Sanjay Saverimuttu with Tiffany Bovard in rehearsal for Alun Jones' The Sleeping Beauty. Courtesy Louisville Ballet.

How College Helped Louisville Ballet's Sanjay Saverimuttu Find His Way Back to Dance

When Sanjay Saverimuttu graduated from college, he had no idea that a professional ballet career lay in store. After training on a pre-professional ballet track throughout high school, Saverimuttu earned a degree in biology from Stanford University. But college only reignited the 29-year-old Louisville Ballet dancer's love of the art form.


The son of two Sri Lankan college professors, Saverimuttu grew up in Florida and trained at Boca Ballet Theatre. In high school, he found his attention split between ballet and academics, and began feeling burned out by dance. "When I went to summer programs I realized my life was different than a lot of people there," he says. "They had time to focus just on dance, and I was getting pulled in a lot of directions. I realized I needed a bit of breathing room."

Louisville Ballet company members in And Don't Talk About It choreographed by Sanjay Saverimuttu. Courtesy Louisville Ballet.

Though the prospect of a ballet career still beckoned, Saverimuttu applied to college. "I kept in the back of my mind that I could go down either path, but once I started getting into good schools I realized I should take this opportunity," he says. Saverimuttu made sure the universities he applied to had access to dance, though he expected it to take a back seat to his academic life.

But Saverimuttu's time at Stanford came with its own challenges. He started to experience the same burnout that he felt in high school, this time, from his academics. "In my biology classes there were a lot of very intense people who would do anything to get the highest grade possible," he says. "Dance became my escape from that pressure." Saverimuttu registered for the few technique classes offered at Stanford, and he joined a student group, Cardinal Ballet Company. For the first time, he was dancing for himself and not to please his teachers. "I got to take charge of my passion for dance and do it on my own terms," he says. "It gave me the opportunity to fall back in love with ballet."

Since Stanford didn't offer many ballet classes, he supplemented his training with contemporary, modern and improvisation. "It challenged me to think outside of the box and develop my artistry," he says. Saverimuttu also developed a deep interest in choreography, and he began creating work on his peers. By his senior year, he was the artistic director of his student company.

Saverimuttu in rehearsal. Courtesy Louisville Ballet.

A semester spent in South Africa further solidified Saverimuttu's commitment to dance. He volunteered for Dance for All, an organization dedicated to providing dance education to students in Cape Town, and had the chance to teach. "It made me want to somehow still be in this world, whether as a dancer, teacher or administrator," he says.

By the time he was nearing graduation, Saverimuttu had decided not to pursue biology as a profession. He moved back to Florida, where a former teacher connected him with Louisville Ballet. Much to his surprise, he was offered a traineeship. Though he'd planned on returning to the Bay Area to audition for contemporary companies, Saverimuttu recognized that a trainee program could give him the chance to refine his technique. He jumped at the opportunity.

Saverimuttu entered the main company in 2012. At Louisville Ballet, he favors contemporary work, especially pieces by principal choreographer Adam Hougland. And choreography continues to play a large role in his life. "It's definitely the next path I want to take," he says. His background in conservation biology occasionally makes its way into his work, as does his identity as a queer Sri Lankan American; his 2017 Sunrise for Louisville Ballet is based on his parents' immigration story. This fall he'll teach and choreograph at the University of Kentucky, and he's a member of a Louisville-based artist collective called the Hadley Creative.

Saverimuttu believes that the holistic approach to dance that he gained in college is crucial to his career's longevity, though he recognizes that returning to ballet after earning a degree is easier for men than women. Saverimuttu urges young dancers thinking about college to open up their idea of what a career in dance can be. "That's what college is for," he says. "To learn to challenge the way you think."

#sanjbookclub

On his blog and Instagram page, Saverimuttu shares what he's been reading. Here are two of his top recommendations from the past year.

For the dance lover: Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon

For the science lover: Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, by Carl Safina

Latest Posts


Eighteen-year-old Sarah Patterson (foreground), with her classmates at New Ballet School. She's decided to stay home this summer to take advantage of outdoor, in-person classes. Courtesy New Ballet School.

Why Planning Summer Study This Year Is More Complicated Than Ever

When it comes to navigating summer intensives, 2021 may be more complicated for ballet students than last year. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic's spring spike in 2020, summer programs went all-virtual or had very limited capacity. This year is more of a mixed bag, with regulations and restrictions varying widely across state and county lines and changing week by week.

Between vaccines and variants, can students aim for a full calendar of intensive training at local and national summer programs?

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Chris Hardy, Courtesy LINES

Check Out These 2021 Summer Intensives Especially for Adults

After a year of shuttered studios, virtual-only classes, and waving to ballet buddies over Zoom, summer intensives are back. For adult students, packing up for a few days of intensive training might seem like a pipe dream, as many of us spent the last year trying to fit in ballet classes while juggling work and, for those of us with kids, remote learning. With the country opening up again, let's start planning (safely!) for workshops that allow us to jump into technique, conditioning and, of course, high-elbowing some new friends.

For in-person intensives, please check the studio's website for detailed health and safety guidelines, including policies on masks, cleaning/hygiene, social distancing, and the policy on having to cancel in-person programs due to COVID-19 restrictions.

CALIFORNIA

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Adult Dance Intensive (virtual only, via Zoom)

May 28–31, San Francisco

Immerse yourself in the celebrated home of Alonzo King, the artistic visionary who created LINES 39 years ago. Now in its second year as a virtual offering, this four-day workshop includes ballet, yoga, Pilates, choreography and contemporary. Students also have the option to drop in to class if they can't commit to all four days.

KENTUCKY

Lexington Ballet Adult Ballet Intensive

July 12–16, Lexington

Why should thoroughbreds have all the fun of training in the horse capital of the world? Reach new heights in your training at Lexington Ballet's Adult Ballet Intensive. Join school directors Luis and Nancy Dominguez and principal instructor Ayoko Lloyd for a five-day workshop that includes conditioning, Pilates, technique and repertoire. All classes are held in the evenings, and the program welcomes beginning through advanced students.

A group of eight smiling adult ballet students\u2014seven women and one man in the middle\u2014pose in a line and stand on their right leg in tendu crois\u00e9 devant.

A group of dancers pose at a past Lexington Ballet Adult Dance Intensive.

Ayoko Lloyd, Courtesy Lexington Ballet

Louisville Ballet Adult Summer Intensive

May 31–June 4, Louisville

Polish off a glass of sweet tea (or two), and then work up a sweet sweat at Louisville Ballet's Adult Summer Intensive. Geared towards beginning through advanced levels, students ages 18+ can take part in half- or full days of training. Classes offered include technique, pointe and jump strengthening, modern, Pilates and yoga. Students will also perform in a livestreamed performance on the final day.

MASSACHUSETTS

Brookline Ballet School Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

June 23–27, Brookline

The Red Sox and New England Patriots may get a bulk of the glory in Beantown, but the city is also a mecca for ballet. At Brookline Ballet School's Adult Summer Ballet Intensive, students (beginner or intermediate level) will spend three weeknights and two weekend mornings in technique and repertoire classes, wrapping up with an informal performance on Sunday afternoon.

NEW YORK

Kat Wildish Presents (virtual, via Zoom)

June 14–25 and July 12–23

Join master ballet teacher Kat Wildish in a virtual intensive that aims to take your training to the next level. Each day, in one-hour classes, Kat will lead students of all levels from basic to advanced in various ballet exercises. The group will be limited to 20 dancers, so each person will get personal attention.

A group of older adult ballet students in leotards, tights or leggings, stand in two lines with their left foot in B+ position and holding hands, as if rehearsing a ballet.

Kat Wildish (far left) working with adult students at Peridance Capezio Center

Matthew Venanzi, Courtesy Kat Wildish

OHIO

artÉmotion Adult Ballet Summer Workshop

June 14–19, Cleveland

Head to the Buckeye State for a week of training under the tutelage of Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona and principal Rex Tilton. In this Adult Ballet Summer Workshop, beginner and intermediate/advanced students will fine-tune their skills in two classes every morning: a 90-minute technique class followed by a one-hour class in one of the following disciplines: pointe/pre-pointe, acting, men's and women's variations, conditioning.

PENNSYLVANIA

Amy Novinski

May 24–28 and June 28–July 2, Philadelphia

Those interested in the Vaganova technique may want to check out Amy Novinski's Adult Workshops. For the five-day May workshop, newbie dancers can look forward to classes devoted to ballet, jazz and yoga. For those more advanced, the June workshop offers more rigorous technique, contemporary ballet, pre-pointe/beginner pointe and jazz.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Ballet Academy of Charleston Adult Summer Intensive

July 26–30 and August 2–6, Charleston

Embrace the low-country charm in historic Charleston, where a weeklong Adult Summer Intensive at the Ballet Academy of Charleston invites beginning through advanced students to take classes in technique, stretching/Pilates/yoga, pre-pointe or pointe (for advanced students), variations, jazz, modern, contemporary and choreography. You may choose the half-day or full-day program.

TEXAS

Houston Ballet Adult Intensive

June 1–5, Houston

For intermediate/advanced students with at least three years of ballet training, Houston Ballet's Adult Intensive might be the perfect place to hone your skills. The school has two-, three- or five-day options, and includes ballet technique, variations, yoga and Zumba.

UTAH

May 31–June 5, Salt Lake City

Ballet West welcomes students of all levels to artÉmotion's one-week Adult Ballet Summer Intensive. Classes include ballet, contemporary, pointe, jazz, modern, acting, and men and women's variations. Available in full-day or half-day options, those dancing only in the morning will take two 90-minute technique classes. The full-day experience offers the opportunity to be choreographed on for an in-studio performance on Saturday, June 5. All students will also have a professional dance photo shoot with Logan Sorenson.

A group of four men in dance practicewear face the right corner of the room and raise their arm as if beckoning someone. Three of the men stand in parallel, which the man in the middle sits in a wheelchair.

A men's class at artÉmotion Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

Logan Sorenson, Courtesy artÉmotion

INTERNATIONAL

The August Ballet Retreat in Leeds

August 28–30, Leeds, UK

The three-day August Ballet Retreat in Leeds offers classes for students of all abilities. The mornings are devoted to technique, and in the afternoon, students will focus on repertoire. In the past, The Ballet Retreat has taught solos from Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet and Giselle. One detail is still tentative: If the retreat is unable to take place in person due to the pandemic, it will be offered virtually over Zoom.

Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp

July 2–10, Morlaix, France

The Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp is in the heart of France's Brittany region. In this full-day intensive, intermediate through advanced-level students will be led by an international faculty. Dancers can look forward to morning ballet classes and rehearsals in the afternoon. The week of training wraps up with a performance of Bournonville's Napoli at a nearby theater. Please contact the school for information about room and board.

Still shot by cinematographer Benjamin Tarquin, Courtesy Post:ballet

10 Online Ballet Performances to Catch in April

Spring is in full bloom with another round of exciting digital dance offerings. This month, companies across the country are releasing world premieres, season finales, artistic collaborations and more. We've rounded up some highlights below.

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