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Category Archives: News Story 2009

Dancing Boys in the News

The Worthing Herald
November 3, 2011

A budding dancer from Goring has made his way to the Royal Opera House to dance with the Royal Ballet. Andrew Glick, of Aldsworth Avenue, is currently performing in the Christmas production of The Sleeping Beauty as a “fairy page”.

The 10-year-old has been attending dance classes at the Regnante School of Performing Arts, which holds classes across Worthing, for the past three years.

Since then Andrew has beaten hundreds of boys to become a junior associate of the Royal Ballet, attending classes every Saturday with some of the world’s leading ballet teachers.

After auditioning for the part in September, Andrew has already taken part in two performances at the Royal Opera House, and will continue to dance the part until Christmas.

Andrew said: “I am really enjoying it, I really want to be a ballet dancer when I grow up. I get a bit nervous but it’s really fun, I’m friends with all the other boys and girls in the show.”

Andrew’s mum, Vickie, 38, said she could not be prouder of her son. “We went to go and see him in the dress rehearsal, and it was amazing,” she said. “He looked so small compared to the male ballet dancers but he was so confident.”

Vickie said: “He wants to audition for the full-time Royal Ballet school, White Lodge. We are quite surprised he loves ballet so much but we are behind him all the way.”

Amelia Regnante, principal of the Regnante School of Performing Arts, said Andrew is a role model for the children at her school. “He is such a lovely boy, he is a pleasure to have in class,” she said. “He is not arrogant about his success in the slightest, and he really deserves to have done so well because he works so hard. He has such a passion for his dancing that I think he will go far, it’s lovely to see in a boy his age.”

© 2011 Johnston Publishing Ltd.

Young David Alvarez branches out with Billy Elliot—but holds tight to his dream of a ballet career 


By Maggie Kneip
Dance Studio Life Magazine
Photograph by David Scheinmann
December 1, 2009



Playing Billy takes focus, a tremendous work ethic, and a commitment to technique—and Alvarez says his ballet training prepared him for the role. Even now, he says, “I make sure I get to class, no matter what.”

Where will young, multitalented, Tony Award–winning David Alvarez go after he leaves the Broadway run of Billy Elliot? You can rest assured it won’t be Disney World. Or another Broadway show. 

“David will return to ballet,” asserts Billy Elliot associate choreographer Kate Dunn. 

Franco De Vita, principal of American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, where Alvarez trains, says, “David will come back to dance with us full-time.” 

And young Alvarez says, “The experience of being on Broadway has been just amazing. But I don’t want to continue with it. My dream is still to be a ballet dancer.” 

He may, however, be starring on Broadway a little bit longer. Billy Elliot: The Musical, nominated for a record 15 Tony Awards in 2009, won 10 of them, including a shared award for Best Actor in a Musical for the teens in the title role—Trent Kowalik, Kiril Kulish, and Alvarez. (Alex Ko took over Kulish’s role in October, and a fourth actor, Tommy Batchelor, joined the roster of Billys last March.) 

Based on the eponymous British film released in 2000, Billy Elliot boasts a rocking score by British pop icon Elton John and tells the poignant tale of a young British boy from a coal mining town who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. So it would stand to reason that the production would seek to cast young ballet dancers in the role of Billy. 

But when they envisioned the musical, the show’s producers knew that for the theater’s seats to be filled nightly, the choreography had to stretch far beyond ballet. With that in mind, choreographer Peter Darling and his associate, Dunn, conducted a nationwide search for three boys with ballet training who could also quickly master tap, jazz, stage combat, and gymnastics, plus learn to sing and act using a Geordie (northern England) accent. 

One candidate was Alvarez, the son of Cuban parents, who spent his first eight years speaking Spanish, French, and English and playing football and soccer in Montreal. Aware of her son’s physical prowess, Alvarez’ mother, Yanek, an actress, felt that his skills would be better channeled into the arts and enrolled him in a beginning dance class at Montreal’s Ballet Divertimento. There, according to Alvarez, “I wasn’t really doing ballet. We just sort of walked around.” 

But when his father, David, relocated the family to San Diego a year later and 9-year-old Alvarez began taking class at the California Ballet School, his interest in ballet was ignited. Three years later he was accepted to one of ABT’s regional Summer Intensive Programs, in San Diego. According to De Vita, “He was noticed immediately by our ballet mistress, Nancy Raffa, who met with his parents and quickly arranged for him to study with us in New York.” 

De Vita was particularly thrilled to be bringing into the JKO School family a talented male dancer as young as 12-year-old Alvarez. “Ideally, we like to bring male dancers into our school at that age. But we tend to get them older, at 15 or 16, when they are more open to studying ballet and their families are more accepting.” 

Two years after Alvarez began studying at ABT, the Billy Elliot producers contacted De Vita. “They were looking for three boys to play the lead role,” De Vita says. “We sent David, who was the age they were seeking. But I also knew he would be right for it, and that he was talented and intelligent enough to handle everything performing in a Broadway show requires. Not every young dancer can handle it. David is smart. I knew he could do it.” 

The show’s producers, however, needed to be sure. Alvarez was one of hundreds of candidates; an exhaustive search was conducted at dance schools and companies nationwide. A first cut yielding approximately 30 boys was soon whittled down to 15, who then underwent one intense week of acting, dancing, gymnastics, singing and dialect training, and assessment. 

Finally, three were selected. Upon learning he was one of them, Alvarez was excited—and relieved. “The only thing I had in my head before they picked me was: Was I going to be picked? Because I didn’t want to do all this other training for no reason. I didn’t want to be a tap dancer or a singer. I wanted to be a ballet dancer.”  

Approximately six months before opening night, the real hard work for the three boys commenced. Dunn says, “For the first three months, we arranged to have each boy undergo training in jazz, tap, gymnastics, acting, and dialect in his hometown, working with the best coaches and schools we could find in those locations.” 

David was already in New York, where the other two boys joined him for the next critical three-month period of integration with the entire cast, as well as acclimation to the Broadway rehearsal process. 

As the youngster became immersed in preparing for the show’s opening, his parents were worried that he’d be lured away from his dream of becoming a ballet dancer. De Vita says, “When David was first cast, we had a talk with his parents. They were a little concerned in the beginning. But we convinced them that we believed that, after the show, David would come back to us full-time and that he could be back on track with no problem.” 

In fact, De Vita sees Alvarez’ involvement with Billy Elliot as a great opportunity for him to grow artistically. “I think it’s very good for a ballet dancer to be a bit more open, and not think ballet is the only dance,” he says. “The tap and jazz that he is now doing greatly enhance his ballet training. Tap is good for musicality; jazz, for coordination.” 

Nor did Alvarez’ instructors at ABT worry that his Broadway commitment would cause his ballet technique to deteriorate. “David is so talented, so intelligent, and his training at ABT/JKO has been so classical, so pure. I have no doubt he will always have our training in his body, and he will always be able to come back to it,” says De Vita. 

The Billy Elliot choreographers are equally protective of Alvarez’ talent and love for ballet. According to Dunn, “David is a very beautiful ballet dancer. During our entire run we’ve been pleased that he’s been able to keep two parallels running—his Broadway work and his serious pursuit of ballet.” 

As the show, which opened in November 2008, moves into its second successful year on Broadway (plus a 2010 national tour), its young stars continue rigorous daily training, which Dunn has jocularly titled “The Billy Elliot Maintenance Schedule.” It includes study of acting, singing, dialect training, acrobatics, tap, jazz, and stage movement—as well as ballet.  

In addition, Alvarez makes sure he gets to a ballet class five days per week. “I go to the intermediate class at ABT whenever I can, depending on my schedule. If there’s a day I can’t get there, because of rehearsal or something, I fit in a class at Steps [on Broadway]. I make sure I get to class, no matter what.”
The way Dunn describes the requirements of the role, it seems miraculous that Alvarez can get to ballet classes at all. But, she says, “to do this role, you have to be exceptionally focused—to have an exceptional work ethic. David has it—all the boys have it. The Billy Elliot character has to be on stage for a total of three hours, all the while singing, acting, dancing—using dialect. There is no other show requiring the same commitment from kids.”
And Alvarez claims to feel prepared for the rigors of the role precisely because of his ongoing ballet training. “First, my ballet training prepares me physically, technically,” he says. “If you don’t have good technique going into this role, you might get hurt—get a sprained ankle, stuff like that. Ballet class has gotten—and keeps—my body ready for this.”
Next, he credits ballet for teaching him how to perform on the big Broadway stage. “When you learn ballet as a child, you learn you have to prepare, to be there. Same for Broadway. But there are differences,” he adds. “For example, in ballet I would never turn my back to the audience. There’s much more opportunity to do that kind of thing in theater.”
Finally, Alvarez attributes his capacity for the discipline his role requires to his ballet background. But he cites a pronounced difference here. “In ballet, you must use discipline, no matter what. And your teachers work with you to have it, constantly. In theater, you feel like you work for yourself more.”
Dunn, a former dancer with The Royal Ballet, concurs. “There is nothing as disciplined as being a ballet dancer. It requires complete focus, and that you essentially erase everything else in your life. Your life can only be about ballet.” She adds, “ And that’s a beautiful thing to be able to devote your life to!”


Alvarez, De Vita, and Dunn all seem to agree on one thing: Studying all forms of dance can only be beneficial for today’s aspiring young ballet dancer. Says De Vita, “Take a look at modern dancers today: Most take ballet for complete training. And ABT ballet dancers need to learn how to dance all kinds of forms—including jazz and modern—for our repertoire, which spans from classical to contemporary. I’ve taught at Alvin Ailey, and many of their dancers take class with us at ABT. When you ‘arrive’—when you reach the top of your training, you make a choice. But to be trained a little bit in everything, on top of a solid foundation, is now the way to go.” 
Alvarez is proud of his Tony Award, but his eyes really light up when you ask him about his favorite ballets. “Giselle and Sleeping Beauty,” he responds. His favorite male dancer? No surprise here: “Fernando Bujones!” whom the young dancer is already said to physically and technically resemble. 

About what’s next, Alvarez claims, matter-of-factly, “I’ll be in the show until my voice breaks. But then,” he adds, smiling, “I’ll go back to ABT full-time. I just love dancing ballet!” 


Copyright © 2009 Dance Studio Life 

Related Articles: Next stage 

                          David’s long road to the Tony Awards                  

                          The Peter Pans of Broadway 

  Montreal youngster headed to Broadway  



Lauded pint-sized dancer lands lead role in Broadway sensation

By Stacy Trevenon
Half Moon Bay Review
December 30, 2009


J.P. Viernes’ sparkle-eyed smile and electrifying moves have lit up productions with the Shely Pack Dancers and Coastal Repertory Theatre, Dance Masters of America competitions. He has leaped his way to national titles.

Where does he go from there?  To Chicago, to play the title role in a touring production of the new Broadway sensation “Billy Elliot the Musical.”

“I’m really excited, that’s for sure,” said Viernes, 13. With his age, petite build, unchanged voice and dance chops, he seems born for the role. He is one of four boys to rotate the role of Billy, which he will do at Chicago’s Ford Center/Oriental Theatre from the show’s mid-April opening until September 2010. “I’m kinda nervous — No, not really. It’s just a big thing.”

“I’m so proud of him, so excited after seeing how hard he works,” said Viernes’ mother, Resina. “It’s an opportunity for J.P., a once-in-a-lifetime. You never know where it will lead.”

Billy, the son of a North England miner, stumbles on ballet while on his way to a boxing class, falls in love with the art and must persuade his reticent father to allow him to pursue that love.

Based on an international hit film, written by Lee Hall with rocker Elton John contributing what the New York Post calls “his best score yet,” the musical took 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

“I’ll be in it as long as my voice doesn’t change, or I don’t grow,” said Viernes, whom local theatergoers might recall from Coastal Rep’s 2005 production of “South Pacific.”

He learned of auditions for Billy from dance teacher Shely Pack-Manning. Her studio, like many around the country, had posted fliers from “Billy Elliot” producers, seeking boys under five feet tall, age 9 to 12, who could dance.

Calling Viernes “always a joy to work with,” Pack-Manning said, “I find him to be sensitive, which is helping him.”

She worked with him on how to fit memories of disagreements with schoolmates into onstage moments such as when Billy clashes with peers. She also talked to him about how to prevent injuries while dancing on the “raked” stage, which gradually rises in level.

Viernes had studied with Pack since age 7, inspired by older sister Lexi (herself an accomplished dancer and Dance Masters title holder.) She had auditioned for the “Billy Elliot” ensemble. Now, Viernes says, “she’s really proud of me. She’s like, ‘I support you!’”

 He studied ballet and tap, a little jazz and gymnastics, and can name Junior Mr. Dance of America 2009 with Dance Masters of America as his most recent title.

His training did not hint at the maze of auditions to come. The first hurdle was a March, 2007 audition in San Francisco. That resulted in a callback, in which Viernes found himself one of 45 boys vying for the part. That May, he and his mother were called to Los Angeles for a second audition. 

Then came months of waiting, with no word. Parents Resina and Alex didn’t think he’d gotten in. “We thought, if he got in, that’s fortunate, but we could see a lot of New York people, stage moms, bringing their kids every day (to try out for every available role on Broadway,)” said Resina Viernes. “We don’t do that.”

The family finally got a call in October 2008 from “Billy Elliot” producers offering to bring them to New York for the next step in the process. That was followed by another audition in April 2009. At that point, Viernes, now under serious consideration, was invited to the informal-sounding but serious “Billy camp” for classes in the show’s choreography and dance styles.

“It was kind of shocking,” said Resina Viernes. “In New York City you see all of them, lining up. You see tons of boys and girls auditioning.”

Viernes was selected in early August, though an official announcement only went out recently. Then the hard work began: five weeks’ rehearsal in New York beginning in mid-November, home for Christmas in Half Moon Bay and then back Dec. 27 for rehearsal.

This show will run simultaneously with the “Billy Elliot” production at the Imperial Theatre in New York. Viernes will play Billy in two shows per week.

When not playing Billy, he’ll be a standby and understudy. Besides Billy’s dances, songs, blocking and lines (in the north-England “Geordie” accent,) Viernes is contracted to understudy the roles of Tall Boy and Posh Boy.

His day begins with academic tutoring from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., lunch and four to five hours’ rehearsal with dialect coaching.

“As long as he gets a good night’s sleep so he doesn’t get too tired. And he’s got the encouragement of his mom and family and friends,” said his mother. “He’s also having fun with all the other Billys.”

But except for leaps and twirls as Billy, Viernes, who’s considering a career in science, keeps his feet on the ground.

“I still feel like myself,” he said with his trademark sweet grin. “Just hard-working J.P.”


Copyright © 2010 Half Moon Bay Review

By South Wales Argus Newsdesk
6th March 2009


Related Article: Gwent dancer is following in Billy Elliot’s footsteps



A CROESYCEILOG schoolboy who danced his way to a place at the Royal Ballet Associate programme now plans to study ballet and dance full time at a performing arts school.

Alexander Smith, 12, who attends Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw School, will audition for Tring School, a specialist performing arts and ballet school near London on March 12 where he hopes to become a full time boarder.

In December 2008 the Argus reported Alex had successfully auditioned for the Royal Ballet associate programme in Bristol, where he now attends classical ballet classes fortnightly with Royal Ballet teachers.

He is taught by Karen Paisey, a former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet company.

His mother Deborah Smith, 37, said: “He’s absolutely loving it. He just loves to dance, he loves the whole thing. “We hope he gets the chance to do it full time, it will be good for him I think.”

Alex now hopes to be given the opportunity to star in a Royal Ballet show in London, and associates are often given the chance to dance with the Royal Ballet company, the Birmingham Royal Ballet and other ballet companies.

© Copyright 2009 South Wales Argus


Cwmbran lad still aiming for top fame academy

By South Wales Argus Newsdesk
30th December 2009

A CWMBRAN schoolboy, who was left devastated when he was unable to fulfil his dream of attending a top performing arts school due to a lack of funding, will re-audition for a place in the new year.

Thirteen-year-old Alexander Smith, of Croesyceiliog, was due to start as a full time student studying ballet, contemporary and jazz dance, alongside academic subjects at Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, near London, last September.

But the pupil at Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw, narrowly missing out on a paid scholarship and his family were unable to afford the £28,000 a year fees.

His family tried to find a sponsor to help pay for the fees and his dad Richard, 43, raised almost £2,000 towards the school costs after completing a 250-mile sponsored bike ride last year.

But Alexander’s mother Deborah, 37, said the family has found it impossible to find the money needed.  She said: “He was devastated, he was really upset but he’s just got to keep trying. It’s all he wants to do.”

She said Alexander, who has a sister Eleri, 11, and a brother Carreg, eight, who are also keen dancers, is dedicated to pursuing a dance career and attends monthly boys sessions at Tring Park School. Alexander, who started danced when he was six, is now looking forward to auditioning again for the school in February with the hope of winning a paid scholarship.


© Copyright 2009 South Wales Argus

Related Article: Gwent dancer is following in Billy Elliot’s footsteps


The Saratogian
December 25, 2009


SARATOGA SPRINGS — Échappé, jeté, plié are not words used commonly in most classrooms, and certainly not classrooms occupied by a handful of teenage boys. But Raul Martinez’s ballet studio, and his Friday evening boys’ ballet class is not your typical classroom.

Martinez, director of the School of Arts at the National Museum of Dance, started the class over the summer with the hope of training more male dancers. He says that dancers in the class have to overcome a stigma associated with men who dance — particularly those who wear tights, as is the custom in ballet.

“Ballet can be a very masculine thing,” said Martinez. “You don’t need to be weak. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.”

So far, the class has attracted four students, ages 9, 12, 14 and 42. Camm Epstein volunteered to take the class with his son, Sam. “It’s a great opportunity to do something with my son,” he said, noting that he had volunteered to take the class with his son as a way to show that dancing does not have to be emasculating.

For Sam, who started dancing as a child before taking a hiatus, the fun is simpler. “I like the spins and jumps,” he said.

While seeing young boys in ballet classes is not unusual, Martinez noted that as boys get older, dancing with girls looses its appeal and becomes counter-productive in the education of a young dancer.

“Sooner or later, boys drop, because they are dancing with women forever, and they develop female movements,” said Martinez. The men’s ballet class is an attempt to provide a supportive atmosphere for male dancers, while ingraining in the students the idea that dancing — even in tights — is not an effeminate activity.

“We need to get through the stigma that if you are a male dancer, you’re a sissy,” he said. “It’s very strong [sic].”

So far, Martinez is content to have one class, which combines dancers of various skill levels. Later on, he said, classes for men would be broken out by age groups — no dads in the dance class — or skill levels.

For now, though, Martinez said the mixed-age groups are working out. “It may seem odd to have kids and an adult in the class, but because he’s a parent, it’s more of a team effort,” Martinez said. “It’s great to see the father and son encourage each other.”

Between the two, it’s generally accepted that Sam, the limber 9-year-old, is the better dancer. The classes’ star pupil is less certain.

Joining Sam and Camm Epstein in the class are Bryce Bouchard, 12, of Ballston Spa, and Kyle Marra, 14, of Clifton Park. Each claimed different reasons for taking up ballet.

“I saw my sister do it, and I thought I could do better,” said Bouchard, who started dancing when he was 5. Now, he says he and his sister [are] “neck-and-neck” for family honors of most talented dancer.

Marra, on the other hand, sees ballet as a foundation in his dance education. He hopes to go to school for dance later in life.

For more information on the National Museum of Dance’s School of the Arts, call 581-0858, or go to


© Copyright 2009 The Saratogian

Delaware’s Chris Evans is one of five Americans set to compete in the Prix de Lausanne next month in Switzerland.


Columbus Local News
December 23, 2009


 Dancer Christopher Evans knows all about the buses in Central Ohio. He’s up at 5 a.m. and catches the 6:30 DATA bus in Delaware. Then it’s a 15-minute wait at Crosswoods for a COTA bus to downtown Columbus, where he takes a 15-minute walk to BalletMet Academy.

Finally, he’s ready to learn dance — from 9:15 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m., six days a week. “I don’t feel like I have a social life,” Evans said. “What makes up for it is when I’m on stage.”

From Jan. 26-31, Evans will take a new stage. The 15-year-old Delaware resident is one of only five Americans selected to compete in the Prix De Lausanne, an international competition in Switzerland that helps prepare 15- to 18-year-old dancers for a professional career.

“It’s the best of the best,” Evans said.

Dance became an integral part of his life at age 4 when he was inspired by a performance of The Nutcracker featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov. Evans said he was mesmerized by the famous dancer’s jumps and how natural he made it look.

“I said ‘Mom, I want to be like that guy,'” Evans said.

After calling several dance studios in Arizona, where the family lived at the time, Evans’ mother, Joanna Hatanaka, reached Mary Adams from Adams Ballet Academy in Tempe, Ariz., who was willing to take a chance teaching such a young boy how to dance.

“She took him under her wing and nurtured his love for dance,” Hatanaka said.

Five years ago, the family moved to Delaware; two years later, Evans began studying at BalletMet in Columbus. He’s now one of the youngest in the pre-professional program, which is so demanding it requires him to take online classes.

“We are very proud that Chris is one of two American male students going forward to compete against young dancers from all over the world,” said BalletMet Academy Director Susan Brooker, who will accompany Evans and his mother to Switzerland. “Although he is still young, his potential is evident.”

Evans describes his style as classical. “Some guys are big into jumps, which I can do, but I’m more into fluidity and expressing myself,” he said.

He said his success comes from being able to take correction, which is one of the factors judges evaluate at the Prix De Lausanne during classroom sessions. “If I get a correction from a teacher, I work my butt off to get it right,” he said.

His long-term goal is to return to Europe and dance for a professional company. “Dancing here is kind of dying, but there’s still fire in Europe,” he said.

To follow video blog updates of Evans at the Prix De Lausanne, visit the Web site


Copyright © 2009

By Cassandra Pokoney
Photograph by Barry Harcourt
The Southland Times
December 21, 2009


A nine-year-old Winton boy is dancing all the way to the bank after he was awarded a British Ballet Organisation junior scholarship.

Damen Axtens was awarded the scholarship this month after taking part in ballet exams last month. The money was to be used to further his ballet studies.

Damen, whose sister and brother are also dancers, said he was thrilled with the scholarship. “It’s cool,” he said.

Damen, who has been learning ballet since he was 4, said he loved dancing and hoped to pursue it as a career. He has been a student at Scandrett Dance for the past two years.

Teacher Glenys Scandrett said Damen was a natural dancer and she was proud of his achievements. “He works very hard and he’s very serious about what he does. “He’s naturally good,” Ms Scandrett said.


© 2009 Fairfax New Zealand Limited

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