Ballet Stars
Ben Malone

Whether she's working in the studio with Richmond Ballet or on her fashion blog, Felix & Flora, Lauren Archer's sartorial motto is "Fearless, feminine fashion." Archer's interest in fashion began when she was a little girl, and it took off two years ago when she began sharing her day-to-day looks on Instagram (@felixandflora). "I started my blog for fun, but I've been really passionate about creating new looks, finding new inspiration and reaching a new demographic," Archer says. "I want to encourage people to wear what they like and be less conscious of what others might think—at the end of the day, it's just an outfit."

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San Francisco Ballet principal Frances Chung with her dressing room pal, Iggy. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

A dancer's dressing room is often her "home away from home." We went backstage with Boston Ballet principal Lia Cirio, San Francisco Ballet principal Frances Chung and Richmond Ballet dancer Cody Beaton to see how they personalize their space and get performance-ready.

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Everything Nutcracker
Lauren Archer with children at the "Signing Santa" event at the MacArthur Center in Norfolk, VA. Photo Courtesy Richmond Ballet.

Richmond Ballet dancer Lauren Archer never thought she'd be able to blend ballet with her knowledge of American Sign Language. But at a recent "Signing Santa" event at the MacArthur Center in Norfolk, Virginia, Archer—dressed as the Snow Queen from Nutcracker—got to make an extra-special connection with deaf and hard-of-hearing children. "Most of the parents and children were shocked to see that I was able to sign with them and that I wasn't just there for the pictures," Archer says. "I think the children loved meeting a real-life ballerina who was also able to communicate with them in their own language."

Archer began learning ASL 12 years ago, when her family adopted her younger brother, who is deaf. "He was almost 5 years old with absolutely no language or way to communicate," she says. "We continued to learn the language and teach him more and more each day—and now he's the one teaching us!"

Richmond Ballet's Lauren Archer Used American Sign Language to Spread "Nutcracker" Cheer youtu.be

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Kansas City Ballet Dancers Tempe Ostergren and Dillon Malinski. Photo by Kenny Johnson, Courtesy KCB.

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


New Peter Pans at Ballet Austin and Kansas City Ballet

Never Never Land becomes a reality this week with two exciting new productions. Kansas City Ballet presents world premiere choreography by artistic director Devon Carney in Peter Pan May 11-20, while Texas audiences can experience the Austin premiere of Paul Vasterling's acclaimed Peter Pan May 11-13. We love this fun trailer that Ballet Austin put together.

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Richmond Ballet dancers in "An Open Later..." by Matthew Frain. Photo by Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet.

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


The Bolshoi Premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina

Last July Hamburg Ballet presented the world premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina, a modern adaptation on Leo Tolstoy's famous novel. Hamburg Ballet coproduced the full-length ballet with the National Ballet of Canada and the Bolshoi, the latter of which will premiere the work March 23 (NBoC will have its premiere in November). The production will feature Bolshoi star Svetlana Zakharova in the title role. This is especially fitting as Neumeier's initial inspiration for the ballet came from Zakharova while they were working together on his Lady of the Camellias. The following video delves into what makes this production stand out.

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Everything Nutcracker
Photo courtesy Richmond Ballet

How do you attract new audiences while keeping a dedicated following excited about classics they've seen countless times? Regional companies like Richmond Ballet, Houston Ballet, Boston Ballet and Tulsa Ballet all seem to be on the same page—bringing some of the ballet's biggest characters to life in the local community (and posting it all on social media, of course).

Just in time for the Nutcracker season, Richmond Ballet teamed up with The Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball team. Joining mascots Nutzy and Nutasha were Clara, The Nutcracker and The Mouse King, who threw in a few of their own rules on the field.

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Ballet Stars
Maggie Small as the Butterfly in Stoner Winslett's "The Nutcracker." Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

You've gone from Clara to Sugar Plum in one place. What made that possible?
I was lucky to grow up here, in a school that fed directly into a company, so as a child I could visualize exactly what I wanted. I think my career is due in part to being aware of how lucky I am, being grateful for it and preserving it.

What does it mean to be a "ballerina" in a non-ranked company?
It means you do it all. The last time we did Romeo and Juliet I was a harlot, and it was so much fun. If we did the same thing all the time it wouldn't be as stimulating or exciting.

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Ballet Stars
Courtesy Richmond Ballet.

A dancer's dressing room is often her "home away from home." In our August/September issue, we went backstage with three ballerinas, including Richmond Ballet dancer Cody Beaton. Below, she shows us how she personalizes her space and walks us through her pre-performance routine.

The setup: Richmond Ballet dancer Cody Beaton shares her dressing room with all the other women in the company, but she always stakes out the same spot. She lays a towel down on the counter to stay organized. "Otherwise everything spreads out."

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Ballet Stars
ABT's Calvin Royal III in Alexei Ratmansky's Serenade after Plato's Symposium. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

Miami City Ballet's National Tour

Artists of Miami City Ballet in Justin Peck's Heatscape. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

In late April at the Harris Theater, Chicagoans found Miami City Ballet firing on all cylinders, following the company's Lincoln Center debut and an engagement at Northrop in Minneapolis. Stage-filling Balanchine classics like Bourrée Fantasque, Serenade and Symphony in Three Movements struck a perfect balance between relaxed exuberance and clean execution, while seasoned stars like Jeanette Delgado and Renato Penteado shone in contemporary works by Justin Peck (Heatscape) and Liam Scarlett (Viscera), respectively. Most memorably, a dream team of 23 artists—including the irrepressible Nathalia Arja—gave a commanding presentation of Symphonic Dances, created for MCB by Alexei Ratmansky.

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Photo by Philip Koenig, Courtesy Kansas City Ballet.

The Kansas City Dance Festival, which mixes Kansas City Ballet members with performers from other companies, has significantly increased its programming since its 2013 debut. Now the festival is presenting its biggest season yet, bringing fresh choreography to Kansas City and new opportunities to the participating dancers.

This year features KCDF's first world premiere, choreographed by Garrett Smith. The lineup also includes ballets by Matthew Neenan and Vincente Nebrada. Festival dancers hail from KCB, Pennsylvania Ballet and Richmond Ballet, among other companies. The eclectic program gives KC audiences a chance to see new dancers and choreography, mixed with their hometown favorites.

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Ballet Careers
Winslett teaching company class. Photo by Aaron Sutten, Courtesy Richmond Ballet.
In 1980, just months after graduating from Smith College, Stoner Winslett attended a performance by Richmond Ballet. Though it was then just a student company, with a modest budget of $164,000, they were performing in a large venue, with the Richmond Symphony in the pit. “I saw so much potential on that stage," says Winslett. “And I thought, Boy, I should help these people."

At the time, one director ran the separate school and company. “They wanted someone to come work as her assistant, for the company," says Winslett. Three months after Winslett took the position, the director resigned, and at just 22 years old, Winslett became Richmond Ballet's artistic director and the company's first full-time employee.

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Ballet Careers
Elements5 Digital via Unsplash

Informal connections between BFA programs and professional troupes have been around for decades. But in the last dozen years, some companies and universities began formalizing their relationships, creating joint BFA/trainee programs that provide enrollees both significant pre-professional experience and a four-year degree. In a time of shrinking job opportunities and rising tuition costs, that makes sense.

Maggie Wright Tesch, the University of Utah's liaison with Ballet West in Salt Lake City (where she formerly danced), explains that combined BFA/pre-professional programs give dancers more settings to train in as well as “a college education, a plan B, because a career can end with one injury."
Among the advantages, Tesch continues, is that students have two sets of coaches, as well as twice the stage time as a regular trainee. University summer intensives provide experience and credits toward a four-year degree. While the workload is intense, such programs tend to be small and are often flexible.

Still, they're not for the faint of heart. Prospective students often audition for the company's trainee program as well as the university's dance department. They must be admitted to the school's academic program and fulfill its basic education graduation requirements. Additionally, with few job openings each year, their chances of being hired by the affiliated company after graduation are small. That can be a source of disappointment—but also spur the dancer's strength and creativity.

Essentially, joint BFA/trainee programs hedge participants' bets, increasing their time in the studio and on the stage, exposing them to a wide array of choices inside and outside of dance and providing a college degree. While the demands are great, so is the potential payoff. Pointe spoke with three professional dancers who graduated from joint programs. Not all of them received company contracts, but all were pleased with the quality and flexibility of their educational experience.

Kimberly Ballard: Ballet West and University of Utah

Kimberly Ballard in Ballet West's The Nutcracker

Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

Ballet West corps artist Kimberly Ballard, 26, was not focused on getting into BW when she was applying to colleges. But after she enrolled at the University of Utah, she became a sort of guinea pig for its joint program with the company. After getting her BFA, she continued into U of U's MFA program—at the same time, she became a BW trainee.

Ballard epitomizes the hard work and planning so helpful to joint-program students, who undertake long days filled with department and trainee classes and rehearsals, as well as academic courses. Because she'd passed several high school AP exams, Ballard placed out of some requirements. She also took academic classes at a community college in the summer, gaining additional college credits in her "downtime," thereby saving on tuition. By pursuing her MFA, she set herself up for a teaching career.

Though her traineeship with BW undoubtedly shaped Ballard's performance quality and technique, the university program provided variety. "I did exchange programs in the Basque region of France and with the State Ballet School of Berlin," she says. As a member of the university's highest-level repertory company, Utah Ballet, she performed not only in a piece that involved "unitards and bungee cords" but, 20 minutes later, as Aurora. Meanwhile, she danced corps roles in BW's productions of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Chaconne.

"For me," Ballard says, "the joint program worked out very well." She joined BW II after graduation. Now, in addition to being a company member, she's putting her degree to use as an adjunct assistant professor at the university.

Michael Montgomery: Alonzo King LINES Ballet and Dominican University of California

Alonzo King LINES Ballet's Michael Montgomery

RJ Muna, Courtesy Alonzo King LINES Ballet

Michael Montgomery, a dancer with Alonzo King LINES Ballet, had always wanted to dance with the San Francisco–based company. "I saw their world-famous calendars," he says, "before I knew of LINES or the Dominican University/LINES Ballet BFA program." Even in still photos, "the artists showed nothing less than excellence."

Montgomery's initial step, however, was to enroll in The Ailey School's certificate program at age 17. "That was the first time I understood the meaning of technique," he says. But he felt he was being trained to blend in—"An important art to learn," he says. "It just did not make me feel alive."
Montgomery reached out to Dominican/LINES BFA director Marina Hotchkiss. "I explained to her that I do not want to live in a box of dance, but rather in a world of endless possibility," he says. King, he adds, is "opposed to cookie-cutter dancers." Though LINES Ballet has a non-degree trainee program, Montgomery never considered it. "Schooling and college were always very important to me," he says.

He became a Dominican/LINES BFA student in 2008. And though his days were long, they were also rewarding. "I had dance classes in many vernaculars from 9 am to 2:30 pm," he says, "and academic classes until 10 pm some days." He particularly enjoyed his religion and philosophy classes, and says that, like the LINES faculty, his Dominican professors "believe there is no plateau of knowledge." King, who taught a number of Montgomery's classes, offered him a company contract his junior year, allowing him to finish his BFA on the side. The experience, Montgomery says, was "beyond worth it."

Kyoko Ruch: Richmond Ballet and Virginia Commonwealth University

Kyoko Ruch's traineeship with Richmond Ballet counted towards her degree at VCU.

Ruth Judson, Courtesy Gin Dance Company

Kyoko Ruch—a self-described naïve bunhead in high school—only wanted to focus on dancing when Richmond Ballet offered her a traineeship in 2004. But when her family learned of the company's joint program with Virginia Commonwealth University, they talked her into doing both. Two years later, she became an RB apprentice and dropped the VCU program because her work schedule left no time for coursework.

When Ruch auditioned for the main company, however, she was turned down. "I was disappointed," says Ruch, "but I wasn't lost, because I had VCU's program to go back to."

In fact, not getting into a ballet company (she auditioned for more than one) proved a blessing. In her final two years at VCU, she was able to take some modern and choreography courses. "Most ballet companies now do a lot of contemporary work—and I didn't really have any idea how to move that way," she says. "With the modern training, we danced more conceptually, which actually aided my ballet technique."

Choreography and improvisation classes meant even more to her. "As a ballet dancer, I just wanted to do what I was told," she says. "Choreography sparked my creativity." She received her BFA in 2010 and is currently teaching and performing with two DC-area contemporary troupes, Company Danzante and Gin Dance Company. Last year she was chosen as Company Danzante's first choreographer in residence. Though she originally expected to put off college, she's glad it didn't work out that way. "I transformed into another creature."

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