About Ballet Austin

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Dancer Spotlight

By Forrest Preece

 

 

Mathew Cotter

 

Talk about focus – Matthew was taking ballet lessons since before he was born.

 

I’ve written about many of the dancers who were taking lessons from young ages, but that takes the cake!

 

Fact is, his mother was pregnant with him when she was taking ballet lessons from Karen Milligan who had a studio in their suburban Detroit neighborhood.  “My sisters were taking then, too,” Matthew says. 

 

Karen, who had gone to Russia to study the Kirov Academy teaching methods, turned out to be a guiding light in Matthew’s life.  By the time he was four, he was taking lessons with her and he hasn’t stopped training yet.  

(By the way, Matthew still goes home during the summer and teaches at Karen’s studio.

 

That early training paid off.  “By the time I was twelve,” Matthew says, “I was in the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp summer program. And then in middle school, I went to the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet summer session.”

 

If there was any doubt about where Matthew’s career was heading, it should have been eliminated by the time he was accepted for full time instruction at the National Ballet School of Canada in Toronto his junior year of high school.

 

“That was really an honor,” Matthew says. “They only take something like fifteen students a year in each grade.  It was a boarding school with up to four hours of ballet classes every day—and we were graded on a report card basis just like you would be for math or English.”

 

After graduating high school, Matthew moved to Seattle and started with the professional division of the Pacific Northwest Ballet School.  He was there for two years and then got his first professional job with the Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland.

 

From there, he went to Columbus where he joined Ballet Met.  “We were doing Stephen Mills’ Hamlet and I really grew to like the style of his choreography. That was 2001 and I was starting to think about making another move. It was really cold up there, for one thing.”

 

“Stephen Mills came to oversee our production of Hamlet, we met, and when I was looking for my next move, he told me that he was looking for another male dancer to work with Ballet Austin.”

 

Soon, he was packing up and moving to Austin.

 

Matthew says that he had never thought that he’d live in Texas, but he’s grown to love Austin and the company.  “I love the integrity of my fellow dancers and the staff plus the whole vision that the company has.”

 

He says that one of his favorite ballets since coming here was Taming of the Shrew.  “It was fun to help move the scenery around – we were busy during the whole ballet.  And of course, it was really exciting to go to the Kennedy Center.”

 

He also says that it has been fun to do Hamlet with two different companies.

 

As for where his life will go after his dance career is over, he’s taking courses in the St. Edward’s Dance and Humanities program now.  “I’m really enjoying my ‘Critical Thinking and Research’ course.  I can see being a researcher.”

 

With the kind of focus Matthew has given his dance career, digging deeply into a subject sounds like it’s right down his alley.

 

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Jordan Moser

 

Jordan Moser is one more of the multi-talented Ballet Austin dancers.  Yes, he’s a dancer, but he’s also a composer, singer, and musician.

 

So here’s a bit of biography.   Jordan grew up in Orange County.  When he was 13, he started ballet lessons at a small studio in his neighborhood.

 

“I’ve been very fortunate to have a supportive family that backed me up on my performing dreams.  It didn’t hurt that my two older brothers were both rock musicians when they were in their teens. I took up drums when I was eight and they let me play in their bands until they hired pros.  Doing that taught me a lot about rehearsing, performing, and the reality of the music world,” Jordan says.

 

But, back to his dancing career.  “I went through the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) formal set of exams at the studio,” he says.  “I finished the last level when I was 17 and graded out with Distinction.  At this point, I was totally set on being a professional dancer and set out to prove myself.  College was not a big priority right away.”

 

So he packed up and went to New York City, where he auditioned and auditioned.  “I caught a break when I got a job dancing in John Clifford’s Ballet Casablanca.”

 

That ballet was based on the great Bogart movie and Jordan was thrilled to be a part of it.

 

“This was big!  Warner Brothers was backing the production.  We toured China and we were getting rave reviews,” Jordan says.

 

But it didn’t take long for a monkey wrench to get thrown into the works.  It seems that at the same time, Warner Brothers was producing a musical based on an Anne Rice vampire novel with music by Elton John.  It opened on Broadway, got panned unmercifully and shut down in short order.

 

Bottom line, after that financial disaster, Warner Bothers decided to cut its losses on all their live shows and froze all the projects, including Casablanca, which was doing fine.

 

So much for reality checks.  At that point, Jordan headed back to Los Angeles and the O.C.

 

“I was young and unemployed, but I started singing and playing my guitar at any gig I could find.”

 

He stayed in tune with his dancing, too, working out every day and hoping for another chance. 

 

“With that high profile performing under my belt, I was able to send some nice DVDs out.  I went online to find prospects.  Meanwhile I was taking class with some dance companies in the LA area to stay in shape.”

 

“I even got some guest roles in things like Nutcracker and Peter and the Wolf for some small schools.”

 

Then he got the next good break.  “I had heard about Ballet Austin and the things they were doing down here.  The type of choreography that Stephen Mills was creating sounded like it would fit me perfectly.  I sent a resume and DVD, they asked me down for an audition and then they hired me in 2007.  I was thrilled.”

 

So how does he like Austin?  “I love it!”

 

Jordan is living on South Congress these days, close enough to Jo’s and Bouldin Creek Café to walk for coffee and breakfast.  “I really like strolling along the greenbelt by Barton Creek, too.  The whole South Congress scene is so full of energy.”

 

He adds that the famous Leslie hangs out at Bouldin Creek and he has had some interesting conversations with him.

 

“I’ve even found a place that has ‘sock hops’ every month and I like that a lot!” (Isn’t that kind of being a “ringer,” Jordan?)

 

Jordan also collects vinyl records—old 33 rpm records that many of us have stashed in our closets. “I like the sound of the vinyl recordings much better than CDs or mp3s; it has a better feel.”

 

How about getting music gigs in Austin?  “This town is flooded with live performers. Finding a place to play is tough.  But I’m keeping up with my music and recording.  I’m planning on getting a band one of these days.”

 

Jordan describes his style as country-folk — he does finger picking and says that his influences range from Bob Dylan to Hank Williams.

 

But all that is on hold for the summer—he has a job in Osaka, Japan where he will dance a pas de deux from Coppelia.

 

“I’m also working hard in the St. Edward’s program for the dancers and I’m loving it.”

 

No doubt, for this 22-year-old, there’s a lot of future ahead.  

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Frank Shott

 

When Frank was growing up in Vestal, New York, he really didn’t want to be a dancer—no, acting was his dream. He pursued that goal with such fervor that at age 14, he was accepted into a noted drama camp called Stagedoor Manor in Loch Sheldrake, New York.  (This school has alums like Natalie Portman and Robert Downey, Jr.)

 

“While I was there, I realized that most of the other kids could do a lot of things--singing, dancing and acting.”  Some of them were outstanding at all three. 

 

“When I got home, I started talking to people in the business and they pointed me towards taking classes to become more well-rounded.”

 

Soon Frank was taking voice lessons and them someone whose judgment he respected said that he should look into ballet.

 

He found a good school in the area and he got a full scholarship to start.  “Being a boy, I had an advantage,” Frank says with a smile.

 

Frank took jazz and modern dance as well as ballet.  “But somehow, I started taking more ballet than the other types of dance and it really grew on me.”

 

By the time he turned 16, Frank was looking at ballet as a very possible career choice.

 

“When I was 17, I was accepted into the Schenley School in Pittsburgh (the same one BA dancer Aara Frederick attended).  I stayed with a host family there during my junior and senior years in high school.”  Frank says that he met a lot of talented people while he was there and he was really feeling good about his career choice.

 

The year after high school, Frank started with the school of the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle.  “We were working on our spring performance and the new artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet was watching our class.”  Frank says that he must have caught his eye because the director pulled him aside and offered him a job.

 

“I’d been thinking ‘big company’—New York or San Francisco—all along.  Now I was in Kansas City and I started enjoying it.”  Frank says that his favorite role while he was there was the lead in Balanchine’s “Melancholic.”

 

Unfortunately, Frank had a couple of freak injuries while in Kansas City and that hampered his progress with that company.

 

”I was working as an understudy one day and my knee just gave out on me.”  It was a dislocation and he was out for four months.  Then after he got well from the knee injury, he was doing a lift with another male dancer in a “Nutcracker” rehearsal and dislocated a wrist.  “That was the day before Thanksgiving!”  (That would have to put a damper on Turkey Day.)

 

In 2000, after four years in Kansas City, Frank and one of his friends heard about the new artistic director at Ballet Austin and that he was holding tryouts.

 

Since Austin was a straight shot down IH 35 and they could drive down here and back over a weekend, they decided to give it a try.

 

Frank’s audition went well and “the rest is history.”  Eight years later, Frank is still here and loving his job and Austin in general.

 

“I really like Stephen’s choreography.  I wasn’t versed in contemporary movement at first-- learning his methods of movement has been very exciting.”

 

Of the pieces he’s performed, the pas de deux with Allisyn Piano in “Kai” last year has been his favorite. 

 

By the way, the video of this piece on You Tube will give you chills every time you watch it.  (OK, well, it does it for me.  Type in “Ballet Austin Kai.”)  Frank and Allisyn are in the red outfits.  The pas de deux is the story of a king and his potential wife – a mating dance.

 

“I loved workshopping all of that material from the beginning and being part of the process.”

 

Like many of the dancers, Frank says that “Light” was the most emotionally-loaded piece of any he’s done and that combining all the educational aspects of it made for a vivid experience.

 

Frank notes that he’s been dancing professionally now twelve years.  That’s twice as long as he was in school. “I love what I’m doing right now and it’s great that we got to move downtown.  It’s like we’ve connected with a whole new level of energy.  And what a thrill to see the AustinVentures StudioTheatre decked out for ‘Cult of Color’!”

 

In “Cult,” Frank played a darkness baby and a minor vegan. “Being an evil character is always fun,” he says.

 

So what does Frank see in his future after his dancing career is over? 

 

Right now, he’s enrolling in the St. Edward’s higher education program for the dancers.

Then he is pointing towards a career in physical therapy.  “All the programs for physical therapy now are three-year, doctoral courses of study.  That means I have a whole lot of school ahead of me to make that career happen.  But I already have my massage certification and that’s a step in the right direction.”

 

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Ashley Lynn Gilfix

 

Like all of the dancers, Ashley Lynn has an immense aura of calm; and when you sit down with her, she instantly makes you feel comfortable.  I always think that it comes from what they do for a living.  When you stand on a stage in front of thousands of people and make your body do things it really wasn’t designed for, talking to one other person just isn’t that tough.

 

Anyway, here’s her story.

 

Ashley grew up in Warrenville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.  In her grade school and middle school days, she was about as all-round a kid as they come.  “I was into musical theater in a park district program during grade school.  I was taking dance classes, playing soccer and softball, and singing in the chorus.”

 

“When I turned twelve, I upped my dance class schedule to twice a week and Joyce Lang, my teacher who had her own studio, put me on pointe.  I loved working with her, but then she decided to close her school.”

 

“She was so nice—she saw I had potential and sent me off to another school run by Sherry Moray.  I later found out that Joyce arranged for me to have a scholarship to Sherry’s school.”

 

Ashley says that Joyce was a big source of inspiration for her, as was Sherry.

 

After getting settled in her new school, Ashley was taking class five times a week and she started concentrating specifically on ballet.  “Now I was starting to consider it as a career.”

 

“The summer I was 15, I went away for a summer program and then I really knew that dance was going to be my passion and vocation.”

 

She says that her parents were very encouraging at this point, but they emphasized that she’d have to put everything she had into it and that anything less than 100% was unacceptable.

 

Her big first break came her senior year in high school when she received an invitation from the Alabama Ballet in Birmingham to be an unpaid apprentice.

 

Talk about being shoved into adulthood!

 

“My parents were so supportive.  They helped me find an apartment in Birmingham and I was able to finish high school there through correspondence.  But I had to figure out a lot in a hurry!  That much independence at that age was a big responsibility.”

 

“Dancewise, I still needed training, too.  Now there was a lot less one-on-one coaching.  I had to learn to take the corrections that the other dancers were receiving and apply them to myself.”

 

She says that Wes Chapman and Roger Van Fleteren, the artistic director and assistant director, were very good to her – but a lot of her progress came from being watchful and attentive.

 

“I was mostly being an understudy at this point, but then I was pressed onto the stage for Balanchine’s Divertimento #15 when a principal was injured.”

 

She also got a solo part in Balanchine’s Allegro Brilliante and was the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty. 

 

After her second year in Birmingham, she started auditioning.  “I loved being there, but I saw it as a beginning.  In 2002 I started sending out videos.”  The video caught Stephen Mills’ eye and she went to New York City and tried out at a Ballet Austin audition he was holding.

 

She notes that when a dancer is in a class, it’s hard to stand out.  That’s why videotapes are a great tool to use for getting noticed.  “And it helped that I had some contemporary movement on the tape, since that ties into what we do here.” 

 

Stephen liked what he saw and gave her a contract.  Ashley finished in Birmingham in April 2002 and came to Ballet Austin in August. 

 

“I came here blind – the only other time I’d been to Texas was on spring break when we went to San Antonio.  Moving to Austin, without knowing much about the city or having any friends here was an amazing growing experience for me!”

 

Six years later, Ashley is firmly ensconced at Ballet Austin and is totally happy with her work environment.

 

“I love being in Stephen’s work – ‘Touch,’ ‘Three Movements,’ and ‘Silence Within Silence.’  And the tours we’re gotten to take are wonderful—to the Joyce in New York, The Kennedy Center, and Europe.”

 

She also liked being Princess Aurora in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and Bianca in ‘Taming of the Shrew.’  “But all my roles have been fun.”

 

She notes that it’s a lot of fun to see how Stephen interprets stories.  He really has a knack for Shakespeare and “Cult of Color” is just a wonderful way to explore Trenton Doyle Hancock’s work, too.

 

As for Ballet Austin itself, “It’s just an awesome working environment.  There are some companies out there where it is harsh and cut-throat, but here it’s friendly and supportive.  You know it’s a great place to work when you see people who have been here for ten to twelve years.”

 

And Austin has been good to her in another way—a couple of years ago, she met Mike Gilfix, a Montréal native who works as a software architect for IBM here in town and last year, they got married.

 

“He keeps me grounded.  He always has me laughing and he makes sure that I’m not taking things too seriously.  We have a great house in Northwest Hills and he was willing to adopt my cats!  We’re getting a dog this summer, too.”

 

Ashley is having some thoughts about where her career might head in the future, but right now, she’s totally dedicated to dance.  “It’s hard on your body and mind, but it’s always exciting.  You are always adjusting to what your body is doing and working on a new project.  There’s not a lot of monotony.”

 

I think all the fans of Ballet Austin would agree that Ashley has grown up very well.

 

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Orlando Canova

 

 

“I was always a ham!”  Well, whoda thunk it, Orlando!

 

Orlando grew up in “The O.C.”—Laguna Niguel, California to be exact. 

 

“I was really involved with acting in junior high and I was a band geek, too,” he says. “I played flute, oboe and French horn. “

 

But in junior high, he started ballet during his second-to-last year and the course was set for the rest of his life.

 

That first dance school he was in was especially fun.  “I took lessons at the Anaheim Ballet Studio which was next to Disneyland.  I had a season pass and I’d go there after rehearsals!”

 

Orlando showed so much promise that at the tender age of 16, he won a place in the School of American Ballet.  This was the big move -- all the way across the country to New York City and staying in a dorm occupying the same complex with the one for Julliard students.  “My parents let me go, but they were definitely reluctant at first,” he says.

 

And if that wasn’t bicoastal enough, he stayed on the east coast by moving to the Miami City Ballet School as a student apprentice for a year.  Then at 19, he went midwestern by joining the Joffrey at 19.  “When I turned 21, I got into the company at Joffrey.  Their vision encompasses reviving some really old ballets like ‘Rite of Spring’ and ‘Petrushka.’”

 

After a while with the Joffrey, though, Orlando was craving another place to live.  “I enjoyed the places I’d been to that point – but New York and Miami were just too busy.  And Chicago was too cold.  I auditioned at five places by sending out my resume.”

 

Luckily, Stephen Mills saw the resume and invited Orlando down for a talk and tryout.  Things worked out immediately.

 

“I had some good contacts here already—I knew Reggie from the School of American Ballet and Paul Michael and Anne Marie were friends, too.”

 

“Stephen usually hires people from the apprentice company, but things worked out for me to be hired into the professional company right away.”

 

Beth Terwilleger and Orlando were hired in that 2005-06 season and soon, he was driving down here with his beautiful golden retriever Lia.

 

“Ballet Austin and Austin itself were just what I was looking for.  Austin is so blessed to have this company which is doing so many cutting edge dance pieces.  It’s truly inspiring,” Orlando says.

 

Anyway, a couple of years ago, Orlando’s career took an interesting turn.  It seems that the Ballet Conservatory of South Texas had lost its artistic director and the president called Lynne Short at Ballet Austin to see if she could recommend someone to take over that position, at least for the summer.

 

She recommended Orlando and one of the other dancers and soon he had the job.  Not long after that, he was asking fellow dancers Reggie Harris and Jaime Witts to come down and help him.

 

That fall, Orlando was hired as the group’s artistic director.  So he embarked on a schedule of rehearsing with Ballet Austin during the day and then driving down to San Antonio and rehearsing his students there on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and sometimes Sunday.

 

“I’d leave at 5:00 and get there at 6:30, teach until 9:30 and then come home.” 

 

“I’ve always wanted to choreograph and teaching is a real calling for me,” he says.  “I love seeing people improve and reaching their full potential.”

 

Orlando says that he has learned so much about things like budgeting, costumes, and lighting.  And Jaime and Reggie have gotten a chance to expand their horizons from this experience, too. 

 

Jamie has been the ballet mistress for the school and Reggie has been the resident choreographer.  And all the men in the BA apprentice company have gotten to perform.  So it’s worked for everyone.

 

“I’ve been told that Ballet Austin has wanted to have a presence in San Antonio, so this effort has paid off.”

 

But now, Orlando has made the choice to concentrate on his performing with Ballet Austin and is giving up the San Antonio work. “It’s become obvious that I have to concentrate on my career and that I needed to make a decision one way or another.”

 

One of his last works at the San Antonio Conservatory is happening May 1-3 at the Carver Theatre.  It’s called “Novela’s di Amor” and it features pieces that Orlando, Reggie, and Michelle Thompson created, plus an excerpt from “Sleeping Beauty.”

 

As for the upcoming “Cult of Color/Call to Color,” Orlando is playing Bow Headed Lou and he’s really getting into his part.  “I’m such a ham and I love this character.  Trenton has been a delight to work with and the costumes are crazy and fantastic.”

 

So where is Orlando going from here?  “I really enjoy what I’m doing at Ballet Austin.  I’m too young to retire and I’ve always been a performer.  In the future, though, I’d like to be a company director.”

 

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Jaime Lynn Witts 

OK—first things first.  All the rest of you native Texans out there need to know that it’s not “Jaime” as in “HIGH-me.”  (Yeah, that’s what I thought at first.  So slap me.)

 

Nope, it’s “’Jaime’ as in “JAY-me.”  In fact, she says that her mother picked this name because it’s a play on “Je t’aime.” (And who wouldn’t love, her, like this apple-cheeked young woman with the bright eyes, unflappable disposition and constant, cherubic smile?)

 

Actually, Jaime’s mom thinks it’s funny that her mother, (Jaime’s grandmother), was visiting Texas when Jaime was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania – and now Jaime is living down here.

 

So let’s connect those dots of fate. 

 

Turns out Jaime wanted to be a ballet dancer from age three on.  (“Well, I thought about being an archeologist, too.”)

 

“I come from an active, sports-oriented family,” Jaime says. “My dad played soccer at a high level and both my younger sisters have dabbled in dance.” Matter of fact, one sister teaches Irish stepdancing.

 

“I started taking creative movement when I was four.”  Then later on, she was lucky enough to discover a school called Dance Elite near her home that offered ballet classes taught by Russian teachers. One of them, Maxim Ponomarenko, had a lot to do with shaping her approach to dance.

 

“I found out that I was in a totally different experience from the one that they went through.  They were picked from age ten to pursue a career in ballet to the exclusion of all else.”

 

Jaime had other interests, too- especially running track.  “Through the 8th grade, I was a serious runner.  I did the 100, 200, and relays -- but my best event was the long jump!”  (No wonder she’s so adept at grand jetés!)

 

But in the 9th grade, it became obvious that she’d have to make a choice -- ballet or track.  And ballet won.

 

Jaime found that the thrill of her progression towards being a polished dancer was just too much to resist. “My teachers were always intense. Nothing was ever perfect.  I always left the studio with instructions about something to work on.”

 

Her senior year in high school, Jaime was making post-graduation plans and had applied to start on a degree in sports medicine at the University of Tampa.

 

“That summer, though, I auditioned for programs across the country and came to Ballet Austin.  After the summer program was done, they asked me to stay and be a trainee.”

 

She was a trainee for two years, danced in Ballet Austin II for one year, and then moved on to the professional company.

 

Now Jaime is teaching twice a week for level 5 classes and in February, she’ll be choreographing for young artists in the level 4.

 

All told, she’s been here six and a half years.  She likes Ballet Austin because she can take something from each of her colleagues.  “I have learned so much about partnering since I’ve been here.  For instance, dancing with Tony at the end of ‘Light.’ That was fantastic and a huge learning experience.”

 

As she warms to the subject, Jaime gets more animated about her experiences at Ballet Austin.

 

“The more I teach, the more I think about what I’m imparting to my students.  They see me perform and it’s like show and tell.  It’s very challenging in a different way.”

 

Jaime says that her favorite performance so far has been “Light: The Holocaust and Humanity Project.”  “It was awe-inspiring to be a part of something so powerful and to know that we were touching on an experience like the Holocaust.”  She adds that thanks to the resources the dancers were given, she took away a lot of knowledge about that horrible period in history.

 

Other favorite roles of hers were “Serenade” and the “Golden Section” and of course, dancing as the Snow Queen in “The Nutcracker.”

 

“I like contemporary dance now—almost more than the classical.”

 

She adds that teacher Truman Finney helped her adapt from her Russian-taught background to Stephen’s style. “And Michelle Martin has helped me all the way through my career.”

 

Jaime is still holding out sports medicine as a long-term career possibility.  “I’ve learned that you can’t plan for everything.” 

 

But right now, she’s looking to be a part of Ballet Austin for a good long while.

 

“How lucky am I to be here!”

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Anne Marie Melendez Bloodgood

Like all of the Ballet Austin dancers, Anne Marie has immense reserves of calm.  When you’ve been onstage in front of several thousand people, making your body move in ways it wasn’t designed for, yeah, sitting down and talking to someone isn’t that unnerving a deal.

 

But her first impression of Austin almost broke her cool. 

 

The evening before their auditions at Ballet Austin, Anne Marie and her boyfriend Paul had checked into a room in one of the um, rather marginal motels along IH35.  (Ask her about it sometime.  On second thought, no, don’t.)  Once they got unpacked, they looked outside and saw Highland Mall off to the west, so they decided to walk all the way over there to find someplace to eat.

 

She says that while they ambled across that massive parking lot, as if on cue, a monolithic wall of black birds rose up from the asphalt and filled the sky.  “It was like that Hitchcock movie.  I’m not easily scared, but that was chilling.”

 

However, Austin has certainly proven to be a more hospitable place than they first thought – and Anne Marie is heading into her fifth year with the professional company.

 

So how did it all start for her?  To say the least, she had a variety of dance and athletic classes that served to enhance her talent.

 

“I didn’t start dancing right away.  In Norwalk, California, where I grew up, I started tumbling when I was three.  That was good for my sense of balance. From five until ten, I took ice skating and I also started ballet around age eight.  After I stopped the ice skating I started gymnastics.  Pretty soon, I got into tap and jazz dance classes.”

 

(Is this wearing you out?  What an active child she was!)

 

“The deal was, if you were going to be competitive in the other dance classes, you had to take ballet; in most cases it was even required.”

 

“Somewhere along the line, I really started liking ballet above the other activities and at 12, I got my first pair of pointe shoes. That really lit me up!  And what’s more, I was getting serious asthma attacks from all the chalk dust in gymnastics.  So ballet it was!”

 

“I found a really good teacher in Torrance, Diane Lauridsen, and I studied with her until I was 18.  Then I got a trainee position at the Louisville Ballet.  That was definitely a maturing experience.  During that time frame, I went to a community college and took some courses.  Long term, the Louisville Ballet didn’t work out for me, and I moved home to California.  Still wanting to work with a professional company, I auditioned and was cast in Ballet Pacifica’s ‘Nutcracker.’  That’s when I met Paul Michael Bloodgood.”

 

“I eventually negotiated myself into being an apprentice, but the director wasn’t really clear about my future prospects with the company.  By then Paul and I were starting to have a nice relationship and I felt like my life’s course was demanding that I make some decisive moves.”

 

“So we both drove to Las Vegas to audition for the Nevada Ballet Theatre.  Soon after that, Paul saw an audition flyer on the bulletin board that had Margot Brown’s picture from ‘Hamlet’ on it. At the time we really didn’t have any idea what Ballet Austin was about, but there was this beautiful picture of this beautiful dancer and we decided we needed to look into it.” Anne Marie says.

 

“I talked to Michelle Martin before we made travel plans and she was so nice, it encouraged us to make the trip.  We came down, auditioned, and everyone was really welcoming.  They offered Paul a job at Ballet Austin and we were both offered positions with Nevada Ballet Theatre.  We decided that at the time our careers had to come first, so Paul joined Ballet Austin and I joined Nevada Ballet Theatre. So that’s where we were then.” 

 

She says that being in Las Vegas was a great experience for her.  “My self esteem got a real boost because I felt the director in Nevada appreciated what I brought to the company.”

 

Soon, she got some time off, came back to Austin and auditioned once more.  “Needless to say, Paul and I wanted to be in the same city and throughout the year as we compared notes we felt that this was the place we should be. Then Ballet Austin hired me for the 2003-04 season!”

 

And of course, Anne Marie and Paul got married in June 2004.

 

Anne Marie is one of the company stalwarts now and she has loved so many of her roles.  “I especially liked being Cupid in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and dancing in Stephen Mills’ ‘The Naughty Ones’ and ‘Hamlet.’”

 

 Now about that photography.  Many of you have noticed Anne Marie toting that camera with the big lens around.  If you haven’t seen her finished product, you should.

 

She says, “I was part of my yearbook photography class in junior high. That’s when I got the itch do something with a camera.  But my high school didn’t offer any photography classes at all.  Later, I saw all kinds of wonderful things to shoot in Nevada.  There were some good courses to take at a community college in Las Vegas, and I felt like I learned quite a bit.”

 

When she and Paul got married, her brother gave her a professional grade digital camera.  Now she has had shows in Bass Concert Hall and in Halcyon Coffee Shop.  “Vlada has talked about putting my work up in the Pilates studio, too.”

 

One way she is putting her talent to profitable use is by taking portraits of kids in their Nutcracker costumes.  “Paul and I do portraits of over 100 kids over two days.  I do the shots and Paul sets up his computer, pulls proofs and helps the parents view or order prints.  We love doing it.”

 

Many of you know that Paul is pursuing a film career—acting, directing and producing.  He just got through premiering his remarkable “Ballet Divas: Self- Proclaimed” thirty-two minute mockumentary film which used the BA company and staff for actors. Paul even did the music for the sound track.

 

And now he is working on a film as an actor and co-producer with another Austin filmmaker called “Templar: Honor Among Thieves.” Anne Marie has been hired to do the production still photography for it.

 

Starting in the spring they will be working on their bachelor degrees in “Dance and the Humanities” with some of the classes being held in the BDEC upstairs board room at night, scheduled around rehearsal times.  “Two of our first courses will be British Literature and World Religions.  I can’t wait,” she says.  

 

Sounds like she’s in for another life-expanding adventure.  And obviously, that’s what it’s all about with Anne Marie.

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Paul Michael Bloodgood

It’s always fun to trace the arc of people’s lives from their childhoods.  In the case of Paul Michael Bloodgood, it’s not hard to understand the progression from boy to man. 

 

Reason being, until he was 12, Paul Michael grew up touring Europe and the US with Bloodgood, his father’s Christian metal hard rock band nine months a year.

 

There.  I just had to put that sentence down and look at it for a minute.  So you think you know the dancers?  Yeah, well. Go to bloodgoodband.com and check out the bass player.  (Or do a search on YouTube.)  That’s Paul Michael’s dad – Michael, who could fit right in with Led Zeppelin—in terms of musical chops and looks.  By the way, he’s still rocking – the band’s tenth album is releasing in April 2008, and he has a solo album coming out in January as well.

 

Paul Michael worked up a lot of his attitude and fearlessness about life during that time, watching his dad perform and ginning up his own coping skills for the Dionysian environment of the traveling life.

 

But dance came along early in his childhood. “When I was eight, I showed my mother Marilyn a combination step I had seen.  She was taking dance herself at that point and she told me I should try a class and see how I liked it.”

 

Paul Michael didn’t become a dancer to the exclusion of all else – he participated in baseball and choir, too. Soon, though, he went for it bigtime.

 

“By the time I was twelve, I auditioned for the Pacific Northwest Ballet and was accepted on full scholarship.”

 

“I started in a small dance school in Northbend, Washington under Don Snyder, and then continued on to the Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Seattle, first taking five days a week of practice and then eventually six days for about five hours per day.  By this point I was starting to be sold on the idea of making dance a career.”

 

At age nineteen, Paul Michael landed a position with Ballet Pacifica in the Orange County, CA.  He was thrilled to get into this prestigious company, working on a 40-week contract. 

 

“I had the best of friends and was living in Newport Beach, a mile from the ocean.”  It was there that he met Anne Marie Melendez, who is now his wife and fellow dancer at Ballet Austin.

 

In 2002, Paul Michael and Anne Marie came to Austin and auditioned.  (I’ve already described the infamous IH 35 motel scene in her story.  What a wretched first impression of our town!)

 

“I got hired first and then the next year, Anne Marie joined the company.  This is our home now.  We love this city and our Ballet Austin family.”

 

Like all the dancers, Paul Michael is thrilled with the new Butler Dance Education Center and all the great opportunities that the company has had to perform great dance works in Austin and at prestigious venues like the Joyce in New York and in places like Slovenia.

 

“That audience in Slovenia went crazy about us,’ Paul Michael says. “I don’t think that they had seen dance like we showed them that evening.”

 

He adds that their dressing rooms were under the stage and after they went downstairs, the “ceiling” was thumping and the dancers were felt like they were at a rock concert, the audience was stomping so hard.  Paul Michael says that he was thrilled to go out on stage a second time for an encore bow.

 

One of his favorite roles at Ballet Austin has been Petruchio in “Taming of the Shrew.”  He says, “That was a chance to really shine as an actor as well as being a dancer.  Then there was ‘Light” which let me be part of something bigger than myself.  The feeling in the company was that we were contributing to society through this important work.”

 

And that segues into Paul Michael’s other career-- acting and filmmaking.

 

So far, Paul has acted in over twenty independent films as well as major production studio features.  “I’ve been on zero budget films and multi-million dollar ones, too.”

 

“When I was in Ballet Pacifica I got into film acting.” His first role was being one of several featured football jocks in an MTV video for the feature film, “Loser”, starring Jason Biggs and Mina Suvari.

 

One of his best television roles was in “Mostly True Stories” on The Learning Channel, where he played the “Tough Guy.” You can visit myspace.com/paulmichaelbloodgood for a full list of his acting resume.

 

Paul Michael laughs and shakes his head when he says that he got a bit part in “Malcolm in the Middle,” but he wound up on the cutting room floor. Recently, he was in “Transformers” as an Artic explorer. 

 

Now he has formed his own production company and started making movies.  He also does some serious graphic design and has a nice roster of clients who use him for CD covers, restaurant graphics and other projects.  Paul says, “Graphic design is a nice complement to dancing. In the times when you need to rest your body, you can sit in front of a computer and work on jobs for your clients, but it still provides a creative outlet for my artistic side.”

 

But back to films – one in particular, “Ballet Divas: Self-Proclaimed.”  In case you didn’t see it, you should, not just because it’s a brilliant piece of work, but because it stars the Ballet Austin dancers.

 

You see, during Nutcracker season last year, Paul got nicked with a slight ankle sprain and had to lay out for a couple of days. Having that free time on his hands inspired him to strike up conversations with five other guys in the company and conceive of doing a mockumentary about what goes on backstage. 

 

The result is a short film called “Ballet Divas: Self-Proclaimed” that would do Christopher Guest proud.  And what’s amazing the dancers did most of their own dialogue just from some minor suggestions and direction.  (If you ever needed proof about how smart and quick-witted the dancers are, just take a look at this work.)

 

Paul Michael says, “It took some time to finish ‘Ballet Divas’ because I did all the editing, color correction, music and even the website for it.”  Paul Michael is in the process of submitting this work to a number of film festivals, including SXSW.  It will also be available on DVD via Amazon.com this December, so keep an eye out for it soon.

 

That was the first production for their company, Bloodygood Pictures.  Anne Marie and Paul Michael are now working on co-producing a film shooting next summer called “Templar: Honor Among Thieves,” a sci-fi saga.

 

Paul will be acting and pulling duty behind-the-scenes.  Anne Marie will be doing production stills for the project.

 

“I met our director for ‘Templar,’ Rene Hinojosa, on another indie film and we really hit it off.  He’s working on a trilogy, so this could be a part of something bigger. We’ve already lined up some of the key people for the film, including the stunt team that worked on ‘Sin City’ with Robert Rodriguez.”

 

With luck, working on “Templar” will take up all of next summer for Paul and Anne Marie.

 

So what’s his dream for their post-dancing lives?  “I want to act as a full-time career, as well as continuing to expand our company’s repertoire.  Eventually I see us moving back to the LA area and plunging into the film business.”

 

Well, that’s years off, luckily for Ballet Austin fans.  And we will be able to see his film work along the way.  That’s just another perk of hanging around these multi-talented people.

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Aara Frederick Krumpe
Four years ago, Aara helped me serve food at a get together here in our house. While we were waiting for the guests to show up, we started talking, I took notes, and wound up writing a West Austin News column on her.

Now, among the female dancers, Aara is exceeded in seniority only by Allisyn and Gina. How time flies! Between her two apprentice years and then as a professional, she’s been with the company nine years. Recently, we sat down to discuss what’s going on in her life now.

But first, here’s some biographical background on her.

During pre-school in her hometown of Corpus Christi, Aara took creative movement and at age five, when she took flamenco and folklorico. By the time she was eight, she was envisioning going to high school at The Harid Conservatory in Florida – but as it happens, things turned out just as well.

“I started ballet at eight and they got me on pointe at nine, frankly, before I thought I was ready. In the summers, I went to Joffrey in San Antonio at age eleven and the Houston Ballet when I was twelve.” She also went to Joffrey in New York during several of her teenage summers. By the time Aara reached high school, she was so intense about her career path that she applied for and was accepted at the nationally known Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre/Schenley High School Program. (The same place Andy Warhol went.)

“I lived with a wonderful host family those three years. We took ballet from 8:00 until 10:00, went to class from 10:30 to 2:30 and then there was more ballet from 3:00 until 6:00. It was quite a shift in lifestyle for a kid from Corpus! The time demands, the physical and emotional stress, let me tell you, it was a strain and I had to do a lot of growing up in a hurry! But I never wavered—especially when I got to observe the professional company. Every night, I would go home and dream of being one of the dancers.”

“The trainee program at Ballet Austin is very similar to what I experienced in Pittsburgh; it gives aspiring dancers a glimpse of what a professional career is like.”

“While I was still in high school, I got to do Balanchine’s ‘Symphony in C,’ ‘Western Symphony’ and his ‘Nutcracker,’ too. And we got paid for it! I even went on tour and understudied in ‘Dracula.’” At this point Aara says that her adrenalin was really pumping and she could almost taste her career.

“Only two of my fellow dancers kept up with it—but I was so ready to catch on with a company somewhere. My teacher at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, David Holladay, taught me almost all of my technique and made me the dancer I am. He spoke a language that I understood and he showed me that concentration, dedication and perseverance will take me wherever I want to go.”

Aara got to Austin the way a lot of people do—they see an ad, they hear a sliver of a conversation. Actually, her entree was an ad in Dance Magazine for auditions with Ballet Austin.

“Auditions are a test of everything you have to offer,” Aara says. You can’t imagine how hard it is to make yourself stand out in a room with a lot of other dancers who all want the brass ring as badly as you do. At my audition in Austin, there were about sixty dancers upstairs at the firehouse on Guadalupe.”

Stephen Mills, Ballet Austin’s artistic director, does auditions in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City as well. But Aara wanted to do the one closest to home. She made the right impression and she was accepted for the apprentice company. That was in 1999.

Now, she’s one of the old hands. Some of her favorite roles in the past few years have been dancing the role of the Dark Angel in Serenade, as Kate in Taming of the Shrew and “the whole process” of bringing “Light” to stage. “But ‘Sugar Plum’ is still my favorite,” she says.

And in the summer of 2006, Aara got to have exciting trip to Scotland to dance with the American Repertory Ballet at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. Later, her husband Ambrose flew over and they got to travel around the countryside for a week.

She and Ambrose have been dealing with a lot of constructive things offstage as well. They just bought another house near Duval and 42nd Street and they are hustling to fix it up. (When I “another,” this gives them three properties—a condo north of the UT campus, their former home near 45th and Lamar, and the new home.

“We are hurrying to get central heat and air in this new place before the winter sets in,” she says with a laugh.

Aara and Ambrose are also in the classroom improving themselves.

Aara is going to be taking the courses she needs to get a BA in dance and humanities from St. Edward’s, starting the first of 2008. And Ambrose is working part-time towards his master’s in public affairs from the LBJ School, while he’s employed full-time at LCRA.

They are also involved in their neighborhood associations and Ambrose is actually on the Austin Neighborhood Council, the parent group. That makes for some lively discussions at their home!

What’s next? “I want to keep on dancing at least another ten years,” she says. After that, she’ll see.

“It might be time for me to sacrifice for Ambrose’s career then—he’s rearranged his life to suit mine to this point.”

Oh—how does she like the BDEC? “I love it!” In fact, she stayed here this summer just so she could work out and train in the new studios. “I am so thrilled to be here -- the Firehouse is like a distant memory now.”

“Want I really like is that in spite of the company growing and the quantum leap in the quality of our facilities, we’ve maintained a family feeling. And that speaks so well of all our leadership.”

What makes Aara feel most alive? You guessed it. “Dancing. It invigorates all of your senses. I can’t imagine not being a dancer. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was eight years old. And I’m still learning. No one ever reaches their goal of perfection in ballet!” (But she’s trying.)

What would be her advice to a sub-teen thinking about a career in ballet? “Think seriously about the physical, mental, and emotional demands that our profession deals out on a daily basis. Mostly, you have to want to dance more than you want anything else. Otherwise, you won’t last.”

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Beth Terwilleger

 

Beth’s dad dances. Her brothers dance.  And gosh knows, she does.

 

“My dad is a very well-coordinated, physical guy,” Beth says.  “In his youth, he was a tap dancer and a gymnast.  He actually thought about it, but he decided not to pursue dance as a profession.  But you wouldn’t believe how many times we all danced to music in our house in Santa Cruz when I was growing up!”

 

Beth says that both her brothers (she’s the middle kid) like the terpsichorean arts as well.

 

“When I go home to Santa Cruz, the three of us go out and really burn up the floor at some local clubs!”

 

Anyway, Beth started taking tap at a very young age and then her parents got her into ballet when she turned seven. 

 

“I danced with the Santa Cruz Ballet Theater until I was 18.  Then I took a year off because I hurt myself —that was during my senior year in high school.”

 

Beth says that after doing a lot of rehab through Pilates, she was able to get back on track. 

 

Then she saw an ad in Dance Magazine that changed her life’s direction.

 

“Ballet Austin had an ad in Dance about their summer program and I decided to give it a try.  I got down here and just loved Austin and all the people I met.”  She adds that once she saw how much water and greenery we have in town, she was amazed.  “The environment was much different than what I was expecting.”

 

“You can imagine how excited I was when I was offered a position with the apprentice company.  Frankly, I was floored, since I hadn’t been dancing for almost two years at that point.”

 

This is Beth’s third season here and she is now a member of the BA professional company. 

 

She’s in her second year of living in a condo she’s been renovating like crazy.  “My dad came down here and helped me fix the place up for three intense weeks.  At this point, I can do all kinds of electric work.”

 

Her roommate is Tucker, an 85-pound mastiff/boxer mix who looks like a small pony and acts like a big baby.  Beth says, “When I got him from the pound, he had anxiety disorder and was prone to panic attacks.  He needed some rehab, poor thing.”

 

Beth hasn’t been loafing after her “day job” with Ballet Austin, either.  She just got her massage license and she’s started working in a wellness center with a topflight acupuncturist.  “Massage can be a part of prevention as well as a cure.”

 

She’s also going back to school.  “Right now, I’m taking English composition and environmental science.”

 

She wants to learn about environmental work and to move to South Africa.  One thing you discover about Beth is that she’s all about root causes.  “I want to deal with ecosystems-which are in many ways, the source of problems.  A friend of mine has been doing work in South Africa and eventually, that’s where I want to move and put some of what I’ve learned to work.”

 

Beth says that the same goes for political behavior.  “I want to do psychological studies of the leaders of radical groups and figure out what their real motivations are.  You read about horrors like Darfur and wonder how they could have been prevented.”

 

She has some lofty goals in her long-term vision.  But right now, she’s enjoying her time at Ballet Austin and she’s looking forward to the rest of the season.

 

“I always wanted to dance with a company that lets its members be well-rounded, healthy and happy.  That’s why I like Ballet Austin so much.  It’s a great environment and I’m lucky to be here.”

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Michelle Thompson

Once upon a time, there was a sprightly, bright-eyed three-year old girl who leaped up and started dancing to the music at a Fourth of July party in her San Francisco neighborhood.  As she twirled, jumped, bounced and swayed, many adults and other children stopped what they were doing and formed a circle to gaze at her. 

The next year the same thing happened.  And the year she turned five, the hostess of the party drew the little girl’s mother aside and laughingly said that if she didn’t get that child serious dancing lessons, she was going to report her for child abuse -- because she’d be wasting some incredible talent.    

A few weeks later, Michelle Thompson was enrolled in gymnastics, tap and ballet.  Not long after that, the teacher told her parents that she had a real future in ballet and that she should concentrate on it.  She kept on training and the summer she turned eight, she auditioned for the San Francisco Ballet and landed a place in their level one program.   

Now in her twenties, she is a member of Ballet Austin’s professional company.  Resting between rehearsals at the Ballet Austin firehouse studios recently, Michelle took some careful bites from her sandwich and said, “Back then, my dad told me ‘OK, if this doesn’t work for you it’s all right.  You can quit.’” 

“Did it work for me?   I was there one day and I knew!  Yes!  This is what I want to do for the rest of my life!” 

Michelle says that she was obsessed with being on time and ready to go as soon as the teacher entered the studio.  “I never wanted to be late, even by a minute.  It’s a wonder I didn’t drive my mother nuts!” 

When she was 12, Michelle got a phenomenal opportunity.  That summer, she went to train with a Kirov Ballet program in Washington, D.C. and they asked her to stay for the whole year.  “That was the seventh grade for me!  They had all Russian teachers and the academic school connected with the program was very good.  Being away from home at that age was a serious maturing experience.  Besides that, now I know my way around the whole DC Metro system!” 

Her path to Austin started in her senior year in high school when she participated in something like twenty auditions for ballet companies from around the country.  Ballet Austin’s artistic director Stephen Mills saw her and offered her a position in his apprentice company.  After two years, she was promoted to the professional company.  

“This has worked out beautifully,” Michelle says.  “I couldn’t be happier.  Yes, I grew up wanting to land a position with the San Francisco Ballet, but when you have seventy-five dancers in the company like they do, you tend to stay in the corps a long time and the solo roles are rare.”  She says that at Ballet Austin, where the professional company numbers in the twenties, all the dancers get a chance to show what they can do in exciting roles.  “What’s more, I love the family atmosphere we have, the teamwork and the communication.” 

Michelle says that it’s hard to say which roles she liked best at Ballet Austin in the six years she’s been here, since she’s enjoyed all of them so much. 

One of the first that I saw her in was in Ulysses Dove’s “Vespers.”   The woman who was setting it spotted Michelle in the apprentice company and said she wanted to use her in the piece.  But she loves carrying on the tradition of dance with the classics, too. 

Speaking of which, Michelle is starting to create her own dance performances as a choreographer.  She’s had two phenomenal role models in Stephen Mills and Gina Patterson, who performs with Ballet Austin and creates dance works. 

“So far, I’ve done one piece for the trainees and two for the academy.  And I’ve got a folder full of ideas.”   

So what does the future hold for Michelle? 

Her post-dance career could go any number of ways—she’s taken courses at ACC in business and communication -- and fashion merchandising is beckoning to her.   

Anything where she interfaces with the public would be perfect for her — I’ve seen her do public speaking and she really controls the room.  And she was employed at Gap for five years.  I was in the store near Central Market one day and saw her taking care of four sets of customers at once – and they were all happy. 

On the personal front, she married Rhys Ulerich, a software engineer with IBM in May.  Yes, Austin has really been a nice experience for her.  But good things tend to happen to good people who work hard -- and show up on time.

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