Ballet Training

Ballet is a global art form, with top dancers hailing from around the world. Wherever you go, a plié is a plié, regardless of the language spoken. Still, it's not everyday that you hear about a classical ballet dancer from India.

Amir Shah, a 15 year old from a low-income neighborhood in Mumbai, hopes to change that. According to a GoFundMe page created by the teen's teacher, he's only been studying ballet for two years. Still, the ambitious dancer has been granted something countless students could only dream of: admittance into American Ballet Theatre's prestigious Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

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Ethan Stiefel on the set of Flesh and Bone. Photo by Myles Aronowitz, courtesy Starz.

Earlier this year, former American Ballet Theatre principal Cynthia Harvey became the new artistic director of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. Now, she's made her first faculty appointments. The faculty for the 2016-17 school year (Harvey's first season in her new role) was announced yesterday, and the lineup is pretty stellar. Here are a few of the highlights:

Ethan Stiefel, the former ABT principal, Center Stage star and Flesh and Bone choreographer, will join the faculty as a principal guest instructor, working with the pre-professional division students.

—Robert LaFosse, a former ABT and New York City Ballet principal, will also teach in the pre-professional division.

—Former Hamburg Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancer Fabrice Herrault is also joining the faculty. Now a world-renowned teacher, he's worked with dancers like Aran Bell and The Royal Ballet's Beatriz Stix-Brunell.

—A former dancer with Paris Opéra Ballet, Karin Averty has become a well-known New York City-based teacher, and now joins the JKO School's faculty.

This year's students are a lucky bunch. The JKO School is known for producing some of ABT's most exciting rising dancers—artists like Calvin Royal III, Skylar Brandt and our June/July cover star, Cassandra Trenary. And with such a strong group of teachers leading the way, who knows what exciting things we might expect from a new crop of students.

Alison Stroming’s teachers invariably describe her as “modest”—while recounting accomplishments that give her every reason to have an ego. Shrinking violets aren’t cast, as Stroming was last April, as one of the three shades in the “Kingdom of the Shades” excerpt from La Bayadère in JKO’s spring performance. The choreography demands such a command of line, phrasing, technique and musicality that the main company regularly assigns soloists to these roles. If her variation presented any difficulty, 16-year-old Stroming concealed it like a pro, dancing with a lyrical ease that seemed blissfully free of effort.

 

Born in Recife, Brazil, Stroming was adopted when she was eight months old by a family in New Jersey, and grew up with two brothers and two sisters who all  took classes in jazz, tap, modern and ballet. “I started dance when I was 2,” she says. “I still study jazz with my brother Gil”—creator and choreographer of “Break the Floor” and “Jump Dance Conventions”—“because I like to have options. I enjoy photo shoots and runway modeling, too.”

 

Stroming flourishes under the hands-on approach the school stresses. Franco De Vita, JKO principal, explains, “We limit our enrollment to 69 so students receive individual attention.” The present faculty  includes such former ABT ballerinas as Susan Jaffe, Martine van Hamel and Lupe Serrano. “We insist that all students focus on doing what the teacher wants and on arriving on time,” De Vita continues. “We have a strict dress code as well.”

 

Faculty member Raymond Lukens, who co-staged the Bayadère excerpt, has fond memories of working with Stroming: “I was choreographing an industrial for Payless Shoes”—the manufacturer has an endorsement agreement with ABT—“and Alison was observing the process to gain experience. At the last moment, I needed a replacement, and it turned out she knew the part perfectly, despite having never danced it in rehearsal. If she is your cover, you can relax.”

 

Stroming knows she still has a lot to work on. “Pirouettes present no problem,” she says. “But now I’m
concentrating on épaulement and relaxing my shoulders.” Relaxation of any kind is a luxury during the week. She attends the Professional Performing Arts School from 8:15 am to 1:15 pm, then subways downtown to JKO for two hours of technique beginning at 2:30 pm. Classes in pas de deux, modern, character or variations may follow, and a rehearsal is often included. 

 

Has she time for a personal life? “My mom allows sleepovers,” she says. “I’ve been reading the Twilight series.”  Asked if she has a boyfriend, she says, “I did,” with an unblinking eye contact that says, “The subject is closed.”  A prima ballerina could not have done it better.   

 

American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline? Kennedy Onassis School
Founded: 2004
Enrollment: 69 students. Students range from 9 to 18. A new children’s division was added this year for ages 5 to 12. Hopefuls can audition in person from September through May. Videos can be sent at any time to: American Ballet Theatre, Attention: Rebecca Schwartz, 890 Broadway, Floor 3, New York, NY 10003.
Principal: Franco De Vita
Faculty: Olga Dvorovenko, Susan Jaffe, Martine Van Hamel, Jessica Lang, Raymond Lukens, Clarice Marshall and Lupe Serrano.
Classes: technique, pointe, pas de deux, modern, character, variations, Pilates and a wellness lecture series which covers nutrition, stress management and resumé writing. 
Alumni: ABT, Pennsylvania Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Houston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company and BalletMet Columbus, among others
Website: www.abt.org/education/jko_school.asp

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