Tag Archives: Dance

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!

Mother Ginger voting ends Nov 30

Just 10 days remain in our 2012 Mother Ginger contest. As we draw closer to announcing a winner, we hope you’ll enjoy these backstage moments from a few of last year’s Mother Gingers.

To see the 2012 nominees and vote, visit www.balletaustin.org/motherginger/.

Inside a Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance bag

With our Golden Anniversary production of The Nutcracker opening in a mere few weeks, I thought you might like a peek inside a Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance bag.

ballet-austin-the-nutcracker

Twelve-year Company Member Aara Krumpe really likes “the familiar.” Whether it’s wearing warm-ups she’s owned for years (pictured above), standing at “her” spot at the barre, or eating oatmeal for lunch every day, tradition is the name of her game.

How very fitting for a Sugar Plum Fairy…

ballet-austin-the-nutcracker

Since Aara was 15, she’s warmed up every day at the barre in a pair of old, soft pointe shoes. As her rehearsal and performance pointe shoes “die”, she cuts off the laces and saves them for barre work. In her words, ‘they just feel better than wearing ballet slippers!’

Something else Aara can’t live without is her yoga block, which she uses to do splits, stretches and to lay flat. In another note on tradition, Frank Shott – with whom Aara will dance for the 7th year and her barre mate since 2001 – constantly steals the block.

ballet-austin-the-nutcracker

Aara brings her ballet bag, originally a diaper bag given to her by Trainees, to and from work each day and then keeps a smaller separate bag in the studio for rehearsal. Her must-have dance bag essentials? A surprisingly small number of things:

  1. Cheap White Rain hairspray (she is the “wispy tamer”)
  2. A tupperware of oatmeal for lunch each day – “I realized I’m not a protein person. I need carbs. Oatmeal gives me enough energy and stays with me all day.”
  3. Emergen-C, just in case
  4. At least one unsewn pair of shoes and her sewing bag
  5. Thera-band for stretching and strengthening

ballet-austin-the-nutcracker

With The Nutcracker rapidly approaching, I asked how long a pair of pointe shoes – which take her 30 or 40 minutes to prepare – will last. Her answer? “Two run-throughs.”

Last but not least, I asked Aara if she has any secret tricks or tips. She had two suggestions for me:

  1. Elasticized pointe shoe ribbons (available at Discount Dance Supply), which are more comfortable over her Achilles tendon
  2. Perry’s Pork Chop Fridays. See you there?

 

You can see Aara on stage this holiday season dancing as Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. For tickets, click here.

From Angel to Sugar Plum Fairy

From the children who perform as Angels to the professionals who dance the principal role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, The Nutcracker is as much a part of ballet as tendus and pliés.

This year, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating the Golden Anniversary Production of Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker. Tickets here.

Dancer Preview: Taking “Light” to Miami

Today, Ballet Austin heads to Miami to perform Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project. See what’s going through Company Dancer Anne Marie Melendez‘s head as she prepares.

There has been a buzz of excitement around the Ballet Austin studios over the past couple of weeks. There is something about touring that charges us dancers up like few other things. The idea of traveling somewhere, all expenses paid, sounds glamorous at first glance. But going on tour can definitely bring its own set of challenges, obstacles, and concerns especially when it involves a ballet such as Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project.

Having performed Light as recently as March certainly aided in putting the ballet back together rather swiftly. Still, we took it section by section, reviewing the mechanics of the movement as well as the musicality. These elements are so important when presenting a ballet like Light because those pieces have to be so clear and must lay the foundation for the narrative and the emotional element that comes with performing the ballet.

In addition to rehearsing Light, we have also been busy revisiting The Nutcracker, as it will be fast on our heels once we return from Miami. The two ballets couldn’t be more different from each other as I literally spent a few days going from being the Snow Queen in a tutu, to running around barefoot and being dragged across the floor by my arms. It was quite confusing for my body – my calves and ankles would be tight and sore from the classical work, and my back and neck would be stiff from the more modern movement. Let’s just say there were quite a few hot baths, ice buckets, yoga sessions, etc…

As we prepare to leave for Miami on Thursday, I have a list of logistical concerns. What do I pack? In addition to what I would normally pack for any other trip like clothing and toiletries, I also need to bring an entire list of things that are dance and performance related. Outside of the obvious leotards and tights, I need my performance shoes, extra shoes for my understudy duties (which of course I won’t need – *knock on wood* – but they must be packed!), stage makeup, dance bag and all associated peripheral devices like my calf roller. And yes, yoga mat, you WILL fit in my suitcase. I have a list, and I’m checking it twice!

My other concern is food. Yes, clearly there is food in Miami, great food no doubt, but this is not a vacation. Just as most sports athletes have their eating, sleeping, and training routines leading up to events, dancers are quite similar. I normally take into consideration what I eat, but I am never pickier than I am during performance week. It’s not so much of a superstition as it is a need to efficiently fuel my body so that it can function as best it can when the time comes. Performance week is not the time to try something new, so my concern, being out of my element and out of my own kitchen, is how to maintain my routine. So far I’ve decided to bring Clif Bars, instant oatmeal, and head to the market once we get to Miami to stock up on some bananas and other easy to grab snacks.

All of these logistics are not unlike the mechanics of the choreography – they are the foundation of what we are ultimately trying to present. Overall, I am both nervous and excited. I think a certain amount of nerves is healthy, it means you care about the outcome of something. I’m excited to share Light and Ballet Austin with a new community, and I’m curious how both the company and the work will be received.

This evening, Paul, Ashley, and I just finished watching the documentary “The Last Days.” I think continuing our education is an important way to prepare before we leave on Thursday, as it continually informs the work we are doing in the studio and on stage, and most importantly, it reminds us of how vital it is to keep telling this story.

 

In Miami? You can see Anne perform Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project on stage this Saturday and Sunday. Tickets here.

“Light” in Miami

This weekend, Nov 3-4, we are presenting Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project at the Arsht Center in Miami.

The past few weeks, our Company Dancers have alternated between rehearsing the siren-filled Light and joyous Nutcracker. If you, friends or family are in Miami, you will not want to miss this:

“Art can only start a conversation; people solve problems. But hopefully art can be a catalyst to get people thinking about things in a way they don’t ordinarily.” – Stephen Mills in this Associated Press article.

Below, watch our two :30 video promos, “From the Darkness” and “Into the Light”:

For tickets and information, please visit the Arsht Center‘s website.