Ballet Careers

The Ballet Chicago Studio Company Provides Hands-On Balanchine Training With a Taste of Professional Life

Ballet Chicago Studio Company in Balanchine's Square Dance. Ron McKinney Photography, Courtesy Ballet Chicago.

"You'll find people say that we're very demanding, but we're not mean," says Daniel Duell, co-founder of the Ballet Chicago Studio Company, a rigorous, Balanchine-based pre-professional training program located in the heart of downtown Chicago. Duell originally formed Ballet Chicago as a professional company, which disbanded after 11 seasons in 1998. Today, the organization is wholly dedicated to training and is one of the only pre-professional programs in the country entrusted with staging George Balanchine's ballets.

In addition to running the Ballet Chicago Studio Company (BCSC) and its affiliated school, former New York City Ballet principal Duell and his wife, Patricia Blair, who danced with Eglevsky Ballet, are répétiteurs for The George Balanchine Trust. The couple's investment in Balanchine's technique and repertoire has afforded Ballet Chicago a unique relationship with the Trust, giving BCSC dancers the opportunity to perform classic ballets like Concerto Barocco, "Rubies," Tarantella and Valse-Fantaisie.


Artistic director Daniel Duell. Ron McKinney Photography, Courtesy Ballet Chicago.

"It's become our life's work to do this. It keeps us close to our artistic roots," says Duell, who has created a successful pipeline to the professional world. He cites about 60 dancers throughout the program's 25-year history who have signed with ballet companies, including contracts with New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet.

BCSC is a tuition-based program, but replicates a professional dance company in nearly every other sense. Duell and Blair hold an annual nationwide tour auditioning dancers for its summer intensives and year-round programs. Dancers who place into Level 6 or 7 during this process, ranging from approximately ages 12 to 23, are considered part of the Studio Company. (Those who are only accepted for the summer intensive may be reconsidered for the school-year programs at the end of the summer.) While there is no official audition process for performances, Studio Company members are considered for roles based on their performance in class.

BCSC dancers in Balanchine's "Serenade." Ron McKinney Photography, Courtesy Ballet Chicago.

BCSC dancers spend up to 30 hours a week in class and rehearsals, mostly during after-school hours and weekends. About one third of the group completes high school online and rehearses during the day as needed. The others squeeze in homework during free periods at school and late at night. The company presents three seasons a year, including 11 Nutcracker performances and a spring rep program featuring works by Balanchine and others, like Duell and resident choreographer Ted Seymour. While additional summer courses and advanced repertoire intensives are offered at Ballet Chicago each year (and attract dancers from across the globe), BCSC members are not discouraged from attending summer intensives held by professional companies.

Dana Coons, now a freshman pursuing pre-med at Northwestern University, is a longtime Ballet Chicago student who continues to train there. In addition to her demanding dance schedule, she took several difficult AP classes while attending a competitive Chicago high school. "A key quote from Ms. Blair is 'blood and guts,' " says Coons. "You've got to go for it. They push us to our maximums." This philosophy is applied to life as well as dance. "It's a tremendous commitment for not only the dancer, but the family," says Duell. "We chose to do it this way because when young people rise to challenges they don't necessarily think they can do, it creates a sense of belief in themselves."

BCSC members in rehearsal. Ron McKinney Photography, Courtesy Ballet Chicago.

BCSC alumni Jordan Nelson agrees. He spent more than two years training intensely at Ballet Chicago before launching his career with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, and he's also danced with Madison Ballet and Festival Ballet Providence and as a freelancer in Chicago. Reflecting on Duell and Blair's tough love, he says: "They always want you to improve. They want to push you past what you believe you are capable of. It's a grueling environment, but it shows you what the professional world is like."

Ballet Chicago Studio Company At a Glance

  • Number of dancers: 43 for the 2017–18 season
  • Age range: 12–23
  • Annual tuition: $7,300 for Level 7, $6,500 for Level 6, plus $75 registration fee. All subject to change as of September 2018. Merit and need-based scholarships available.
  • Performances per year: 20
  • Website: balletchicago.org

Audition Advice

The nationwide audition tour for Ballet Chicago's summer intensives and year-round programs begins in January. Video auditions are also accepted. Duell looks for ballet proportions, though potential and desire are as important as body type.

Show Comments ()
Your Training
Dara Oda in Ben Stevenson's Alice in Wonderland with Texas Ballet Theater. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Texas Ballet Theater

These three current professionals opened up about opting for a degree first, how it impacted their careers and their favorite college memories.

Dara Oda, Texas Ballet Theater Dancer

Photo by Max Caro, Courtesy of Texas Ballet Theater

Belhaven University, BFA in dance (ballet emphasis), 2014

Growing up, Dara Oda knew she wanted to dance professionally, but she didn't feel ready to audition at the end of high school. "It was really easy to think of college as a fallback," she says. But her perception soon changed. "When I went to Belhaven and saw the level of training I would be getting, that encouraged me to pursue my dream but also be proactive and get my degree at the same time."

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Why your dance floor is slippery and how to fix it.

The biggest problem dancers have with floors is that they are too slippery. Slippery is unstable and dangerous, a formula for disaster. But did your floor start out slippery or did it get that way over time? Just one of many questions that need to be answered before we can fix the problem
Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Houston Ballet demi-soloist Alyssa Springer and principal Chun Wai Chan in rehearsal at Jacob's Pillow. Via YouTube.

Houston Ballet is at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival this week—and company soloist Harper Watters is taking us behind the scenes as the company settles in at this historic landmark. Catch HB in action on their first day of class and rehearsal, and stay tuned for more vlogs from Watters throughout the week!

Ballet Stars
Kajiya as Gamzatti in Stanton Welch's La Bayadere. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Your director Stanton Welch claims that you can hover in midair.
Really? I am not sure that I can do that. I do know that I repeat things over and over because I need to find my own way with each step, and maybe the floating quality happens in there somewhere. I just do it.

If you had to pick one signature role which would it be?
Just one? I can't. I have two. One is Giselle, because she's a human and not a creature, and people can relate to love and heartbreak. Stanton's Madame Butterfly is also important to me, because I met him when I was 17 and had heard that he thought I would be great in the role. I finally danced it in 2016 and it's a spectacular part.

Kajiya as Giselle in Stanton Welch's "Giselle." Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Pacific Northwest Ballet School Professional Division students take Eva Stone's modern dance class. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB.

"Who here is terrified of choreographing?"

It was a question posed by Pacific Northwest Ballet School teacher Eva Stone five weeks ago, sitting on the floor among her class of female summer intensive students. "Almost all of them raised their hand, but I said, 'Don't worry, I got you,'" says Stone. "'I'm going to give you tools and skills and you're going to build on them.' It's amazing how their perspective changed in five weeks."

Stone's choreography class, introduced into the summer program last year, served as a pilot for a new initiative at PNB School beginning this September. New Voices: Choreography and Process for Young Women in Dance is a year-round class dedicated to educating and encouraging 14 to 16-year-old female students in the art of dancemaking. Made possible through funding from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, the 38-week course was created to help address the lack of women choreographers working in major classical ballet companies.

PNB School is one of several academies offering choreographic opportunities to its students. Houston Ballet Academy and the Chautauqua Institution, for example, hold workshops during their summer intensives, while Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Ballet Academy East recently joined forces to create a choreographic exchange program. And School of American Ballet offers numerous choreographic projects for its dancers, including one for women. What makes PNB's initiative unique is its year-long scope and structured focus on composition.

Keep reading... Show less
News
The company is searching for an artistic director who is "humane"—and who might not be a choreographer. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Ever since Peter Martins retired from New York City Ballet this January amid an investigation into sexual harassment and abuse allegations, we've been speculating about who might take his place—and how the role of ballet master in chief might be transformed.

Until now, we've only known a bit about what the search for a new leader looks like. But yesterday, The New York Times reported that the company has released a job description for the position. Though the full posting isn't available to the public, here's what we're able to discern about the new leader and what this means for the future of NYCB:

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Photo by JoelValve/Unsplash

Even though it's still summer, audition season will be here before you know it. The goal is to look, dance and feel your best when auditions roll around. You're likely focused on improving as a dancer technically and artistically, but aesthetics are (unfortunately) something companies will consider as well. To look your best, healthfully and mindfully crafted body goals will make a world of difference.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Lia Cirio and John Lam perform Tar and Feathers with Boston Ballet. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

A few years ago, Boston Ballet principal Lia Cirio was tasked with performing a contemporary program one week and dancing in The Sleeping Beauty the next. "We were doing Jiˇrí Kylián's Tar and Feathers, which had me sliding around in socks," says Cirio. "The day after the premiere, I had to run my Aurora variation. I needed my technique to be stable, for both my brain and body."

Being in a ballet company doesn't mean you will always be dancing entire evenings, let alone rehearsal days, in pointe shoes. With today's preference for more eclectic mixed bills, a dancer might need to shift from pointe shoes to socks, slippers or even heels. Yet moving between footwear can be tricky—you can easily get injured if you are not prepared for the differences in sensation and shifts in balance. But when you're frequently asked to switch footwear, what's your body, much less your feet, to do?

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Genée IBC gold medalist Monet Hewitt of New Zealand. Photo by Keith Sin, Courtesy Royal Academy of Dance.

If you missed the Genée International Ballet Competition's live-streamed finals this weekend, we've got you covered. Last night, 17-year-old Joshua Green of Australia and 16-year-old Monet Hewitt of New Zealand were named this year's gold medalists in the men's and women's category, out of 14 finalists. Caitlin Garlick (Australia) and Basil James (United Kingdom) won silver medals, while Enoka Sato (Japan) and Jordan Yeuk Hay Chan (Hong Kong) took home bronze. Chan also won the Margot Fonteyn Audience Choice Award, and Green was given the Choreographic Award for Dancer's Own Variation.

Gold medalist Joshua Green. Photo by Keith Sin, Courtesy RAD.

This year's IBC, which took place in Hong Kong, brought together 51 dancers between 15–19 years old and representing 13 nationalities (including three Americans). The candidates, all of whom are trained in the Royal Academy of Dancing syllabus, spent five days receiving coaching from esteemed faculty on a classical variation as well as a solo choreographed by themselves, a teacher or a peer. The dancers also had to learn and perform a new solo by specially commissioned choreographer Carlo AC Pacis.

Catch the winning dancers as they each perform Pacis' work below, and stay tuned—next year's Genée IBC takes place in Toronto.

News
Boston Ballet is bringing Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free to the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, MA. Photo by Gene Shiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.


Houston Ballet Brings a World Premiere to Jacob's Pillow

August 15-18, for the first time in almost four decades, Houston Ballet is appearing at Jacob's Pillow, the famous summer dance festival in Becket, MA. Headlining the program is Just, a world premiere commissioned by the Pillow and choreographed by HB artistic director Stanton Welch, set to music by contemporary composer David Lang. Also from Welch are Clear, an abstract piece for seven men and seven women, and excerpts from Sons de L'ame, with music by Chopin. The company will also perform In Dreams, choreographed by former Pillow choreographic associate Trey McIntyre.

Keep reading... Show less
Editors' List: The Goods
Gaynor Minden's celebrating 25 years in the best way possible: With a sale! (via dancer.com)

Time for a quick pop quiz: What does "BTS" stand for?

A. Back To the Studio

B. Behind The Scenes

C. Back To School

D. Back To Shopping

Answer: All of the above! We've searched far and wide to round up a quartet of blockbusting BTS online sales that you won't want to miss. Ready, set, stock up on everything you'll need for the 2018–2019 year of dance.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Viral Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!