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By Kina Poon
Three small New York intensives where ballet students thrive.
A good summer intensive should push you out of your comfort zone, bolstering your technique by exposing you to new ways of working. While there are long-established, big-name ballet schools in New York City that do this, there are also a few smaller, relatively new programs, all founded within the last three years, whose strong faculty and individualized attention can make for an invaluable summer experience. Dance Magazine visited the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet, the French Academie of Ballet, and Cedar Lake 360º to see what they have to offer.
Meaningful Technique As far as sheer inspiration goes, Gelsey Kirkland’s technique class might top the list. When the legendary dancer demonstrates, her every shift of weight speaks volumes: ah yes, that’s what arms en bas is supposed to look like. Kirkland, the dramatic ballerina of her time, has very specific ideas about how to train students to become both formidable technicians and riveting performers; she is generous but insistent that things are done just so.
“We learn, every day, how to create meaning behind the steps, like how to take words off a page and bring them to life,” says student Dawn Gierling, 19. Gierling knew from her audition class for GKA’s 2011 intensive that she “had stumbled upon a treasure.” After attending the program, she moved from Florida to train year-round at Kirkland’s academy, which is based in Lower Manhattan. The rest of the summer faculty is mainly Vaganova-style, including Kirkland’s husband Michael Chernov, co-artistic director of the academy.
Kirkland’s combinations are simple yet challenging, allowing students to home in on details, like the focus of the eyes in épaulement. “Ms. Kirkland wants to best highlight your qualities, as opposed to ‘Let’s just show off technique as tricks,’ ” says student Eva Janiszewski, 18. “In the classroom, you’re already performing and it’s not just look at the audience, or don’t look at the audience—it’s so much more deep and meaningful.”
During the month-long pre-professional program (one of several that the school offers during the summer), mornings are devoted to core dynamics—to build core strength and correct unhealthy movement patterns—and technique class. After lunch, students take pointe, variations, and/or character, plus, for advanced students, pas de deux. The day finishes with stretch, wellness, or mime. As the final performance approaches, rehearsals become part of the schedule as well. The other three summer programs—a repertory workshop, the junior program, and the fast-track technique intensive—all occur before the pre-professional session.
Classes per day: 5
Housing: Available through Educational Housing Services
Highlight: Final showing for all participants of pre-professional program, held last year at the Ailey Citigroup Theater
More info: www.gelseykirklandballet.org
Above right: Technique class with Gelsey Kirkland. Photo by Barbara Higgins, Courtesy GKA.
Strength & Cleanliness “Clean, pure, no affectation!” calls François Perron, encouragingly, to his class of 25 at New York City Center studios in midtown Manhattan. The group is taking its second technique class of the day as a warm-up for pas de deux; barre is in center and the combinations move quickly through the hour and 15 minutes. The beautiful French style is what draws students to Perron, a former dancer with the Paris Opéra Ballet and New York City Ballet and longtime teacher in the New York City area.
François Perron leads a partnering class at the French Academie of Ballet. Photo courtesy FAB.
“I really like the metaphors he uses and his sense of humor,” says Serena Ingram, 16, a 2012 summer intensive student from Santa Fe who elected to stay with Perron to train year-round. Perron’s combinations focus on anticipating the ending of a phrase so that everything arrives together—without extraneous flourishes. Known as a strong teacher for men, he attracts many male students to the program.
Perron instructs his intermediate and advanced men in performing supported turns, promenades, and penchées with his advanced women (lifts are for older students only). Class is lively, with lots of talk between more experienced partners and those just starting out.
Students can sign up for one, two, or three weeks of the intensive. The first week of the program, dubbed the Ballet Intensive, is strictly three or four classes of technique, pointe, or men’s class; variations; and partnering for the advanced levels. In the following two weeks, modern, jazz, contemporary, and Pilates are also offered.
Classes per day: 3 or 4
Housing: FAB directs students to several independent housing options.
Highlight: Guest faculty has included NYCB’s Sebastien Marcovici and Perron’s former students Nicole Graniero and Roman Zhurbin of ABT.
More info: www.frenchacademieofballet.org
Company Exposure In a converted warehouse in Chelsea, a cluster of 20 or so eager dancers races through complicated choreography in the center of the space. Suddenly they disperse through the standing audience, continuing their athletic, slippery movement on raised platforms at the edges of the room. Groups of dancers migrate and reorganize, breaking into beautifully stretched lines or a frenzied, twisting bout of synchronization. These performers are part of Cedar Lake 360°, the biannual summer intensive created by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer to expose young dancers to company life.
Getting grounded at Cedar Lake 360°. Photo by Eric Mas, Courtesy Cedar Lake.
Designed for advanced students and young professionals, 360° functions essentially as the company does. After technique class in the morning, students learn excerpts from the troupe’s heavily European repertoire, followed by rehearsal for the end-of-the-program “installation performance.” The Cedar Lake dancers (who also perform in the installation) teach some of the choreography; other sections are newly created by Pouffer. All classes, rehearsals, and performances take place in the company’s state-of-the-art studios and theater.
After seeing how they worked in the intensive, Pouffer hired several members of the group for his company. But the program’s benefits go beyond networking: “I hope 360º offers what I believe Cedar Lake provides to all its dancers,” says Pouffer, “the opportunity to experiment, experience new styles of movement, and grow as artists.”
Classes per day: 3 or 4
Housing: Marymount Manhattan College
Highlights: Installation performance, working with company members
More info: www.cedarlakedance.com
Kina Poon is a Dance Magazine associate editor.