You might be used to throwing on a leotard, tights and warm-ups each day, but now it's summer, and your schedule is different. Whether you're trying to dress to impress for a day off at your intensive or you're packing for a much-needed vacation during your company's summer break, the idea of wearing "real clothes" can leave you feeling paralyzed. Never fear! We've pulled some of our favorite dancers' street styles from past issues of Pointe to give you the summer style inspiration that you're looking for.
In 2012, Keenan Kampa made history as the first American to join Russia's Mariinsky Ballet. While technically a coryphée, she danced both soloist and principal roles. But in 2014, the Vaganova Academy graduate made a bold move—she quit the company to pursue an acting career. Her new movie, High Strung, opens in theaters April 8. Kampa stars as Ruby, an aspiring ballerina who, along with a talented violinist and hip-hop crew, enters a prestigious scholarship competition. She spoke with Pointe about making the film, leaving the Mariinsky and her new life in L.A.
How did you come to star in High Strung?
A long time ago, we heard about a new dance movie in the works starring former Mariinsky Ballet dancer (and style icon) Keenan Kampa. But it was unclear when we’d get to see Kampa make her acting debut. Now we can happily confirm that High Strung will hit U.S. theaters on April 8.
The story sounds like a blend of Step Up, Center Stage and pretty much every other guilty pleasure dance movie you love (come on, admit it). I’m talking drama, romance and high-impact dance scenes. Kampa plays Ruby, a ballet dancer who moves from the Midwest with a scholarship to attend a demanding New York performing arts school. There, she meets Johnnie, an aspiring musician from Britain who's earning money by playing his violin on subway platforms. Despite their different backgrounds, the two are brought together by their shared artistic ambitions when they join forces with a hip-hop crew for a competition that could help both of them reach their goals.
The best part? The cast is full of talented dancers, including Kampa, former Scottish Ballet dancer Sonoya Mizuno and hip-hoppers Ian Eastwood and Comfort Fedoke. With an all-star group like this, we have high hopes that the movie will prove to be worth the wait—even if it's just for the dance scenes. Check out the trailer below.
Keenan Kampa counts Alexa Chung and Iris Apfel among her fashion inspirations, but her favorite style icon is someone she considers one of her best friends. “Not to be weird," she says, “but I really loved my grandfather's style. He was this badass marine nuclear physicist, but then also this old Irish man." His oversized button-ups in plaid or denim (“he always liked a front pocket," she adds) have become a staple of her wardrobe. She favors comfortable, flattering pieces that work with her active lifestyle—you'll often find her riding her bike—in neutral tones like black, white or head-to-toe denim. “If I'm going to do a color, I commit to it and do it all," she says. In the studio, loose-fitting layers are her go-to. “I hate when I feel like I can't reach a line fully because of clothing restrictions, and leotards that are too tight," she says, adding that sometimes she'll wear swimsuits instead. “I'm at kind of a different stage than I was a few years ago. I used to go to class with things that were a little bit more fun and flashy. Now it's just things that make me feel good."
In company class at Boston Ballet, Keenan Kampa moves with the purity and nobility of a classical Russian dancer. In adagio, the long-limbed corps member seems most at ease with her leg by her ear, yet during grand allégro she leaps gracefully across the high-ceilinged studios. “She has everything a ballet dancer needs,” says Shannon Parsley, a company ballet master. “Even though she is shy, you notice her.” And it was being noticed in class that brought Kampa her biggest opportunities thus far: becoming one of the first Americans to study at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Russia, and returning to the U.S. to join Boston Ballet.
As a student at Conservatory Ballet in Reston, Virginia, Kampa dove into her ballet training, beginning home-schooling in fifth grade to accommodate her dance schedule. By her last year of high school, she was considering studying overseas. She attended a master class for young dancers hosted by the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, that featured the venue’s current touring company: the Kirov Ballet. The teacher, a ballet master at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, the Kirov’s school, was so taken by Kampa’s classwork that he invited her to come train there. It was an extraordinary offer, considering that few foreigners attend the academy, and only a handful of Americans had yet attempted its intense three years of training. “I didn’t have to think twice about it,” says Kampa. “It wasn’t until I got closer to leaving that the trepidation set in.”
Her first year at the academy was a test in perseverance. Her days began at 9:30 am with a Russian language lesson. The teacher spoke no English. After that came a day of dance classes—including character and lots of classical ballet—which lasted until 8 pm. “It’s like ballet boot camp,” says Kampa. And the teachers were far stricter than any she had known in the U.S. “I had one teacher the first year who was really hard on me, and I cried just about every night,” she says.
But her determination prevailed. By her second year, she understood enough Russian to communicate. And she was thriving in technique classes as well. After final exams that year, her teachers told her that she would have the lead role of Masha (known as Clara in the U.S.) in the next year’s Nutcracker. “That was exciting for me because foreigners don’t usually get to do lead roles in the school,” says Kampa. St. Petersburg was starting to feel like home.
During a winter break back in the U.S., Kampa took two days of classes at Boston Ballet. At that point, although she knew she wanted to finish her training at the academy, she also wanted to be seen by Finnish artistic director Mikko Nissinen, who had trained in Russia as well. “Keenan has a similar background to Mikko,” says Parsley. “He liked what she would be able to offer the company.” Kampa received an offer to join the corps, and moved to Boston after graduation.
Today, after a year in the company, Kampa is encountering a new set of challenges. After three years of strict classical training, she now must learn contemporary and neoclassical pieces. “I’m a contemporary infant,” she says. “It’s the fast footwork that’s the most difficult.” She has also had to transition from student to artist. “At school, they were pushing us, screaming at us every minute, ‘Do more! Do it again!’ So now I almost feel guilty that I’m not working hard enough,” says Kampa. But with the same dedication that brought success before, she tackles it all head on.
Kampa looks forward to growing in her new world. “The technique in Russia is so honest,” she says. “Nothing is contrived. I don’t want to lose that certain quality that I was taught in Russia, but I also want to become the type of dancer who can adapt to anything that’s thrown at me. I still have a long way to go, but training in Russia opened my eyes—now, I feel like I have a real sense of what is beautiful in ballet.”
at a glance
Name: Keenan Kampa
Company: Boston Ballet
Training: Vaganova Ballet Academy, Conservatory Ballet
Favorite Role: The title role in Gayane at Vaganova Ballet Academy
Dream Role: Juliet
Idols: Altynai Asylmuratova, Svetlana Zakharova, Sylvie Guillem
There's a new dance movie in the works: Dave Scott, of the "So You Think You Can Dance" and Step Up families—is choreographing High Strung, a film about a ballet dancer from the Midwest who moves to New York City to attend a prestigious school on scholarship. Who will play that ballet dancer, you ask? None other than the Mariinsky Ballet's stunning Keenan Kampa! Her character, Ruby, falls in love with a hip-hop violinist and the two collaborate with a dance crew (filled with "SYTYCD" and "America's Best Dance Crew" alums) for a high-stakes competition. The film will be released sometime in the summer of 2015.
Photo of Kampa by Gene Schiavone.