Category Archives: The Academy

Spending My Summer Vacation With Ballet Austin

By Bill Piner, Academy Director  

Ahhh… Summertime in Austin. The time when everything slows to a crawl. The sun is high in the sky and temps top 100. Everyone heads to the lake, or to cooler climes in northern states. You would think it would be nice and quiet at 501 W. 3rd St. But you’d be wrong.

Summertime is actually one of the busiest seasons at Ballet Austin. Classes at the Butler Center for Dance & Fitness are packed 7 days a week for the entire summer and the Academy’s Senior Summer Intensive Program brings students from as far away as Japan and Panama to Austin for six weeks of intensive study and potential job opportunities.

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive Level 8 (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive Level 8 (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Each summer, after a 27 city audition tour, over 250 students descend on Austin.
They come here to take part in a program that is designed to improve their individual dance skills. For the post-high school crowd, they audition for a coveted position in Ballet Austin II, Ballet Austin’s paid apprentice company, or the Butler Fellowship Program, a nine-month, intensive training program that provides 15 talented students the opportunity to train at Ballet Austin tuition-free.

A Day In The Life

This is a very concentrated and intensive time for the Academy. From 8:45am to 6:15pm the studios are filled to capacity with some of the most focused young adults you will find. From my office I can look into the Armstrong/Connelly Studio. Right now the Level 6 dancers are learning a piece of original choreography from Company Dancer and Academy faculty member, Christopher Swaim, which they will perform at a small performance at the end of the session. Chris’ choreography pushes these young dancers to new limits and challenges them to take risks and find new strengths.

For the highest levels it’s all about learning what’s unique about Ballet Austin and assimilating. Will they be accepted into the year-round program or not? Will this be the next step in their personal and professional lives or not? There is a lot riding on these few weeks and it can be a nerve-wracking experience.

“I chose to spend my summer training at Ballet Austin because I was looking for an opportunity to further my dance career. Having just graduated from high school, I wanted to come to a program where I could possibly stay for the 2015-2016 season, and I knew that Ballet Austin could provide an opportunity for me. Ballet Austin’s summer program has reinforced the technique I know, expanded my artistry and allowed me to think differently about my dancing. Not only have I grown as a dancer in just four weeks, but I have also met new people with whom I have become extremely close. My classmates and I have had different yet relatable experiences. Even though some of us may be competing against each other to get a position as a Fellow or Ballet Austin II member, we all share one similar trait: the love for dance. This similarity allows for friendships to be created which aid the extremely memorable and enriching experience here at Ballet Austin.” –  Kayla Hallman

Kayla will be joining the Butler Fellowship Program in August.

Summer-Intensive

Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin correcting a student’s position. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

I choreograph on the two youngest levels in the program, where they are still struggling to find the control over their bodies that will enable them to make the prescribed shapes of classical ballet. The pace is slower, but the sense of accomplishment is just as great. When the entire group performs for an audience of their peers (final rehearsal on performance day is performed in front of the other levels in the program) and the cheers of approval erupt, I’m reminded why I chose this profession. This struggle, this mastery, this acceptance is something they all can relate to and it seals a bond that will stay with these young artists well beyond their six weeks in Austin.

Teaching (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Bill Piner, Academy Director, rehearsing with Level 4 student for upcoming Summer Intensive performance. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

These bonds and friendships, challenges and growth, fun and hard work, all combine to make the Summer Intensive experience one that will live with these dancers forever. This is a huge commitment and requires dedication and sacrifice from the entire family. This is another aspect of the program that I find inspiring – the fact that parents will do everything in their power to provide the best for their kids. And the fact that these kids will take that challenge and some of them will become professional dancers. Over 70% of Ballet Austin’s professional company of dancers started right here in the Summer Intensive. For them, and many others, the sweating, struggling, laughing and learning ended with the ultimate goal, a professional contract and the realization of so many dreams and aspirations.

This is how I’ve spent my summer for the past 24 years. It may not be as relaxing as going to the coast, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Ballet Austin Academy Open for Registration

Fall registration for the 2011/12 Academy school year is in full swing, and the Academy has something to offer every student, beginning as young as even 3 years old.

Creative Movement classes, designed for children ages 3-5, take the approach of “creative play” and are designed to hone motor skills, while educating children on movement. Classes meet once a week and offer “movement stories and ballet-based activities” appropriate for both boys and girls.

When children turn 5, they and their parents are given the option of moving onto our Pre-Ballet program, which is open to children ages 5-7. Pre-Ballet is more structured than creative movement, and serves as a transition between Creative Movement and when formal training begins at age 8, in Level 1.

In both our Creative Movement and Pre-Ballet programs, faculty in the Ballet Austin Academy place high emphasis on curriculum and age-appropriate teaching. Through these classes, we provide a place for children to not only have fun, but also take the opportunity to prepare themselves for a quality dance education. We believe that upholding excellence and professionalism starts with providing quality dance instruction at the youngest age possible.

At age 8, students may join Level 1 in the Lower School, marking their first step to professional ballet training. This age and level also mean another very special landmark: the age where Academy students have the opportunity to be cast in The Nutcracker! Each year, over 200 Academy students are cast our annual production exclusively.

If you are interested in enrolling your child, please check the Ballet Austin Academy‘s website for more detailed information, including new student registration forms.

Please note: students new to Ballet Austin but with prior experience, who are 8 and older, are required to attend a placement class. Dates, times and other important details are below.

Placement Class:
August 20, 2011
Ages 8-12 | 2-3:30pm
Ages 13 and older | 3:30-5pm
Note: Please arrive 30 minutes early for check-in

First Day of Class:
August 29, 2011

 

Photos by Anne Marie Melendez.

http://www.balletaustin.org/academy/

Summer Intensive: Week Three… Wrapping Up Session One – Pt. 4

This is the last in a four-part blog series about our annual Summer Intensive program. This week, our Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin discusses the mindset of students and BA artistic staff during the last week of Session One.

As we move into the third week of our Summer Intensive, there is a noticeable shift in the energy and pace of our studio process. The end of this week marks the close of the first session and there is a heightened sense of urgency, both in preparations for the performances on Friday, as well as the departure of some of our students.


Mr. Mills and I have spent the last 2.5 weeks teaching, rehearsing and observing our students and have started to compile a short list of dancers who we think would be a good fit for our Trainee Program or for a contract with Ballet Austin II. Though the extended audition process is understandably nerve-wracking for the students, it gives us the opportunity, in essence, to “read between the lines” of a dancer’s nervousness. We have begun to recognize which elements, both positive and negative, are most representative of each dancer’s work on an ongoing basis, an assessment that is highly significant when we are considering an extended commitment.

Those who are departing at the end of this session will have a conference with me before they leave during which I will talk to them about what possibilities are likely for them here. Though our short list is a clear sign that we’ve begun to discern our strongest candidates, definitive offers, particularly for Ballet Austin II contracts, will not be made until we are midway through the second session. This not only allows fair consideration of dancers who we will not see until Session Two begins next Monday, it also affords the opportunity for first session dancers who continue into the second session to assert themselves. Every year there are at least one or two students whose work in the final weeks of the program substantially distinguishes them, and they end up with an invitation to stay at Ballet Austin for the year.

The second round of students will will arrive this next Monday, beginning their registration and placement classes in the afternoon. We look forward to meeting them!

Summer Intensive: Week Two… And Counting – Pt. 3

This is the third in a four-part blog series about our annual Summer Intensive program. This week, our Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin, took some time to detail what our Artistic Staff looks for from students during the intensive.

It’s hard to believe we’re already half-way through the first session of the Summer Intensive and well into the process of selecting dancers for our year-round programs. Students in Levels 7 and 8 who are, at a minimum, seniors in high school are eligible for consideration for either our Trainee Program or a contract with Ballet Austin II (BAII), our second company/apprentice program. Our Artistic Director, Stephen Mills, and I are committed to identifying and inviting dancers who are a good fit for our programs, meaning that they will benefit from their experience here, and Ballet Austin will benefit from their contribution. There are many factors to consider, starting with a solid foundation in classical ballet technique. Many of the dancers who come here have had training in a ballet curriculum that is different than the technique and aesthetic that we teach. Training is usually quite firmly entrenched in muscle memory and it can be challenging to adjust to the new concepts that we introduce, so much of what Mr. Mills and I are assessing is a dancer’s willingness to explore, and capacity to adapt to other ideas. To help us evaluate this more quickly, all of the Level 7 and 8 ballet technique classes are taught by me, Mr. Mills or our Rehearsal Director, Allisyn Paino.

In addition to strong classical technique, a contract with BAII also requires that dancers have an interest and a developing aptitude for contemporary movement, particularly as it relates to Ballet Austin’s repertoire. This is easiest to assess by having the dancers learn, rehearse and perform some choreographic excerpts from our work. As the dancers learn the material we are able to glean a lot of important information. Beyond capability with a particular movement style, we can get a sense as to how quickly a dancer learns, how they observe and absorb nuance and detail, and how independent they are about refining what they’ve learned. We can also see how they interact in a collaborative environment – with their peers, with a partner – as well as how they approach the rehearsal process.

This process of selection is challenging on both ends, for the dancers who are participating in this ongoing audition, and for those of us responsible for program placement. We are evaluating technical strength and physical conditioning, personal motivations and work ethic, and the subjective considerations of artistry and aesthetic. Though it’s not easy, it’s a method that has created opportunity for many dancers and for Ballet Austin over the past decade, and we are committed to continuing this process for each new group of Summer Intensive dancers.

Summer Intensive: Day in the Life – Pt. 2

This is the second in a four-part blog series about our annual Summer Intensive program. This week, I shadowed summer intensive attendee Nicole Douglas, 18, who joins us from Ashland, Massachusetts. Nicole auditioned for the Ballet Austin Summer Intensive in New York City, and will be with us for the remainder of the summer participating in the 6-week program. I spent Wednesday photographing Nicole during her day at Ballet Austin. Here’s what she had to say about her day:

My schedule at Ballet Austin differs a little every day. We have ballet class each day, and then go into a variety of other classes ranging from Pilates to technique-focused dance classes. Yesterday was an especially long day because I had pointe, Pilates and then a two and a half hour repertoire class all following my daily ballet class. My day started around 9:45 when I arrived at Ballet Austin and found an empty studio in which I could warm up.


Around 10:30, I went to ballet in the AustinVentures StudioTheater. I really like our daily ballet class because it provides the opportunity for me to focus mainly on my technique. Stephen Mills teaches a very different style of ballet from what I am used to, but I am really enjoying this new style and am happy to be re-training my body to do new things. We also do center of ballet class on pointe, which at times can be difficult but I know is really beneficial for me. Pointe class is pretty basic, but I like it because it sets aside time for me to focus on really working through my point shoes and articulating my feet more.



In the afternoon after lunch, I went to Pilates. I loved our Pilates class yesterday because I love working my abs! The Pilates class here at Ballet Austin is very intense but it is SO good for my body that I don’t mind.


Until now, almost all of my training has been based in classical Ballet, so going into the repertoire class I didn’t really know what to expect. By the second time I had the class, though, I had fallen in love with it. Yesterday we worked with choreography from Ballet Austin’s 2010 production of Carmina Burana.


Summer Intensive: It Begins! – Pt. 1

This is the first in a four-part blog series about our annual Summer Intensive program. This week we wanted to give you a run-down on how the program works, as well as why it is so valuable – both to us and the dancers which attend. Please check back each Thursday to see more behind-the-scenes coverage including day-in-the-life features, as well as posts by our artistic directors regarding their processes. We hope you enjoy!

Starting next Monday, our halls will be overrun with nearly 300 ballet dancers who will arrive for the first leg of our nationally-recognized Summer Intensive. Ranging in age from 9-22, these serious ballet students are split into either the Senior or Junior Summer Intensive programs depending on their age.

The Summer Intensive program is the culmination of an annual 30-city audition tour which takes place the winter prior to the program. This year, we are so pleased to welcome students from 36 states and 4 different countries into our home!

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive

Summer Intensive is incredibly important to both ballet students and our company. Whether students stay for three weeks or six, they leave the program having greatly improved their skills and technical abilities. Aside from this obvious benefit, however, the program also allows our own artistic staff to select students for our Ballet Austin II Apprentice and Trainee programs. The three and six-week programs allow us to observe the students’ work ethics and styles, ensuring our ability to select dancers who be a great match with our company.

Over half of the current professional Company dancers have been through BAII – a program where dancers come and live year-round and work in-residence at our studios. Dancers may only stay in BAII for a maximum of two years, after which they may be invited to join our Company, or otherwise will move somewhere else to continue their career development.

Summer Intensive 2011 starts this Monday, and we cannot wait to meet everybody! Check back next week for a day-in-the-life feature of one of the participants!

For more information the program, please click here. See you next week everyone!

Who says the telephone party line is a thing of the past?

Ever since Alexander Graham Bell transmitted his voice into the back room of his science lab, the telephone has been a necessity of life. Back in the day, I remember my grandma sharing a phone line with many of the folk from her small town in eastern Washington; the telephone party line. Party lines were not always a party; people could listen in on calls (what we call eavesdropping), and they had to compete for phone time with the entire town. Telephone party lines as they once were known may be a thing of the past, but every spring I experience a different sort of telephone party line.

Beginning the first weekend in January Ballet Austin artistic staff travel all of the United States to audition students for Ballet Austin’s Summer Intensive.  They see hundreds of students from coast to coast. My favorite part of this process is when they come home. I am handed a white binder containing the names of everyone who auditioned. I am the bearer of good news, “you have been accepted…” That’s when the party begins! Who doesn’t love to give good news? I am no exception. This year I talked to about 500 students to let them know that they are invited to attend Ballet Austin’s Summer Intensive. When I share the news with them in a personal conversation over the phone, a simple call becomes a celebration; a party. 

From Dunwoody, Georgia to Kenosha, Wisconsin; from Port Moody, British Columbia to Miami, Florida; from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine; the telephone party line is almost always the same. Screams, tears, and cheers from excited students rejoicing over the news. Some respond in disbelief, some in relief, but all with appreciation and anticipation as they look towards summer. Countless hours of class, miles traveled to audition, passion, dedication, and commitment bring opportunity for summer.  For the student it’s all about dance. For me, these telephone parties are just the beginning of new relationships; an opportunity for Ballet Austin to reach across 50 states. Who says the telephone party line is a thing of the past?

Crossover Kids

Georgia Brinkman in Ballet Austin Academy class

I love watching our kids explore the many-faceted world of dance.

One of the greatest joys for me as Schools Director is to watch our students explore the world of dance. Many try multiple styles of dance, combining of the codified syllabus of Ballet Austin Academy with the many varied offerings of the Butler Community School. A great example is Georgia Brinkman who just finished performing with Ballet Austin in La Sylphide. She is an accomplished young ballet dancer, but when she takes down her bun and replaces her pointe shoes with character shoes, I see a budding musical theatre performer. Each experience compliments the other and ultimately creates a more versatile performer.

Georgia Brinkman performs in Magic in Manhattan

This spring we will launch the latest addition to Ballet Austin’s roster of kid’s camps, The Broadway Kids. The camp is for kids ages 5-10 and will introduce a whole new generation to the joy of musical theatre. With every new venture, I see the opportunity to ignite a spark in the minds of the participants. When my daughter Madison was five she participated in a Broadway musical theatre camp. In the years that have followed, she has taken more dance classes than I can count. She has studied voice and performed a multitude of monologues. Her love of musical theatre has turned her passion into an aspiration to perform professionally. This fall she leaves for college as a musical theatre major. The spark ignited 13 years ago has started her down a very exciting path. Once lit, the possibilities are limitless…

Video: Ballet Austin’s Butler Dance Education Center

When discussions began at Ballet Austin about relocating from our longtime home in an historic firehouse near the University of Texas campus, there were countless motivations at play. One of the paramount goals was to house all of the things we do – our Academy, our open Butler Community School classes, the professional Company, and the artistic and administrative staffs – under one roof. And when the leadership and Board of Ballet Austin located a former printing warehouse in the heart of a burgeoning entertainment district in downtown Austin, they knew that this building could not only meet that goal, but that it also had the potential bring dance to a much wider audience in Austin.

At that point, though, it was still just a warehouse with the lingering scent of printing ink. So we enlisted the help of the architect Marla Bommarito and the Bommarito Group to help transform an industrial space into one that could accommodate the many facets of Ballet Austin. Marla and her team laid out a plan that included cutting many windows into the exterior walls, as well as building studios with windows to the corridors in the building. This makes for an environment in which, no matter where you are in the building, you can see dance happening at all times of the day. On top of that, the plan included a 287-seat theater, offices, and wonderful public spaces. Out of this plan, and the generous donations of hundreds of Ballet Austin supporters, the Butler Dance Education Center was born.

As proud as we are of our building, we did not have a way to show the life of the building to those who haven’t had a chance to visit. And as much as we love the beautiful pictures we have, we wanted movement. So we enlisted the help of longtime friends and collaborators, photographer and director of photography Andrew Yates of Andrew Yates Photography and Beef and Pie productions along with editor Ariel Quintans of Beast Editorial, to produce a video that shows the life of the spaces that we are fortunate enough to inhabit every day. Although I am of course biased, I think the result is incredible. Check out the video above for a virtual tour of our downtown Austin home, the Butler Dance Education Center.