It is not every day that 2nd grade students are instructed by professional ballet dancers but, this is exactly what the 2nd graders at Van Meter Elementary have been experiencing. Cindy Huang and Raul Salamanca are instructing both boys and girls in stretching, technique, choreography and dance appreciation. “I think it is an excellent way to introduce all students to the fun, challenge, and history of ballet, an activity that many may not have the benefit to experience; both as an option of a sport or exposure to a performing art.”, said Ingrid O’Donoghue, Van Meter 2nd grade teacher. These classes are part of a 6-week outreach program sponsored by The Los Gatos Ballet Foundation.
The students are taught by Ms. Huang and Mr. Salamanca, both professional dancers and instructors at Los Gatos Ballet. Prior to joining the former Silicon Valley Ballet, Ms. Huang danced professionally with the Miami City Ballet and performed as a guest artist with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal. Mr. Salamanca has danced with Ballet Arizona, Boston Ballet, Les Grand Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, and Ballet San Antonio. “I saw my students get excited about ballet. Amazed by the fact that professional athletes use the exercises in ballet to strengthen and enhance their abilities in other sports. Ballet is physically strenuous and fun. The students were appreciative at how quickly they could come together for a performance. Another specific benefit was that in order to perform, each student had to follow directions and remember a sequence of steps. Each one had to do their part. I also really appreciated the professionalism of the instructors. Many dads emailed me after the first session saying how much their sons and daughters were talking about ballet. Parents really like it.”, said O’Donoghue.
Students are being taught variations from the Nutcracker in which they will perform with their class this week. When asked about how the program benefited her students, Ms. O’Donoghue said, “Instruction in the arts provides children with freedom of expression within a structured and focused environment that they do not get in other types of activities. It requires mental focus and physical discipline. I loved watching my students get excited. I enjoyed watching as each one figured out what it was they were doing and how it fit into the whole piece. The instructors were very capable handling a group of children and they shared their love of their profession and it came across to the students.”
This program, supported by The Los Gatos Ballet Foundation, is available to local and underserved schools and is headed up by Alison Ahmed. Ms. Ahmed was Inspired by her daughter’s participation in dance classes at Los Gatos Ballet. She built on her museum education experience to create the ballet’s Leaps and Bounds Outreach program in the schools in 2008. The program provides professional dance instruction to students in order to foster the love of dance and contribute to the development of well-rounded persons.
The Van Meter 2nd grade classes will be performing their variations this week on Tuesday and Thursday morning, beginning at 9am.
Photos by Annarose Monroe
Video by Christine Herrera.
Amid colorful balloons, whirling rides and pink cotton candy, Los Gatos Ballet dancers performed Nutcracker variations at the St. Mary’s Fair this past Saturday. This is an annual tradition that Los Gatos Ballet has participated in for well over a decade. “The entire community looks forward to the Country Fair. Many of the fair's volunteers are not only from St. Mary’s parish but also from local schools. It is our parish and school's largest fundraiser in which thousands of folks visit each year and over 700 people volunteer. Many local businesses sponsor the fair or donate goods. The fair is in its 36th year, and it is a place where families and friends reconnect every year.”, said Kristine Maus, Chair for the St. Mary's Country Fair and President of the School’s Advisory Board.
Los Gatos Ballet delighted the audience with its Nutcracker’s Chinese variation, Ballerina Doll, and Clara’s party dance. Brennah Lyons and Christine Porter danced the fun and joyful Chinese. Both girls are upper-division Level 7 dancers. The Ballerina Doll was danced by Los Gatos Ballet Company member, Kirina Patel. This is a dance of clean precision which portrays the prized doll at the Staulbaum Holiday party. Company member, Sadie Weaver, danced the Clara variation in her beautiful party dress. All dances are typically performed ‘en pointe’, but because of special flooring needs, dancers performed on flat during the Fair.
“It is wonderful to showcase this rich talent right here in our local community to the visitors at the fair. Having Los Gatos Ballet perform is a great way to promote the art of classical dance to the community and hopefully engage people to attend Los Gatos Ballet’s Nutcracker and spring performances.”, said Maus. Currently, there are approximately five students from St. Mary's School that dance at Los Gatos Ballet. When asked what Los Gatos Ballet brings to our community, Maus replied, “Los Gatos Ballet is an amazing pre-professional school and company that exists right in our own neighborhood. The talent is amazing! From best-in-class teachers to students who study with ballet companies all around the country. In addition to dance, the school educates each student in so many more ways. Each student develops in ways that will help them throughout life - confidence, discipline, respect, grace, and focus.”
Just as the dancers delighted the audience at the St. Mary’s Fair, Los Gatos Ballet is looking forward to delighting audiences once again during their upcoming production of The Nutcracker held December 9-11 at the Flint Center in Cupertino. Preparations and rehearsals are well underway and tickets will go on sale this Friday, October 14th at LosGatosBallet.org.
Photos: Dancers performing variations and with Kristine Maus. Photos by Annarose Monroe.
Our upper division dancers gathered at the entrance of studio 3 awaiting their masterclass with San Francisco Ballet Principal dancer, Frances Chung. From the Los Gatos Ballet studios, one could hear both the birds and the distance sound of the Oak Meadow train whistle in the background. A warm autumn breeze filled the air. It was a beautiful fall morning.
As the autumn breeze warmed and filled the air, Ms. Chung’s warm, yet confident teaching style filled the studio. Dancers were encouraged to focus on the details of grace and beauty supported by strength. Throughout the class, she gave specific directions to increase the dancers’ movement, sensitivity, and dexterity of their feet. To aid the students understanding, Ms. Chung used vivid imagery such as, “Massage the floor with your foot as though the floor were tiny kittens and you were massaging their heads with your foot.” Or, “Articulate as much as possible with your foot. Pretend you are creating a painting on the floor.” Her own visual examples exuded an elegance, grace, and precision that was inspirational to observe.
Throughout the class she demanded both elegance and precision from the dancers, continually challenging them with new combinations. “Show beauty and grace on your face, all the while being supported by incredible strength from your core.” It was obvious by her enthusiasm that Ms. Chung delights in both her dancing and teaching. She gave her all to demonstrate and verbalize the combinations to the dancers, sometimes even getting out of breath. Yet, it was her joyful demeanor that made the hard work fun. Ms. Chung instructed 44 of our Los Gatos Ballet dancers from Level 6, 7, & 8.
This time with Ms. Chung is only a precursor to her upcoming performance as The Sugar Plum Fairy in our Los Gatos Ballet Nutcracker to be held this December 9-11 at the Flint Center in Cupertino. Our Los Gatos Ballet students and staff are grateful for this and future opportunities to work with such an accomplished artist. Thank you, Ms. Chung!
We are excited to announce that Sadie Weaver and Kelley Yu will be dancing the role of Clara in our 2016 Nutcracker. This is a long awaited role for both of them. Below is a bit of their perspectives. Enjoy!
“My excitement about dancing the role of Clara stems from the fact that this has been a dream I have had ever since I started dancing in the Nutcracker. I love the choreography and the music associated with this role and I hope to inspire other young dancers who dream to dance the Clara role too. I love performing and hope to help people feel joy and a desire to go watch a ballet again. Through this Nutcracker season, I want to develop a more mature stage presence by engrossing myself in the role to truly feel what Clara must have felt throughout the story. This being my first time partnering in a performance, I want to learn how to connect and communicate with my partner as we dance together. I hope to improve my technique and ability to artistically listen and interpret though dance.
As I reflect upon Los Gatos Ballet, I would say that their teachers are truly motivational. I love how they use their life stories as dancers themselves to inspire me. They give me timely and accurate corrections to help me improve my technique and artistry while always maintaining an upbeat and cheerful presence. Also, my fellow students are very supportive, inclusive and team-oriented. For example, I have experienced how dancers who have previously performed certain roles give helpful tips and insights into what I can do to portray a certain role better. When I joined Los Gatos Ballet four years ago, I had an immediate connection with the dancers and we still have enduring friendships today.”
Sadie is 14 years old and lives in Scotts Valley. She is homeschooled through Ocean Grove Charter School.
“I'm most excited about dancing the role of Clara because I will be able to inspire and form closer connections with younger level dancers. When I was little, I always looked up to those who danced the role of Clara and wanted to be just like them. Now, I am beyond excited to be in a role that the younger dancers are looking up to. I'm also incredibly excited to perform with my dad and brother, who will be playing my dad and my younger brother in the show! During this Nutcracker season, I really hope to make the audience believe that I am actually a young girl at a Christmas party, not just an actress playing a role. I want to be able to inspire people in the younger levels not just with my dancing, but with my stage presence and acting as well. When I was younger, I always was amazed by the amount of energy and acting skills of Clara. I want to be able to be that inspirational person for the current younger level students. I have been continuing my work on my technique with all my teachers, but aside from that, I would love to improve my acting and stage presence this Nutcracker season.
Los Gatos Ballet is the most amazing community I have ever been a part of, and it has been my home for over eight years. The teachers are beyond inspiring, and every day they inspire me to improve my dancing, and myself as a person. The students are more than friends to me, and they are all incredibly supportive and inspiring. The older dancers have always looked out for me and each other and are always there to help whenever it is needed. I will be forever thankful for everything that Los Gatos Ballet has done for me!”
Kelley is 14 years old and lives in Los Gatos. She attends Sacred Heart Preparatory High School.
Los Gatos Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker will be held this December 9-11 at the Flint Center for Performing Arts in Cupertino.
An elevated spirit of enthusiasm filled the air of Los Gatos Ballet last Thursday. It was the evening of Nutcracker Auditions. The large garage doors were rolled open; upper-division dancers were warmed up and practicing variations; additional instructors were arriving as judges. Once classes finished, company dancers exited the large studio while level 7s remained and took their places. Level 7 auditioned first, followed by company members. Artistic Director, Marcie Ryken, led the event assisted by a panel of five judges who were former professional dancers and are current Los Gatos Ballet staff.
As the process commenced, there was a uniquely positive and supportive atmosphere created by Marcie and the fellow judges. Ms. Ryken often gathered the dancers together reminding them of the purpose of the evening and set a positive tone with her helpful and encouraging comments. “The dancers often see auditions as a time to do their best to get their desired role. Of course, I want them to do their best, but my main intention is to help our students develop character skills through this process. Auditions require a high level of mental stamina. Dancers must have focus, determination, perseverance, and the ability to stay fully present in both mind and body. This can be a challenge when dancing in front of their artistic director, several judges, and peers. However, I believe that when one can maintain presence and concentration in the midst of challenge, they can do anything. This mental stamina is what I want my students to reach for through this process. I believe that this is a skill that will serve them for the rest of their life.”, said Ryken.
Of course, each dancer has a desired role or roles in which they are hoping to receive. Ms. Ryken knows this but sees the casting of roles to be part of her overall mentorship and development of her dancers. First, the casting is a collaborative effort in which all the judges sit down together and compare notes and offer suggestions. The fact that Los Gatos Ballet’s Nutcracker auditions are only open to Los Gatos Ballet dancers offers unique visibility into each auditionee. The judges are well acquainted with each dancer’s work ethic, drive, ability to handle corrections and pick up new choreography and can factor that into their selections. The instructors see and use casting as a natural part of each student’s overall progression.
Next, Ms. Ryken has established a very clear process. Dancers must first demonstrate technical proficiency to be considered for a role. Then, they must be able to carry the role artistically, as performing is much more than technical execution. After technical proficiency and artistic ability have been established, the judges take into account the dancer’s emotional maturity. This is where knowing the students for years is a benefit to the judges. They ask questions such as: Is this dancer emotionally ready for this role? Can this dancer handle the pressure that goes along with this role? Last, a hierarchy of experience is supported both for the individual and the group. This is where the judges consider the roles the dancer has previously performed, their level, and their age. All of these factors are carefully considered by the judges to help them make the most appropriate casting decisions.
Ms. Ryken sees every role in the Nutcracker as important and says that one of the most challenging aspects of casting is to help her students see that their value as an individual is not based on which roles they receive. “Each dancer is valuable and unique, no matter what role they are assigned. Each dancer is on their own personal progression and my job is to help develop them along their individual path. It is important for our students to know that every part in a ballet is essential; corp de ballet or soloist. The beauty of productions is that unique individuals come together to form a much greater whole.”, says Ryken.
Casting for the Los Gatos Ballet 2016 production of The Nutcracker will be announced this Thursday, September 8th.
This past Saturday, 21 excited upper-division dancers from Los Gatos Ballet boarded a shuttle heading to Lines Ballet in San Francisco. These dancers had the rare opportunity to train with the world-renowned choreographer, Alonzo King. The dancers were all smiles and thumbs-up as we pulled out of the Los Gatos Ballet's driveway. Little did they know the life-changing event the next several hours held for them.
Once we reached San Francisco, the dancers were escorted into the circa 1920s-30s building of Lines Studios. The energy was alive and bubbling with dancers rehearsing in the different studios. Our dancers patiently stretched on the floor of the hallway outside our designated studio. As our dancers waited, eager eyes peeked in to see what was going on in the class before us.
Mr. King graciously greeted us and invited us into the recently cleared out studio. His presence was kind and welcoming and exuded a strength of character. The dancers set down their bags and found their places at the barre. The studio was warm, moist and smelled of the remnants from the preceding rehearsal. There were large windows and colorful architectural details that whispered of another era. One wondered how many dancers had before graced the floor of this studio.
Mr. King started the class with extensive abdominal work, explaining that the torso is the center and power of their dance. From there he moved through detailed barre work. Using vivid analogies, he walked throughout the class, noticing the details of each dancer. His corrections were clear, direct and inspiring. Frequently, he called the dancers over to what looked like a football huddle to give more specific corrections and analogies. He challenged the dancers with technique, artistry, and strength, continually demanding that they give more. “Be generous, not stingy, with your dancing!”, exclaimed Mr. King. He then led the dancers through center work that demanded both technical ability and soul. He created combinations that quickly changed from fast, precision-like steps to long, graceful movements within the set. All the while, he called for the dancers to not hold back, but rather to give it their all. “Where is the dancing fool? I want to see the dancing fool.” said, Mr. King.
Our dancers time with Mr. King culminated in a sit-down discussion where he asked the dancers what they learned. Answers came from what they learned in his class about dance and about life. That is simply how Mr. King teaches. He gave further instructions, direction and advice to our dancers with inspiration, stories and a personal touch. He was fully present. This time with Mr. King was so much more than dance. It was about life, about what matters, about finding who you are. He instructed, demanded and inspired so eloquently through the art of dance.
Our exhausted, yet energized, 21 dancers climbed into our shuttle for the ride back home. There was awe, excitement, and enthusiasm that filled the conversations of that bus. Everyone in the room with Mr. King that day was lifted to a higher level and challenged to give more and be better. Thank you, Mr. Alonzo King!