from student to company member. “When you get thrown into the company, it becomes all about self-motivation,” says Huttenbach. “Linda and Mogens became my mentors and gave me advice on how to work throughout the year, so now every morning for company class I think about their corrections and things they have told me.”
Supplement Your Repertoire
Summer can also be a time to learn new repertoire and push yourself out of your comfort zone. At Springboard Danse Montréal, professional and advanced pre-professional dancers ages 19 and up spend three weeks every June immersing themselves in cutting-edge choreography with an impressive roster of international companies and emerging choreographers. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dancer Evan Supple auditioned for Springboard before graduating from Marymount Manhattan College. “I was eager to go,” says Supple, “but then I realized that I wanted to be more focused on ballet.” Supple decided to go for it anyway, and the overall experience—including daily ballet, modern floorwork and Gaga classes, in addition to rehearsing and performing Alexander Ekman’s Cacti—was life-changing. “I learned new concepts and ways of moving,” he says. “A big shift happened in my brain and I began to see less separation between ballet and contemporary dance.” Likewise, the class he was most afraid of, Gaga, gave him some nuggets of wisdom he thinks about every day as he takes barre.
For Huttenbach, studying Bournonville repertoire, with its focus on foot articulation and petit allégro, has only made her Balanchine work stronger. She received one-on-one coaching during two-hour Bournonville variations classes; each dancer is assigned an individual variation and encouraged to tell a story through classical movement. “You don’t always get that in the corps,” explains Huttenbach.
Evan Supple. Photo by Michael Slobodian.
Broaden Your Professional Circle
A huge benefit to attending a professional summer program is being able to network beyond your company. For instance, Danish Ballet Masters includes classes with Royal Danish Ballet artistic director Nikolaj Hübbe. Last summer in Las Palmas, “there were dancers from Berlin, Copenhagen, Boston, Alberta and more,” says Combes. The international mingling can create a cross-pollination of ideas and increase your knowledge of what is happening in the larger dance world.
At Springboard, Supple found camaraderie with a talented crop of young dancers, “the future of the dance field,” he says. “Everybody that goes there is a working dancer or ends up working, so there are no slackers and there is always a positive energy.” What’s more, he also met the artistic staff of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet during one of the program’s weekend auditions. After keeping in touch and completing a follow-up audition, he received a contract for the 2016–17 season. Even for those who are happily and gainfully employed, it is always a good idea to remember that the dance industry, like every industry, thrives on personal relationships—you never know what the fruit of sowing such seeds will be.
Know Before You Go
Like most professional development opportunities, these programs come with a price tag. However, if you plan in advance you can keep an eye out for cheap airfare and share housing costs with other dancers.
International Summer Course for Professional Dancers in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria:
360 euros for two weeks of technique classes; evening classes à la carte. For now, as the program remains intimate, it welcomes any dancers currently in a professional company. centrocoreografico.com
Danish Ballet Masters:
$350 for one week or $650 for two weeks of morning Pilates and technique classes. (For professionals, there is an option to attend two weeks of full days for $1,350.) Professionals must submit a CV to be accepted. danishballetmasters.com
$1,750 for three weeks, housing not included. Audition in person or mail in an application. springboarddansemontreal.com
Look into classes in your destination area. Pacific Northwest Ballet corps dancer Madison Taylor, who spends several weeks in New York City each summer, takes class from Nancy Bielski and Wilhelm Burmann at Steps on Broadway. While traveling through France and England in 2015, she took open class at London’s Pineapple Studios and with the company at Paris Opéra Ballet. “It never hurts to ask,” says Taylor, remembering her surprise when POB artistic staff said yes to her query about joining company class. She ended up getting a tour and experiencing a raked floor for the first time. “I learn something new about my dancing everywhere I go and with each experience. Different perspectives come back with me.”