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Category Archives: Best of 2009

The boys have choosen 28 of the 80 articles posted in 2009 to be included in the Best of 2009

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

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By David Stabler
The Oregonian
December 17, 2009


When Michael Kepler Meo becomes an opera singer, he will live in a condo in New York City. He will get up early and take a taxi to work. He will work days and nights. He will travel. Sometimes he will have big chunks of money, and sometimes he won’t.

He will not just be any old opera singer. He will be a heroic tenor, slayer of dragons, defeater of armies, rescuer of maidens. Tenors, you see, “get the biggest parts.”

At 11, Mike already is getting big parts. Last winter, he sang the role of Miles in Portland Opera‘s compelling production of “The Turn of the Screw.” Miles is a key role in Benjamin Britten’s cryptic tale of [the corruption and death of a young boy in a rural English manor house].  Mike mastered the difficult music with a mature performance.

“He’s a natural on the stage,” says Rob Ainsley, who coached him for the production. Ainsley, Portland Opera’s chorus master and principal coach, was a boy soprano himself when he was growing up in Durham, England.

“He’s a very, very intelligent child,” Ainsley says. “You ask him to do very complicated musical things and he will go away and practice them overnight and come back at the level you want him to be. He gives you everything you want as a musician.”

When Mike, a Portland Boychoir member, auditioned for the role, he didn’t know what opera was, but word of his Portland success spread to Houston Grand Opera, which hired him for its production of “The Turn of the Screw” next year. Houston will require him to move there for six weeks next month, putting him on a larger musical map.


What else? In October, he starred in a Vancouver production of a key boy soprano role, “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” And starting Friday, Mike will make an unusual appearance in Handel’s “Messiah” with the Portland Baroque Orchestra. Lo, instead of a soprano singing the voice of the Angel, Mike will comfort shepherds abiding in their field: “… fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. …”

Mike didn’t start out winning major solos. He got his start at the age of 6 in Portland Boychoir, led by longtime choir director David York. Says Mike, “I was totally overwhelmed. I didn’t know how to read anything, let alone read music, but I kind of got it.”

From day one, he was serious about singing, recalls his mother, Trudy Meo. “I don’t think he broke eye contact the entire time. Other kids were squirreling around. Not Mike. He was like a laser.”

Mike has a “really wonderful set of pipes,” York says, “and he has a real prowess for performance. He gets energy from the experience, and that continues to fuel his next opportunities. Other boys in the choir sing harmony as well or better than Mike, but to his credit, he’s a team player. He can blow out the choir and he knows that that’s not what good choral singing is about, and is able to therefore temper his performance.”

Each weekday before lunch, Mike, who is homeschooled, practices piano, guitar and voice for an hour and 45 minutes. “If mom hasn’t made lunch, I have to keep practicing,” he says.

Neither parent plays an instrument or sings, but when Mike was 5, his father read to him William Blake’s poem “The Tiger,” which begins, “Tiger, tiger, burning bright.” Mike was so bewitched, he set it to music. He got deeper into music through singing and playing the guitar with Ballet Papalotl, a local Mexican culture and dance organization.

Mike lives in Northeast Portland with his mother; father, Michael; and brother, John, 9, who also is homeschooled by Mom. Dad teaches math at Benson Polytechnic High School.

Mike’s favorite food is Top Ramen — “I gotta love him for that!” says his mother. And he adores Greek mythology. His favorite movie is “Troy,” starring Brad Pitt as Achilles, half-god, slayer of Hector — faster, stronger and more deadly than any other man. At the mention of Achilles, Mike leaps to his feet, raises his arms in a heroic pose and recites Achilles’ speech from the movie:

“Myrmidons! My brothers of the sword! I would rather fight beside you than any army of thousands! Let no man forget how menacing we are, we are lions! Do you know what’s waiting beyond that beach? Immortality! Take it! It’s yours!”

Says Ainsley, “You know, he reads ‘The Iliad’ in Spanish at breakfast.”

Mike knows he has little time to waste. Boy sopranos have only a few years before their voices change. That’s why Houston Grand Opera grabbed him. “Word travels very fast,” Ainsley says. “Not a lot of boys in the country can do this. Boys are not singing that much anymore. You never know whether the voice will break.”

For that reason, Mike and another boy were both cast as Miles in the Portland production. When the other boy’s voice did break during rehearsals, Mike got the part to himself.

“He was a young Miles, only 10 at the time,” Ainsley says. “Most of the time on a major stage you’re going to put a kid who’s 13, 14, who’s been singing for several years, whose voice is maximum size. (Mike) is capable of projecting. It was a huge feat of precociousness.”

In Houston, Mike will have an understudy. In one of his droll moods, he says, “I have to constantly confirm my dominance.”

But first comes the angel in Handel’s “Messiah” this weekend. It’s only two minutes of singing, but Ainsley, who is conducting the performances, chose him to add vocal variety. “It’s a long, long piece for the audience, so you’re looking for variety, trying to latch on to anything that’s narrative, a hint of plot.”

Says Mike, “I said yes because I need to be saying yes to things. I need to be open to stuff, on the lookout for opportunities. Singing is great; it’s awesome. I think I do better performing for people than practicing for nobody.”


© 2009 Oregon Live LLC

By Tisha Johnson | Staff Writer
Photographs by Tisha Johnson. 
The Fort Leavenworth Lamp
December 3, 2009


Three young Fort Leavenworth residents are among the more than 200 children in the cast of the Kansas City’s Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker.

Abby and Emily Fedroff and Durante Verzola are students at the Kansas City Ballet School. The children will join the 25 members of the professional company for the production that begins Dec. 16.

Eight-year-old Abby is playing an Angel and a Mother Ginger child and 10-year-old Emily is playing a Mother Ginger child in the production. Thirteen-year-old Verzola is playing the prince, one of the male leads in the ballet.

All three dancers were familiar with their roles before rehearsals began. Verzola was the prince in the Kansas City Ballet’s production last year. Abby and Emily were in their community’s production of the Nutcracker at West Point, N.Y., last year where the family was stationed.

Verzola began dance at 7 with a tap class at West Point when his family was stationed there. The next year he began ballet. His future, he said, is with ballet. Verzola said he wants to pursue a professional career as a dancer.

“I like performing in front of people and showing them this art,” Verzola said. “I think it’s a really special, different and unique thing not everybody can do. It takes a lot of stamina and determination and commitment.”

Having the role of the prince is an honor, Verzola said. It is a big role and a big responsibility, he said.

“You really have to make the audience believe this is all really happening, you want them to be captivated by your performance,” Verzola said. “You have to make sure to stay animated and for every performance act like you’ve never seen it before either.”

With rehearsals for The Nutcracker, Verzola said he is at the school six days a week. Rehearsal is Saturday and Sunday, and during the week, Verzola has different ballet classes as well as a special men’s dance class, Pilates and modern dance.

“It’s a lot of work,” Verzola said.

Every day at the school is a challenge, Verzola said. He said he is always learning how to improve his technique. With all the other competition in the business, Verzola said, it is important to stand out with good technique.

Before coming to Fort Leavenworth, Verzola and his family researched the different studios in the area and what they could offer. When the time comes to move again, Verzola said he and his family would repeat the process.

“I guess I will cross that bridge when I come to it, research what kind of schools are there, but I definitely will never quit,” Verzola said.

The oldest of six siblings, he said his parents are very supportive of his art. “Obviously to drive down here every day, especially with my other siblings’ busy schedules,” Verzola said.

Verzola will be in about half of the performances of The Nutcracker this season, the children are split into two different casts and he is part of cast A. Emily and Abby are also part of cast A.


Copyright © 2006 GateHouse Media, Inc.

By Andrew Robinson
Yorkshire Post
November 27, 2009


FICTIONAL Billy Elliot may have faced prejudice and scorn when he took up ballet but real-life Yorkshire boy Thomas Bedford has enjoyed one success after another since taking to the stage at the tender age of four.

At four he won a raft of awards in local competitions in Leeds and his old dance teacher recalled yesterday how she knew that Thomas was “definitely going places” just months after he first trod the boards.

Yesterday the 12-year-old Royal Ballet School student proved himself again when he made his debut in the role of Franz in The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden.

Tickets were so sought-after that his mother Donna could not get hold of one, although his father Bruce and sister Sophie, 13, were there yesterday for his big day.

Before the performance, Thomas admitted he was feeling a bit nervous – hardly surprising as he lined up alongside the stars of The Royal Ballet including Miyako Yoshida as The Sugar Plum Fairy and Steven McRae as The Nutcracker Prince. “I am a little nervous, but I am also really excited to be dancing with The Royal Ballet. Most of my family will be travelling down to London to see me on the opening night so I want to show them, as well as my teachers, what I can do.”

His ultimate dream is to perform for the Royal family.

Thomas started dancing at the age of four after seeing his sister perform ballet. He joined the Mullen Theatre Studios in Churwell, Leeds and later became a Royal Ballet School Leeds junior associate with teacher Melanie Agar.

After a successful audition, he joined The Royal Ballet lower school at Richmond Park, London in September last year. It meant packing his bags and leaving home, which came as much as a shock to his parents as it did to him.

His mother Donna, headteacher at Tadcaster East primary school in North Yorkshire, said: “We were gutted when he went; the house was very quiet and his sister misses him incredibly.” But the decision to move to London had been his, she said.

“I think it took a bit of getting used to. He built up his independence and was rarely homesick. He wanted to do it, he had seen Billy Elliot. It was a big decision for a little boy but he said he wanted to go for it.

“His sister Sophie is very proud. She told him it was an ‘opportunity of a lifetime’- she is an articulate child.”

Watching Billy Elliot helped him focus on the future, said Mrs Bedford, who lives in Church Fenton, near Tadcaster. “After watching, I think it made him look towards what the future might be like. It opened his eyes a lot more.

“Thomas says he wants to be the best he can be. Once he said ‘I’ll be the Nutcracker one day’.”

Mrs Bedford said Thomas had always been open about his love of dancing and had not faced bullying. “He took videos of himself doing ballet into school. He was very up front. His fitness level is incredible so he is the fittest football player on the field. He also has good elevation so he can jump very high.”

While her son quickly took to the rarefied boarding school life, his mother admitted it was a big learning curve for her. She half expected not to like the ballet school – “a lot of very posh cars pull up outside” – but said: “I could not fault it. I still can’t believe he’s doing what he’s doing. He loves it. It’s a very dog-eat-dog world.”

His former dance teacher, Julie Hale, principal at Mullen Theatre Studios, said: “He’s just got the ability but he has worked very hard to achieve what he has. He seems to set his mind on something and works very hard and is dedicated.

“When he comes back to see us, he gives us a hug and is very chatty. It was hard to let him go.”

She recalled that, as a four-year-old it was clear that he had he moves. “He was really bright and I could see that in the first 12 months that he had it and was definitely going places. He was very quick to pick up the dance steps and was winning awards in the baby section at festivals. He always passed his exams with really good marks and always won the award for most promising dancer.”


©2009 Johnston Press Digital Publishing

Photographs by ROSE PALMISANO
December 14, 2009


Charles Maple, director of Maple Conservatory of Dance, instructs Patrick Frenette not to pinch his shoulder blades together while practicing an Arabesque. Maple says Patrick has a bright future ahead in ballet. The moms crowd the doorway to peer at the dancers running and skipping around in the baby ballet class. The girls in their pink leotards look like butterflies.There’s not a boy in sight – except for the little guy with the big dark eyes, on the floor by his mother’s feet. He wants to do what the girls are doing. He’s too young for the class, but, at 2, he doesn’t know that. He runs inside the room.

He’s better at it than the girls, but he can’t stay. Not this time, nor all the other times afterward when he bolts away from his dad or his mom to join in the dance.

The next year, Patrick Frenette gets to join his sister Emma in the ballet class. They continue together in their training year after year. For much of that time, Patrick was the only boy in ballet. Kids at his elementary school made fun of him, ostracized him, attacked him.

But he kept dancing.

Emma, 18 months older than her brother, started ballet on the recommendation of an orthopedic surgeon. She was pigeon toed, and ballet is all about turning your feet out.

They lived in Vancouver, where their dad, Matt Frenette, grew up. He is the drummer for Loverboy, a successful Canadian rock band from the ’80s that continues to perform. Their mom, Kimber Frenette, was a self-described military brat who moved all over the U.S. and Europe.

His parents say Patrick loved music and art at an early age. Before he learned to stand and walk, he’d sit on the floor, moving his head in rhythm to whatever music was playing – classical, country, rock. Matt would say to Kimber, “He’s going to be a great drummer.”

But ballet was Patrick’s greatest love. When other kids on the playground practiced drop kicks, Patrick practiced pirouettes.

The other boys played hockey or soccer. And the bullying began almost from his first day at school, and continued, unrelenting, for years. “There was a bunch of boys who really picked on him,” says Jennifer Anderson, his former principal at the French-immersion school. “They just couldn’t understand why a boy would choose to do ballet.”

They called Patrick “Tutu Boy” and other names that he hesitates to repeat. “I don’t know if you can print this,” he says, recalling the slurs one afternoon as he sits with arms and legs crossed on the couch at his home in Tustin, where the family moved last year.

…Patrick and Emma changed schools. Patrick was still the only male ballet dancer on campus, but with other kids involved in various arts, the atmosphere was more tolerant. As part of his school day, he left early in the afternoon for ballet training.





In 2006, when he was 11, Patrick won a scholarship for a two-week summer workshop at American Ballet Theatre in New York City. He returned the next two summers for six-week workshops. Patrick was no longer the only boy in ballet.

“I saw boys exactly like me, my age,” he says, looking up from a huge book about famed danseur George Balanchine that he studies intently just about every day. “There were some who had technique I never even dreamed of having.”

It made him love ballet even more. “Ballet,” he says, “just lets me let loose.”

He kept dancing, kept getting better.

The family came to Tustin so Patrick and Emma could train at the well-regarded Maple Conservatory in Irvine. Emma had met founder and director Charles Maple at an American Ballet Theatre summer program and came home raving about him.

Both get their schooling online. It frees them up for the demands of training, and they avoid the distractions – and social pressure from peers – that might disrupt it.

An untrained eye can see the potential in the long limbs that propel Patrick’s lean 5’9″ frame in graceful but powerful saute’ de chat arcing leaps across the wide dance studio at the end of a two-hour evening class on technique.

Trained eyes see the potential, too. “He has a tremendous future ahead of him,” Charles Maple says. “It’s not only his dancing, but his passion to dance, his curiosity. He designs costumes. He choreographs. He’s like a Renaissance man… I’m just thrilled to be a part of the journey for him.”

That journey will take Patrick to London next July, for two weeks at the prestigious Royal Academy of Ballet. He’ll be there on scholarship.”It’s one of the great schools in the world,” Maple says. “That’s quite a feat to get a full scholarship like that. But he deserves it.”

Part of the training for the boys at Maple Conservatory includes teaching them how to deal with negative comments from other kids, says Maple, 56, who started ballet at 12, and danced as a professional until he was 38. “It’s still tough for boys to do it. Boys need to feel comfortable. What we’re doing is trying to create a sanctuary for them.”

Patrick just turned 15. He volunteers part of his time at Maple mentoring younger boys. He’s eager to be a role model for them. “I just tell them no matter how talented you are, no matter how high you can jump, no matter how much more flexible you are than the other guys, stay humble and kind. Don’t let praise go to your head.”

He tells them to keep dancing.


© Copyright 2009 Orange County Register Communications

Wollongong & Northern Leader
October 15, 2009


WHILE their friends are splashing about in the surf or kicking a football around during school holidays, the Martignago brothers of Figtree will be busy leaping and pointing at the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne. Zachary, 11, and Harley, 9, have just been accepted into the prestigious junior interstate/international training program for 2010.

“We’ll have to work five times as hard,” said Zachary. “We’ll have more lessons for longer.”

The pair trains five days a week for two hours a day at the Joanne Grace School of Dance in Fairy Meadow.

Teacher Ms Grace said the program was very difficult to get into, “regardless of whether it’s boys or girls”. They take whoever they see talent in and who fits the mould,” she said.

Ms Grace said the announcement came as a surprise. “Zac wasn’t accepted when he applied two years ago but, two years on, his technique has come a long way.”

She said the training program was a stepping stone to the Australian Ballet. “What this means is many years of hard work but the boys both have a desire to achieve and work extremely hard. Their passion for dance really shows in how hard they work.”

Mother Joanne Martignago said she was in awe of their commitment and talent. “They both have a strong passion for dancing and spend many hours a week training and attend many eisteddfods,” she said. “The bond between the brothers is inspirational and they encourage each other all the time.

“They have a younger sister who also dances and would love to follow in their footsteps.”

Mrs Martignago said dance was a family commitment and they loved every minute. The boys train every morning before school and do their homework in the car on the way to practice.

As well as ballet, the brothers – who have been dancing since they were two – study modern dance, jazz, tap, singing and drama. They both play soccer and jog with their Dad.

Harley said their friends at St Brigid’s Catholic primary school at Gwynneville were all pleased for them. “They said ‘well done’ and ‘congratulations’,” he said.


Copyright © Southern Independent

Frances Thompson
Newcastle Herald
Date: 05/12/2009


Daniel Roberge knows professional dance can be a physically and emotionally demanding career.  There are no stars in the young Cardiff Heights dancer’s eyes but the excitement that bubbles to the surface when Roberge talks about the year ahead is hard to contain.

At 18, Roberge is on the threshold of his career.

It begins in March at the Washington Ballet but first comes the Youth America Grand Prix in New York City. It is said to be the world’s largest international student ballet competition.  “I am going straight to the finals in New York City,” Roberge said.

“In that competition you gain a lot of exposure. There are company directors from the biggest companies around the world.

“It is a . . . competition to gain scholarships into schools and also for work, if somebody likes you.”

And they do like.

Roberge was offered a fast track to the finals after directors looked at his audition tape. In September, Roberge won a silver medal in the British Royal Academy of Dance Genee Awards in Singapore. “I can’t believe that I did so well,” Roberge said at the time.

The young man started dancing at about the age of five and continued in jazz and hip-hop until he saw a performance by the Australian Ballet when he was 13 or 14. “That was a bit of an inspiration to learn classical ballet.”

But it was to be another two years before he started classical dancing.

Roberge, a former student of the Hunter School of Performing Arts, says that to begin learning the classical form in teenage years is considered a late start for a dancer.  He saw how much faster classical students some of whom might have begun learning when they were not much beyond the toddler years were advancing in competence compared with him.

“I felt left behind.”

After gaining the School Certificate, he was offered a scholarship at the National College of Dance at the Marie Walton-Mahon Dance Academy at Lambton and his classical dance education began in earnest. “Before the last two years I had almost no idea about classical.”

This may be a unique advantage for Roberge. “I feel like I’m fresh to classical ballet. A lot of people get worn out and uninspired to go further, because of the physical demands. “The steps derive from a couple of hundred years ago and have been pushed further in pure classical ballet. I am still challenging myself to go higher.”

Roberge has certainly paid his dues and shown a commitment to dance. He appeared in Star Struck and at 11 was in the musical Oliver! at Star City Casino. Roberge had to move out of his Cardiff Heights home because of the length of the show’s Sydney season.

He knows the pressures of the discipline and says having a break from dancing is a priority. “You can’t have your whole life consumed, otherwise it sends you insane. Once it’s Friday, that’s time for me to stop thinking about the dance. That is the secret in going further in the ballet world, because it really gets quite demanding.

“A lot of people don’t make it.”

Roberge also has a plan for life after dance. His diploma from the college entitles him to university entrance in the future. “I have always been thinking about life after dancing, because it can’t go on forever. You need to make the right decisions at the start.”

The history of Australian dance is full of stories about male ballet dancers’ horrific experiences of bullying and teasing over their choice of career. Perhaps it is the success of mainstream television dance shows or the development of modern dance, through companies such as the Bangarra Dance Theatre, that have broadened public interest.

Roberge said he’s never had any trouble. “I was at the Hunter School of Performing Arts since the age of about eight or nine and even when I left I had a group of friends and I’m meeting new people and telling them about dance, and they are always looking at the more positive aspects.”

Three other Marie Walton-Mahon Dance Academy students have been selected for the Youth America Grand Prix in New York: Melanie Smith, Henrietta Ellice-Flint and Olivia Heyworth. Ellice-Flint, a boarder from Adelaide at the college, will continue travelling with Roberge after the New York competitions.

The close bonds of Roberge’s friendships, forged from an early age in a common love of performance and the arts, have started to loosen now the young group are going different ways. “Friends are bit of issue for me at the moment. My friend Henrietta is coming with me to Washington.”

Another male friend has a job dancing at a Disney resort in Tokyo, he said.

“It is the start of real life. It is a bit daunting.”

Students from Marie Walton-Mahon Dance Academy and the National College of Dance will present their Night To Remember concert at the Civic Theatre on Saturday, December 12.


© 2009 Newcastle Herald

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