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Category Archives: Best of 2010

The boys have choosen 29 of the 102 articles posted in 2010 to be included in the Best of 2010

Hills News
Photograph by Natalie Roberts
December 14, 2010


BEING accepted into the prestigious Australian Ballet School is a dream that many ballet dancers won’t fulfil.  But Castle Hill classical ballet dancer Harrison Lee did so when he was only eight years old.

Harrison, now 11, was recently cast in the ensemble of The Nutcracker at the Sydney Opera House, his third professional production with The Australian Ballet. The sold-out performance premiered on December 3 and Harrison said he was excited and nervous about his first night.

“It was very relaxing backstage, so I tried not to think about what I had to do too much,” he said. “I think the show put a lot of impact on people by seeing young people performing like this. And it might inspire other people to start dancing.”

The St Angela’s School pupil started dancing at the age of five after joining his sister’s dance class. And he hasn’t looked back.

He has won many McDonald’s Sydney Eisteddfod awards — including gold in the boys’ dance category in September — successfully held a spot as an interstate student at the Melbourne-based Australian Ballet School for three years and is starting a scholarship with The McDonald College at North Strathfield next month.

Mum Cindy said she was overwhelmed when Harrison was accepted on the spot to join the ballet school in 2007. “He auditioned and normally dancers have to wait a while to find out, but Leigh Rowles (the head of student training) walked out of the room and asked if he could start next week,” she said.

“We’ve been going to Melbourne once a month for classes and private lessons until he is old enough to move there and study full time.”

Harrison said it was a privilege to learn from the professional dancers and teachers of the school. “I enjoy meeting new people and experiencing how different teachers teach,” he said. “It helps with my corrections because every teacher notices different things to correct.

“I’m looking forward to starting my scholarship next year, to meet new people and new teachers.”

Copyright © 2010. Fairfax Media

Related Article: Castle Hill dancer sure has rhythm



BETSEY BRUNER, Daily Sun staff
Photographs by Betsy Bruner
Arizona Daily Sun
December 6, 2010


Josiah Cook, a princely performer, is featured in the annual ‘Nutcracker’ treat.

His leaps and splits high in the air awed audiences last Christmas season. The ballet career of Flagstaff’s Josiah Cook is also positioned to leap high through his last three years of high school and beyond, possibly even to New York City to apprentice with a major ballet company.

Audiences will again get a chance to be wowed by Josiah, 14, as he performs Dec. 10 and 11 in three roles during the annual “Nutcracker Ballet” in Ardrey Auditorium: Soldier doll, Russian dancer and, a principal part, the Nutcracker Prince.

Josiah’s eyes are firmly fixed on a career in ballet, an art form he loves. “Mostly, it’s just the thrill of dancing itself, and the audience, having them watch me, brings it out more,” Josiah said. “The adrenaline rush — that helps the energy.”



Josiah, who was born and raised in Flagstaff, is in his seventh year with the NAU Community Music and Dance Academy, a branch of the NAU School of Music.

The academy was established in 1980 and provides training and certification through the Royal Academy of Dance in London.

Andrew Needhammer, choreographer and director of the ballet program at the academy, has been working with Josiah from the beginning, including preparing him for many roles in the “Nutcracker” at NAU.

Josiah has probably added 6 inches to his frame since last year’s “Nutcracker,” Needhammer said, and hits about 100 pounds and 5 feet, 3 inches today.

“We’ve just expanded the parts for him as he’s grown,” said Needhammer, who toured with ABT II, danced with the National Ballet of Canada for seven years and was a principal dancer with Ballet Arizona in Phoenix.

“It’s exciting,” said Needhammer, about working with the young dancer. “When I left Phoenix, I left three very good boys. I regretted having to leave them. All three went on to New York. When I came here, I found Josiah, and he filled that spot in my teaching.”

Needhammer is impressed by the dancer’s work ethic. “He worked as hard then as he does now,” he said. “He was completely dedicated and committed. You can’t teach people that.”



Throughout the year, Josiah takes dance classes, alone and with others, for a total of 2 1/2 to 3 hours each week. Meeting this demanding schedule is made easier by the fact that he is home-schooled by both his parents, Dan and Debbie Cook.

He also has five brothers and two sisters, with three of his siblings dancing in this year’s “Nutcracker.”

As show time approaches, practices have intensified, especially since Josiah will be featured in the Snow Pas de Deux, partnered with Wanyi Ng, 16, in the role of the Snow Queen. The two have been practicing hard with Needhammer for the lovely duet, which occurs at the end of the first act.

“The mood is definitely a lot quieter and relaxed, and dancing with a partner, also, it’s new,” Josiah said.

The dance includes a lot of partnered pirouettes, Needhammer said.

“Josiah has become a very sensitive partner,” he added. “He’s very in tune to what she needs as a ballerina.”



Maestra Elizabeth Schulze of FSO will be conducting the “Nutcracker Ballet” in its entirety for the first time. “The music is gorgeous and remarkably descriptive,” Schulze said in an e-mail. “Tchaikovsky is a master storyteller.”

She also said she is excited about working with the young performers, including some, like Josiah, who have moved into principal roles. “I’m looking forward to working with the young dancers and singers,” the conductor said in an e-mail. “For the dancers particularly, the ballet is a rite of passage, as they start out in the mouse army and make their way over the years into the ranks of snowflakes and flowers and perhaps even achieving a solo part.”

To prepare for his dance future, Josiah spent four weeks last summer in Austin, Texas, dancing with the American Ballet Theatre II, a training company which prepares young dancers to enter ABT in New York, as well as other professional ballet companies.

“It was lot of fun; I learned a lot,” he said. “I auditioned in Tucson. There were only two other guys auditioning, but a lot of girls. After I graduate, I’m hoping maybe to join a company.”

“After a few more summer intensives,” Needhammer added.


© Copyright 2010,,

By Elizabeth Kramer
The Courier-Journal
Photograph by Peter Muller
November 29, 2010


Since 1944, when the San Francisco Ballet premiered the first full-length version of “The Nutcracker” in this country, the piece, with its rich score by Tchaikovsky, has become the first experience many children have with live ballet.

“It’s where people find inspiration to become dancers,” said Louisville Ballet artistic director Bruce Simpson.

“The Nutcracker” has definitely influenced scores of girls to beg their parents for lessons, but as the Louisville Ballet School has seen, it’s also inspired boys.

Simpson said the school has bolstered its efforts to train all young dancers over the years, but it also has been working to provide boys — who are much fewer in numbers at almost all schools — the teaching that they need to go on to professional careers.

“The great ambition is to train dancers good enough to go into professional companies,” he said.

While the path to becoming a pro can be long, it often starts with “The Nutcracker” and includes the production throughout the years of training and professional performances, as the following four male dancers represent.


Henry Miller

Age: 12

Louisville Ballet School:  2009-present

‘Nutcracker’ History: Party Boy, 2009; Fritz, 2010

Now: Student, Louisville Ballet School

Barry Miller said he can’t quite get over the fact that his son, Henry, already has a résumé. It’s just starting to spill over one page with the titles of plays and the characters he’s played in performances from high school musicals to Actors Theatre of Louisville.

At a young age, Henry showed a knack for performing, Miller said, which initially led him and his wife to sign their middle son up for auditions with high school plays not far from their Southern Indiana home.

In 2005, Henry got his first break as Bob Cratchit’s son in Floyd Central High School’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” For the next three years, he got used to the stage in several local high school productions. He got involved in Clarksville Little Theater and even received encouraging feedback when he sent in a few videos of him acting to Hollywood casting directors for a few films, including “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

But Henry knew he needed more to excel on the stage. “I realized that if I wanted to be in more plays, I would need to know how to dance better,” he said.

In the meantime, Henry’s parents took him to see “The Nutcracker.” Berry Miller remembers Henry’s reaction: “He said, ‘I want to do that someday.’ ”

That someday wasn’t too far in Henry’s future. He had already been studying dance at Jeffersonville’s Weber School of Dance for a year when during the summer he went with his parents to an open house at the Louisville Ballet School. The visit convinced Henry he wanted to be there.

“It was just like (the film) ‘Billy Elliot,’ ” Barry Miller said.

Before long, Mikelle Bruzina, who had just retired as a principal ballerina to become the company’s ballet mistress, took Henry off to a rehearsal hall for about an hour to see what he could do.

Henry enrolled in the school in the fall of 2009, and by December he was performing in “The Nutcracker” as a child in Act One’s party scene. And his dancing progressed. Over the next several months, one of his most cherished accomplishments was learning to do a pirouette, and in April, he was cast in the company’s production of “Swan Lake.”

Now, with the holiday season approaching again, Henry’s in “The Nutcracker” playing Marie’s brother Fritz, who is a bit of a leader among the children and fights with his sister over her gift. The whole experience has energized Henry, who still manages to go to about two dance classes each week.

“It’s exciting because Fritz does a bit more than the party children, and I get to dance by myself,” he said, adding that it means he has more complicated steps as well as some jumps to perform.

But that isn’t all Henry is doing this holiday season. He and his parents have been juggling time between rehearsals for “The Nutcracker” with another for “A Christmas Story” at Actors Theatre, where he is playing Ralphie. But Henry is taking it in stride. “It’s been a little bit stressful getting to rehearsals,” he said, “but it helps that they are just down the street (on Main Street) from each other.”

In the New Year, and after the production closes, Henry wants to concentrate more on dance. One reason: he received some positive feedback to a video he sent of himself to some casting agents for the Broadway production of “Billy Elliot” and the boy wants to give it another go.


Connor Holloway

Age: 16

Louisville Ballet School: 2007-2010

‘Nutcracker’ History:
Party Boy and Nutcracker, 2006; Fritz and Nutcracker, 2007, 2008; Fritz, 2009

Now: Student, Boston Ballet School’s Pre-Professional Program

“He didn’t want anything to do with it,” Peter Holloway said about his son, Connor, when he first introduced him to the stage. It was 2004, when Connor was 10 years old and Holloway got the role of Captain Hook in Music Theatre Louisville’s production of “Peter Pan.”

Though Connor wasn’t in the production, Holloway, who is now artistic director of Music Theatre Louisville and Stage One, did bring his son to rehearsals. There he got to know the children in the cast and had a change of heart about the stage.

The next year, Connor auditioned for the company’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.” He got in, and that set off a string of roles in MTL productions as well as others with Stage One and Derby Dinner Playhouse that put him on stages around town. One stage was the Bomhard Theater at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, where he was in Stage One’s “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” With the run-up to the holidays, Connor got to peek in on a few “Nutcracker” rehearsals and was intrigued.

Having played many dramatic roles in plays and musicals and taken some classes at a few dance studios, at age 12 he auditioned for “The Nutcracker.” And despite not being enrolled in the Louisville Ballet School at the time, he got roles playing a boy at a party and a young nutcracker.

Connor remembers sitting out in the house seats watching the dancers.“I loved being in rehearsal with the company members and watching them work,” Connor said. “It takes such strength.”

With encouragement from Louisville Ballet artistic director Bruce Simpson, he made plans the next year to audition for summer programs at other ballet schools. In the process, he and his father discovered that over one weekend in Boston, three major schools were holding auditions — the Boston Ballet School, the San Francisco Ballet School, and the Pacific Northwest Ballet School of Seattle.

He was accepted to and offered full scholarships to the schools in Boston and Seattle, and decided to attend Boston’s program. Then, last summer, just as the program in Boston was coming to an end, the school’s director approached him and offered him a scholarship to study in the school’s full-time pre-professional program.

“I was kind of blown away,” Connor said, “because I knew I felt good about the summer program and that I had been improving. But with 80 boys, it was hard to tell if I would get in.”

From those 80 boys, fewer than 10 were asked to be in the pre-professional program, which Connor started this fall. He now lives in an apartment with another student and takes online high school classes through the Jefferson County Public Schools system — all while taking dance classes for sometimes more than eight hours a day.

Today, Connor lives near Fenway Park and takes classes at the school in downtown Boston. He opted not to be in the Boston Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” this year, so that he can spend the holidays with his family in Louisville.

But he wants to keep progressing as quickly as he has in recent years. That, he said, could have him working with the Boston Ballet’s pre-professional troupe in a few years.

“Based on what my level is now, if I progress at a steady rate I can be there by the time I’m 18 or 19,” he said.

Zachary Thomas

Age: 20

Louisville Ballet School: 1998-2008

‘Nutcracker’ History:

Fritz, 1998, 1999, 2000; Party Boy, 2001; Mouse, 2002; Cavalry Rat, 2003

Now : Senior, New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance

“The Nutcracker” was key to Zachary Thomas setting out to what has now become a life dedicated to dance, and it happened during kindergarten when Thomas saw the ballet for the first time. “I remember there was a line of guys and they would throw the Snow Queen from guy to guy,” he said.

His mother, Melissa Thomas, easily recalled that same performance. “We were in the second row and Zach said ‘I want to do that,’” she recounted. So she signed him up at age 6 for ballet lessons at a nearby school, where he danced for two years as the only boy there before his teachers suggested he continue at the Louisville Ballet School.

There he was able to dance alongside other boys and study under professional male dancers. And he was able to dance in “The Nutcracker”— six times. He was a boy in the party scene and a rat, and he played Fritz, who is Marie’s brother, three times.

Thomas was sold on ballet. “When I first started, it seemed like the coolest, most magical thing ever,” he said.

But Thomas felt he was starting to waver a bit in his enthusiasm for ballet by the time he got to high school. During his sophomore year, he knew he loved dance, but wasn’t so sure about ballet.

“I had been having my own qualms,” he said. “It was tough being one of the small number of boys, and I didn’t particularly like the men’s roles in ballet. And, yes, I wanted to dance but I didn’t necessarily want to do ballet.”

Thomas sought out the advice of some of the school’s teachers who were more steeped in the contemporary dance world and began a deeper exploration of that area of dance. By his senior year of high school, he decided he wanted to study dance at New York University.

Since he moved to the city in 2008, he’s found “The Nutcracker” continues to be a part of his life. In the last two years, he performed the role of the cavalier who dances with the Sugar Plum Fairy and danced as the prince in productions in Connecticut.

And this year, he’s even experiencing a demi déjà vu dancing in a contemporary version at the Manhattan Movement Art Center. It’s actually really wild to hear the music come on, because it’s so epic and your psyche from growing up in the ballet world brings back memories,” Thomas said.

At the same time, Thomas has been more fully exploring contemporary dance not only in New York City, but also beyond this country’s borders. He’s studied at the Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance in Austria, which was founded by a former dancer with legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham’s company, and with the renowned Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv.

Peter Franc

Age: 24

Louisville Ballet School: Student, 2002-2003; company trainee 2003-2004

‘Nutcracker’ History: Rat Guard, 2002; Butler and Chinese Dancer, 2003

Now: Professional dancer (demi-soloist), Houston Ballet

Today, Peter Franc is a professional working with the Houston Ballet, but his mother, Barbara, said his chosen vocation is far from what she expected when he was 12 and the family was living in Atlanta.

“He bristled at taking a ballet class,” she said.

She had suggested he take ballet after he had been in several theater productions and wanted to learn how to dance better. Instead, Franc took a jazz dance class.

After a year, a former prima ballerina of the Atlanta Ballet, Maniya Barredo, came to ask the boys at the school to participate in a “Nutcracker” production she was staging at the ballet school she ran.

“They gave me a fake horse and a soldier’s outfit,” Franc said. “I was in the cavalry in the battle scene, and that was my first ‘Nutcracker’ experience.”

In the process, Franc also saw he could learn a lot from Barredo and, while taking lessons from her, fell in love with ballet. With her support, he also expanded his instruction when, at age 16, he attended his first intensive summer dance program with the Houston Ballet.

But then his father got a job offer that would require the family to move to Louisville. Before taking it, he wanted to check out where his son could train and set out for the Louisville Ballet School. His mother said that meeting Alun Jones, the company’s former artistic director who was then running the school, helped him decide to take the job.

Once in Louisville, Franc continued to excel and Jones took notice. He danced the role of one of the Chinese dancers in the 2002 “Nutcracker” production. “It was a huge deal for me because I was the only member of the school dancing a part with the company,” Franc said.

In 2003, he danced in a piece Jones choreographed with him called “Mythodea,” a contemporary work Franc performed in during that year’s Southeastern Regional Ballet Association conference — where it won Regional Dance America’s National Choreography Award. That’s when he also began dancing more with the professional company. It took up so much of his time that he completed his high school senior year classes by correspondence.

But while living in Louisville, Franc still took time during his summers to return to Houston and work with that company, where he landed after dancing as a pre-professional for the Louisville Ballet.

Even now, he sees “The Nutcracker” as a mainstay in his career. “It’s the only thing that comes back every year,” he said. “And the choreography’s very similar so it’s a way to gauge your technique and progress every year, because you remember how it felt last year.”

Copyright ©2010 The Courier-Journal

Related Article: Connor Holloway’s ballet dream may take him places



Diana Nollen
Eastern Iowa Life
SourceMedia Group News
Photograph by Amy Boyle Photography
November 10, 2010



Iowa City native Marcus Pei was born to boogie, so it’s no big surprise that a song by that title is his favorite number in “Billy Elliot: The Musical.” It’s a quick shoe-change number that rolls tap, ballet, jump rope and more into one song. Kind of like his life.

Marcus, who turns 13 on Nov. 13, 2010, is in Chicago, rotating the coveted title role of the dance prodigy who secretly trades boxing gloves for ballet shoes, leaves his coal mining town for London’s Royal Ballet School and catapults to stardom.

Marcus is the second Iowa City native to play Billy. Alex Ko has been dancing the role in New York for a little more than a year.

The hit musical based on the 2000 movie is playing through Nov. 28, 2010, at Chicago’s Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre. Marcus performs two or three times a week and is on standby for two shows. After the show closes in Chicago, he will leap into the role in Toronto in late January.

That will be a sort of homecoming for the young performer, who left his home in Iowa City last year to attend Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto. He’s being home-schooled now, but will attend classes at his Toronto school for three weeks in December before taking a break to visit family and friends in Iowa City. The A-student, whose favorite subject is math, plans to continue his academic and performance training in Toronto through high school, then continue with a professional dance career.

It’s in his DNA.

His mother, Kristin Monroe-Pei, 36, studied and performed with the Dance Theatre of the Hemispheres in Cedar Rapids, appearing in the troupe’s annual “Nutcracker” ballet. His brother, Miles, 10, is on a half-year scholarship with Ballet Chicago and will be dancing the lead boy role of Fritz in “The Nutcracker” from Dec. 17 to 19 at the Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago. All three have performed in “The Nutcracker” in Iowa City and Marcus danced the lead boy role last year in Toronto.

Mom continues to study, too, taking classes at the Joffrey and Hubbard Street Dance companies in Chicago. That’s one of the advantages of having Marcus onstage with a resident company instead of a touring company. Resident companies stay long enough for the cast families to move to a city and explore all it has to offer. 

“Miles and I will be the last of the cast families to leave Chicago,” says Monroe-Pei.  Miles and Mom will follow Marcus to Toronto, too, arriving in early January.

It’s all pretty heady stuff for Monroe-Pei. “I never imagined my boys would be dancing at this level,” she says. “My assumption was that usually things don’t work out for boys to dance, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised.”

She enrolled Marcus for ballet and tap classes at the local Nolte Academy of Dance at age 3. “He performed in one recital, then we had a little break and registered him at the University of Iowa at 6 in ballet,” she says. “When he was about 9, I could start to tell his arms, legs and posture were showing the beginnings of becoming a dancer. Nine is pretty early for that to start showing through.”

Marcus had other ideas. “As I recall, when he was about 10, he begged me to let him quit ballet so he could play soccer,” Monroe-Pei says. “He ended up doing both, so he would miss a ballet class once in a while for soccer. He played for two years and loved it.”

In 2009, Marcus attended a four-week summer program at the Toronto school and was invited to stay. He enrolled as a boarding student, leaving behind Longfellow Elementary and his family.

He auditioned for “Billy Elliot” in February in Toronto, was sent to New York for a five-day audition in March, and in early April found out he’d be joining the cast in Chicago on June 14 to start training.

He debuted in the role Sept. 15, which was nerve-racking for him and his mom. “I was going on adrenalin,” Marcus says. “My first performance was really all over the place. It was a good performance, but my mind was twirling and twisting. I couldn’t think straight when I was onstage that first time.”

“The first show I was nervous for him,” says Monroe-Pei. “It was harder for me to sit back and enjoy the show in its entirety, but as I’ve attended repeat performances, I’ve really enjoyed watching the other actors and watching for the understated comedy moments.”

The experience also has helped bridge both sides of Marcus’ family.

“Marcus’ Chinese side has done a lot of coordinating so we could all see the show together,” Monroe-Pei says. “His Chinese side has helped out a lot with care-giving, bringing us things we need. It’s brought our families closer.”

Ethnicity isn’t a factor in casting Billys, says children’s casting director Nora Brennan of New York. “This show is completely colorblind, which is fantastic,” she says, “From the beginning, from the very first meeting, (the creative team) said any boy who has the skills to do this can do the part. He can be African-American, Hispanic, Asian or Indian. This is one case when it really is about the skill and not about how you look.”

Marcus had her at first sight. “I saw immediately that he was a fantastic, gorgeous dancer,” she says. “He has beautiful technique, is beautifully trained and also has a joy about him. His beautiful face just lights up when he smiles. He had very strong technique and beautiful line, so we were immediately attracted to him and intrigued by him.”

That first impression has proved true.

“He has been an absolute joy to work with,” Brennan says. “Everyone in the company and creative team have loved working with him. They’ve said he’s so professional and solid and has such a great work ethic. He has a lovely family.”

The Globe and Mail
November 5, 2010


It’s the spring of 2009, and on a nondescript gymnasium stage at an elementary school in Montagu, South Africa, a gaggle of local children is putting on a dance show. They’re an exuberant bunch, but as their performance unfolds, a diminutive star emerges from their ranks.

His name is Siphe November, and he lives with his family in nearby, impoverished Zolani township, nestled between the Keisie and Kingna Rivers of Kannaland. Siphe doesn’t know it, but amid his fellow performers’ balancés and battements, he is getting a life-altering audition of sorts for a wildly new life 13,000 kilometres away.

Kelly Dobbin and Scott Mathison, visiting South Africa on an extended vacation from Toronto, have attended the recital at the invitation of a woman named Fiona Sargeant, the event’s organizer and the dance teacher of the couple’s five-year-old daughter, Ella. Like any parents worth their salt, the couple have come to see their child perform – but soon they find themselves riveted by Siphe.

“He just stood out,” Dobbin says, looking back. “Remarkably so.”

And so Dobbin and Mathison decided to help him stand out even more. With the pair’s encouragement and help, over the next several months Siphe put an audition tape together for Canada’s National Ballet School.

He has since earned a place in the school’s Professional Ballet Program, where he arrived in July to take part in the school’s summer program before starting full-time this fall – under the same teacher who once nudged Rex Harrington to greatness.

“He’s got a dynamic movement quality that is absolutely sensational,” says Deborah Bowes, Siphe’s teacher and a woman who boasts nearly 40 years’ experience teaching ballet. “When you see someone with that type of co-ordination and breadth of movement, it’s a gift.”

As the NBS undertakes its annual hunt for new young talent, which kicked off last week with the launch of a 20-city hop from Victoria to St. John’s, Siphe’s unlikely journey continues to quietly unfold. While the Ballet School continues to groom young boys for the tricky title role of the musical Billy Elliot in productions across North America, Siphe’s story reads like the real thing.

A matter of months ago, things were as different for Siphe as remote Zolani is from bustling Toronto. A farming community of 7,000 people two hours east of Cape Town, the young boy’s hometown is a place where harvest season provides work for everyone, but where jobs are scarce the rest of the year. “It’s a feast-or-famine community. There’s no real work,” says Sargeant, who lives at the other end of a winding mountain road in nearby Montagu, a largely white town that is also more upscale than Zolani.

Siphe is the youngest of five children and lived in a crowded household of nine in Zolani. The tin-roofed home, presided over by his strict but loving mother, Sylvia, has electricity and running water but is otherwise decidedly humble.

One thing it never lacked, however, was dance.

“If your surname is November and you’re living in Zolani, you have these incredible genes that can just make you dance,” says Sargeant, who as a youth danced with the London City Ballet before joining its Cape Town counterpart.

When asked why he chose ballet over other sorts of dance – his mother did ballroom, and he himself is pretty slick at hip hop – Siphe’s answer sounds mature beyond his years: “You have to work hard. That’s kind of special. And ballet’s, like, the hardest dance. You can go somewhere with ballet. Doing hip hop … Everyone can do hip hop.”

Siphe first discovered ballet when one of his three brothers took him to Sargeant’s weekly class in Zolani. His natural ability knocked the teacher off her feet. “He’s one in a million, that one. I’m telling you, he’s going to soar,” she says.

Eager to see that happen, Dobbin (a midwife studying public health) and Mathison (a veterinarian) decided they would pay for Siphe to enroll in the English-language stream of an Afrikaans school in Montagu.

Simply moving to Montagu brought about a sea change in Siphe’s life: There, he had his own bed, three meals a day and more consistent schooling, especially in dance. He chose to live in a Montagu hostel rather than commute from home each day, “which makes you grow up,” says Sargeant. But it also helped him add English to an arsenal of languages that includes Xhosa, which he spoke at home, and some Afrikaans and Zulu.

When offered a year-long place at the National Ballet School, and a chance to live full-time with Dobbin and Mathison, Siphe barely hesitated. Still, before heading to Toronto, he had never travelled more than a two-hour drive from Zolani.

While his mother showed tremendous trust by allowing her son to live with Dobbin and Mathison, whom she’d met only a few times, the greatest leap was clearly Siphe’s to take. Dobbin recalls him clinging to her during his first months in Toronto. But he has since adjusted. “When I auditioned it was the hardest part,” he says. “Now, it’s okay. I’m going with the flow, yeah.”

Luckily for Siphe, the ballet school’s sole admission criterion is talent, so his complete lack of financial means wasn’t an obstacle. The NBS is underwriting his entire tuition fee – $24,985 for international students – while Dobbin and Mathison are absorbing the costs of his life outside school (with help from some community supporters), and have pledged to do so, if he chooses to stay, until he graduates from high school.

The only downside, from Siphe’s standpoint, is that students are admitted for only a year at a time. To stick around, he has to win his place again each fall.

Not that he lacks for determination. In South Africa, Sargeant was hard on him when he was lazy – and he could be lazy, says his former teacher (who these days drives members of Siphe’s family to Montagu for regular conversations with him via Skype). But Sargeant is also convinced the impact of his audition tape came partly from the fact that “he so badly wanted out, and wanted to get to Canada.”

He smiles constantly and is very polite. He’s also by far the smallest of the dancers in his Junior Boys class, but has a powerful lower body. When dancing – on the day of our interview, he and his classmates were practising pirouettes and échappés – he is disciplined and focused.

When the music stops, he’s an obvious free spirit, wandering, chatting and twirling. “I’m having a lot of fun,” he says. “I wake up every morning and I just want to be here.”


© Copyright 2010 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc

By Jennifer Modenessi
Contra Costa Times
Photographs by D. Ross Cameron/Staff
August 24, 2010


As Mario Vitale Labrador peers into a classroom at Berkeley’s Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, his focus goes far beyond the group of dancers bending and stretching their long limbs into elegant lifts and pliés.

“See the barres?” Labrador whispers, pointing to the long wood handrails where dancers line up to practice in front of a row of mirrors. “At the Bolshoi, the best pupils are placed in the center. And at the center of the center go the very best.”

The Alameda resident has a shot at occupying one of those coveted spots when he begins classes Sept. 1 at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, one of the most prestigious dance schools in the world.

It’s a great achievement for any young dancer to be accepted into the 273-year-old academy known for its demanding curriculum and highly skilled performers. It’s even more remarkable for the 19-year-old, who didn’t begin training until he was 10, an age at which many young dancers have been studying for nearly half their lives.

Ronn Guidi, former artistic director of the Oakland Ballet Company, noticed Labrador’s raw talent when he accepted him as a student at the Oakland Ballet School, now known as the Oakland Ballet Academy. Six months later, Guidi gave him the part of Fritz in the school production of “The Nutcracker.” After increasingly demanding and high-profile roles, Labrador, then 16, was invited to join the Oakland Ballet Company as an apprentice.

Last year, when Labrador was asked to perform with the Walnut Creek-based Diablo Ballet, he was the youngest dancer ever to work with the troupe of seasoned professionals. Lauren Jonas, Diablo Ballet’s artistic director, says Labrador has the potential to become one of the greatest dancers of our time.

“He is amazing. He doesn’t look like a young dancer on stage,” Jonas says about the mature, lyrical qualities of Labrador’s movements, his jumps and clean lines. “He’s just one of those people you look at and think they must have done this in another life.”

Despite the accolades, Labrador remains humble. The idea of applying to the Bolshoi came from a conversation with a friend who had recently been admitted to the school and wished Labrador could also attend, he explains. He auditioned on a whim, with the help of friends who helped him put together an amateur video to submit to the Moscow-based institution.

When he unexpectedly received a letter of acceptance, he was overjoyed. Then reality hit home. The tuition alone is nearly $14,000, no small challenge for Labrador and his mother, Gina Vitale, a single parent.

Still, “somewhere within 24 hours (of receiving the letter),” Labrador says, “we decided I was going to go.”

Undaunted, the pair have reached out to friends, family and the community to help with the tuition, expenses for translators, a plane ticket, food, clothing “and all the usual things you need to go out of the country if you’re a ballet dancer,” Labrador says.

When he starts school next week, he’ll dive headfirst into a curriculum of ballet, modern, contemporary and Russian folk dance. He’ll learn a new language and surround himself with Russian arts and culture.

And assuming all goes as planned, when Labrador graduates next year from the choreographic arts program as a certified Bolshoi-trained dancer, he’ll be one of the first young American men to complete the internationally renowned program which has, until recently, been closed to foreigners.

It was only last year that two young dancers — Emma Powers and Jeraldine Mendoza, of City Ballet School of San Francisco — became the first American women accepted to the Bolshoi’s Russian program.

“They’re very strict and they like to be very physical,” Labrador says of his initial taste of the school, which he experienced earlier this summer at a training workshop in New York. But the intensity appeals to Labrador who is the picture of determination and concentration. While his exposure to the school has been fairly recent, thanks in part to YouTube, he’s deeply knowledgeable about Russian ballet history and its stars, whom he watches constantly in online videos.

Still, he’s keenly aware of what he’s accomplished.

Although he’s not sure which company he’ll join after he completes training at the Bolshoi, he says he’s not going to worry about the future.

“I just really want to dance for the pure enjoyment


Copyright © 2010 – San Jose Mercury News

July 8, 2010


Derek Dunn is a perfectionist.


So, when he looks over pictures of himself from a recent competition, he sees only things he needs to improve. The fact he took home the only medal by an American in the prestigious international contest isn’t lost on him, it’s just that Derek has a passion to succeed as a ballet dancer.

To that end, the 15-year-old Ferndale resident already devotes much of his life to dance. He attends a noted boarding school in Philadelphia that mixes ballet instruction with academics and is currently enrolled in a summer dance program in New York.

“You don’t find people with that kind of talent very often,” said Ashley Canterna-Hardy, his former instructor at the Edna Lee School of Dance in Glen Burnie. “He’s very determined and doesn’t settle for anything.”

Canterna-Hardy, who choreographed two contemporary routines for Derek’s recent competition, added that he has the “perfect body” for ballet and is particularly accomplished at turns.

The young dancer showcased his skills at the 2010 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Miss. The two-week-long contest is only held once every four years, like the Olympics, and Derek took home bronze in the men’s junior division late last month. He competed against 18 other dancers ages 15 to 18 who were selected to take part. Derek was automatically accepted into the competition based on his win in another contest, officials said.

“For him to come out with a medal was such an honor,” Canterna-Hardy said. “He was the only one (from) the U.S. to win anything.”

In all, Derek had to perform well in six short routines over three rounds to take the bronze. Three of the pieces came in the third and final round: a variation from “Sleeping Beauty,” a variation from “La Bayadere,” and a contemporary routine called “Moonlight” that he performed to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”

Derek’s favorite ballet, though, is “Don Quixote,” which he said he particularly relishes because of its entertainment value and enjoyable roles.

After he completes the summer dance program, Derek plans to swim a bit. He’s competes in that sport as well, and according to his parents, Brian and Vicki, gives 110 percent in everything. Besides that, Derek said, he’ll probably play some tennis and just try to relax for a couple weeks before school starts.

At The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia, which Derek received a scholarship to attend, he sometimes dances up to eight hours a day if he’s preparing for a performance. Usually, though, dance “only” takes up about three or four hours a day, he said.

Derek said it was difficult to be away from home at first, but he got used it as his freshman year wore on. He also was allowed to come home more often than he originally thought he would, which helped, he said.

He’s never, ever tired of dance, and said his greatest strength is his ability to show emotion while performing.

“Sometimes, it’s very stressful … but I love what I’m doing,” he said. “When I’m out on the stage, I feel like I can let everything go. I’m relaxed.”


All in the family

Derek’s fascination with dance began his sister. Danielle, 17, took lessons at the Edna Lee Dance Studio, and when she came home from class and practiced, Derek was fascinated. “I’d dance around the house with her,” he said.

Although his parents were initially a little surprised by his interest in dance, they never discouraged him and soon signed him up for lessons, too. Danielle continued dancing until last month, and in the past performed on occasion with her brother. (The siblings also share a love for swimming, something Danielle’s planning to continue at Salisbury University, her parents said).

Neither Brian nor Vicki have a background in dance, but did play sports growing up, which is where they said Derek’s athleticism probably comes from. “It didn’t take long for us to realize he was very good at (ballet),” said Brian, who works for the U.S. Department of Energy.

He added that his son distinguishes himself from other dancers by doing a lot more than just being technically perfect. “A lot of kids are very, very talented, but can’t put the emotion in (and) don’t have his desire,” Brian said.


© 2010 The Capital

Tulsa World Scene Writer
Photographs by JAMES GIBBARD
September 16, 2010


Joshua Bergner didn’t want to dance, he wanted to play football. He is, after all, a 12-year-old boy in a state where football is king.

His mom, Sherri, knew her home-schooled son needed a sport or PE class for his education – but football? Joshua was on the small side for his age, and Mom didn’t want to see him get squashed. So she got sneaky: All the best football players train by doing ballet, she told Joshua.

He was only 8 at the time, but he was still skeptical of this claim: “I was like, Mom, seriously, I just want to do football.”

Getting him to try ballet was “like pulling teeth,” his mother said.

Fast forward to the present, and Joshua is glad he fell for his mom’s bluff. This summer, he was named Junior Mister Dance of America 2011 by Dance Masters of America in a national competition.

Plenty of real men dance: Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Donald O’Connor.  Now Joshua Bergner. He takes more than 20 hours of lessons per week in tap, jazz, ballet and various styles. He tap dances in aisles at Target.

“I don’t really have a favorite style,” he said, on a recent rainy afternoon before dance class.

His goal is Broadway and perhaps maybe a victory on “So You Think You Can Dance,” which he views clips of on YouTube, because his family doesn’t watch television. He wants to be a dancer and a missionary, he said.

Jessica Childs, his teacher at The Calling Dance Academy, said Joshua started winning awards not long after he started lessons. “He works hard and takes every correction,” she said. “He’s just really ambitious and wants this.”

Now that he’s Junior Mister Dance of America, he’ll travel to dance for other schools and students. Next year, he’ll pass the title to another young dancer. But he will not be bugging his mother to play football anytime soon.

Who wants to play football when you can dance?


Copyright © 2010, World Publishing Co.

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