Boston Ballet's Altan Dugaraa in Jeffrey Cirio's Of Trial . Photo by Igor Burlak, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

In the Director's Chair: Summer Layoffs Give These Dancers a Chance to Hone Their Leadership Skills

This story originally appeared in the June/July 2015 issue of Pointe.

The off-season may mean rest and relaxation for some, but these pros see it as an opportunity to dive into their own projects. The results of their efforts—a multi-day festival, an international tour and an outdoor performance series—reflect the various ways that dancers challenge themselves in leadership roles outside of the studio. They're finding new avenues to explore their artistry, expand their skills and bring ballet to different communities.


Jill Marlow, Kansas City Ballet/General manager, Kansas City Dance Festival

Jill Marlow first became involved with the Kansas City Dance Festival when fellow company members Logan Pachciarz and recently retired Anthony Krutzkamp founded it in 2012. The festival allows dancers from multiple companies, such as Cincinnati Ballet and Nashville Ballet, to come together for two days of performances.

"Our mission is to integrate dancers from different companies with KCB dancers in order to promote work that isn't often performed in Kansas City," Marlow says. The three use their personal connections with dancers and choreographers to help determine the repertoire and who gets to perform.

As general manager, Marlow deals with fundraising, advertising and coordinating travel and contracts for the performers. It's a concerted team effort that Marlow admits was scary and difficult the first year. "You don't learn these things in a dance studio," she says. But she's since become a master at logistical organizing, with newly honed marketing skills and greater confidence approaching potential donors.

Marlow and her co-artistic directors have huge plans for the festival's future, including a lecture series and expanded educational outreach. "We'd also like the festival to be longer than two days since it's a great experience for everyone involved."

John Welker, Atlanta Ballet/Founder, Wabi Sabi

Wabi Sabi dancers performing outside Atlanta's High Museum of Art. Photo by Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet.

Atlanta Ballet dancer John Welker conceived of his Wabi Sabi program as a way to offer AB dancers a summer gig. The name comes from a Japanese concept about the beauty of the natural world, and to that end, all performances are held outside or in untraditional spaces. "The performers are right on top of the audience," says Welker. "They see their reactions and their energy."

The project has a clear set of goals, in addition to offering summer employment: Create new works by young choreographers and introduce dance and ballet to new audiences. Welker notes that keeping the program within the Atlanta Ballet family has been advantageous. "It works with our schedule and I know the dancers really well," he says.

Wabi Sabi's choreographers and dancers have access to AB's production and administrative departments, but Welker books the shows, helps to select the choreographers and casts the dancers. While time management was tough for him at first, he admits that the link with AB takes some of the operational pressure off.

Welker hopes to expand Wabi Sabi into full-time summer employment, but he wants to make sure the unique elements of the performances are kept intact. "If we tour, that usually means performing in venues. I want to find places that speak to the uniqueness of what we present."

Altan Dugaraa, Boston Ballet/Founder, Mongolian Ballet Development Foundation

Boston Ballet second soloist Altan Dugaraa wants nothing less than to change the face of ballet in his home country of Mongolia. He established the Mongolian Ballet Development Foundation in 2011, and every summer leads a series of tours to the country. "I want to inspire Mongolian dancers," he says. "There's a lot of work to be done there."

Dugaraa, who frequently performs on the international gala circuit, uses his extensive personal contacts to invite guest stars and small touring groups from around the world to perform for Mongolian audiences. So far, he's featured performers from Cincinnati Ballet, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the National Ballet of Canada and the Hamburg Ballet, as well as Boston Ballet.

This summer, his group will perform a new work by BB principal Jeffrey Cirio, with plans to tour Mongolia for two weeks, as well as perform in Japan. "Organizing a tour uses your brain in a different way," he says. "It's hard, but performing onstage makes me used to high-pressure situations."

Dugaraa's dedication to promoting ballet in Asia doesn't stop with touring and master classes. "I want to create a dance center," he says, which he hopes will act as a major regional resource.

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Organized by Diamante Ballet Dancewear's founder, Nashville Ballet 2 dancer Isichel Perez, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre teacher Elise Gillum, Dance for Change makes it easy to participate. Dancers need only to make a donation to the NAACP (in any amount) and email proof to diamante.ballet@gmail.com to be given online access to a full schedule of Zoom master classes taught by Black pros artists. Teachers include Ballet Memphis' George Sanders, Boston Ballet's Daniel Durrett, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Corey Bourbonniere, and more. "It's important that we amplify BIPOC voices during this time, and it's also important that we're conscious of where we're putting our dollars," says Bourbonniere. "Diamante is doing both with Dance for Change, and I'm honored to be in this talented group of melanated dancers."

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Sydney Dolan Takes Center Stage at Pennsylvania Ballet

This is Pointe's Summer 2020 cover story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

Just days before the world shuttered under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, and the curtain came down indefinitely on dance companies everywhere, Pennsylvania Ballet soloist Sydney Dolan debuted Gamzatti in La Bayadère with captivating ease. Her jumps soared, her technique was sound, and her cheeky smile paired with exquisite port de bras was beguiling. Though she didn't know the company would soon cancel the remainder of its season, her beautiful performance acted as a kind of send-off into the unknown.

Dolan's career could be described in one word: charmed. At just 19 years old, she's flown through the ranks at PAB, debuted a long list of roles, won a Princess Grace Award and been named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch." Yet it's her challenges that have shaped not only her training but her outlook, giving her a solid foundation for becoming one of Pennsylvania Ballet's rising stars.

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SAB Student Founds Dancewear Nonprofit to Help Others in Need

When School of American Ballet student Alexandra de Roos was 8 years old, she placed a collection box at her dance studio for others to donate their gently used dancewear. De Roos, now 17, has since turned that single collection box into a nonprofit organization that aims to minimize economic barriers in the performing arts with free dancewear and classes.

De Roos' organization, Peace Love Leotards, has collected about $2,600 of new and gently-used dancewear and $2,000 in grants and donations since formally launching in April. Dancers or studio owners can request items through a form on the organization's website.

"I knew that dancewear was really expensive and that a lot of students might not be able to do the thing that they love because it's cost-prohibitive," de Roos said. "I really wanted to create something to allow people to have the same experience of the love and joy of dance that I've been so grateful to have."

After SAB shifted its winter term online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, de Roos decided to expand Peace Love Leotards. She reached out to dance companies, resulting in partnerships with brands including Jo+Jax, Lone Reed Designs, RubiaWear and Wear Moi.

"To have them be like 'We want to help you with this and we love this idea and what you're doing is amazing,' that was really exciting to me," she said. "It was very heartwarming."

Jordan Reed, the creator of custom dancewear brand Lone Reed Designs, said she has donated seven items to Peace Love Leotards with plans to donate more consistently every quarter. Custom leotards often retail at higher prices, but Reed, a former Houston Ballet corps member, said the one-of-a-kind clothing offers an "extra bit of confidence, which can go more than a long way in a dancer's journey of training."

Paul Plesh, a sales director for Wear Moi in the United States and Canada, said the company donated 11 leotards after finding Peace Love Leotards' mission to be "commendable." Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh, the founder and creative director of Jo+Jax, said dancewear "can make a significant impact on a student's confidence, as well as how much they enjoy the process of learning dance."

De Roos has worked to expand Peace Love Leotards, Inc. rapidly in the past few months, but she first created the organization at eight years old after participating in a mentorship program with competitors in the Miss Florida and Miss Florida's Outstanding Teen pageants. The pageants, which are part of the Miss America Organization, require competitors to have personal platforms they advocate for as titleholders. As a competition dancer, de Roos instantly thought about the cost barriers to dance when wondering what her own future platform would be.

De Roos said she and her young classmates often outgrew nearly brand-new dancewear, so she approached her studio's owner about placing a collection box at the studio.

Barbara Mizell, who owns Barbara's Centré for Dance in Florida, said she was unsurprised by de Roos' proposal. De Roos always had "such a way of pushing herself and she never forgot those around her," Mizell said. As the box filled up, she distributed the dancewear to others at the studio, local schools with dance programs, and the local YMCA.

"When they could start to see that it was providing happiness for others, then it was almost like the kids couldn't wait to donate," Mizell said.

Nearly a decade after the Miss Florida organization inspired her to launch Peace Love Leotards, de Roos is now a titleholder herself, as Miss Gainesville's Outstanding Teen 2020. Her new mission for Peace Love Leotards is applying for grants, and she has already received a $1,000 grant from the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund that will be used to fund a Title 1 school class.

"The whole organization behind Peace Love Leotards is the dancers," de Roos said. "Being able to help the dancers that are in need and being able to think about the dancewear that they're going to be receiving or have received has been truly amazing."

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