When They Were Young—3 Top Rock Alums

The Rock School has a certain reputation: "The kids call the school 'Pirouettes R Us,' " says director Bo Spassoff. But although it's become most well-known for producing technically dazzling dancers, The Rock also has another side. For many students, it's a lifelong second home. Case in point: Three of the most prominent Rock alumni—Beckanne Sisk, Christine Shevchenko and Esteban Hernandez—will return to the their old stomping grounds this Friday to perform in a special gala benefit celebrating the school's 50th anniversary. For fun, we asked Spassoff what these dancers were like as kids.

 

Beckanne Sisk, Ballet West soloist

"She came to the school at 13—she was a wobbly colt. Wet spaghetti! A little over four years later she joined Ballet West and has had a Cinderella story there. Beckanne still comes back for the Rock Summer program to stay in shape and perform, and she's a shining example for students. She always has a ready smile for everyone. 'Breaking Pointe' recently spent a day here filming with Beckanne and her friend; that should air this summer."

 

Esteban Hernandez, Royal Ballet School student

"While he could be a handful at times, he's become a mature and very intelligent young man. And he's a spectacular dancer. He's going to be the first Mexican to graduate from the Royal Ballet School, and then will join the corps of San Francisco Ballet this fall."

 

Christine Shevchenko, American Ballet Theatre corps member

"Christine was local and lived with her mother. Even at 8 years old she was disciplined and unstinting in her work ethic, and that never changed. She became the first American-trained dancer in 24 years to win a gold medal at the Moscow International Ballet Competition—Natalia Osipova won bronze that year. Christine is amazingly strong technically and has exquisite artistry, but she's also always polite and kind. She's proof that you can be successful in ballet and be a delightful, caring person at the same time."

 

Ballet Careers
Lenai Alexis Wilkerson. Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Michelle Tabnick Public Relations.

This is one of a series of stories on recent graduates' on-campus experiences—and the connections they made that jump-started their dance careers. Lenai Alexis Wilkerson graduated from University of Southern California with a BFA in dance (dance performance concentration) and a political science minor in 2019.

As Lenai Alexis Wilkerson looked at colleges, she wanted a school that would prepare her for two totally different professions: dancing and law. "I knew, pretty much when I was 16, that I wanted to go to law school," she says. "So I wanted the opportunity to have a dual college experience, where I could have a conservatory training style within a university and I could focus equally on my academics." When she auditioned for the inaugural class of University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, she knew it was the right fit.

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Sponsored by Ballet Arizona
Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

These days, ballet dancers are asked to do more than they ever have—whether that's tackling versatile rep, taking on intense cross-training regimens or managing everything from their Instagram pages to their summer layoff gigs.

Without proper training, these demands can take a toll on both the mind and the body. But students can start preparing for them early—with the right summer intensive program.

The School of Ballet Arizona's summer intensive takes a well-rounded approach to training—not just focusing on technique and facility but nurturing overall dancer growth. "You cannot make a dancer just by screaming at them like they used to," says master ballet teacher Roberto Muñoz, who guests at the program every summer. "You have to take care of the person as well."

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News
Nicolas Pelletier in Carmina Burana. Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.

Last week, Colorado Ballet interrupted Nutcracker rehearsals for an exciting announcement: Four dancers were being promoted. Though all made the jump from the company's corps de ballet, Nicolas Pelletier ascended directly to the rank of soloist, while Sean Omandam, Emily Speed and Melissa Zoebisch were promoted to demi-soloist. This news comes hot on the heels of last August's promotion of Francisco Estevez to principal.

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Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

We got Payne's advice on strategizing your summer intensive plan before the audition cycle kicks in:

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