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.