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By Stacy Trevenon
The Half Moon Bay review
Photograph:James Manning
December 16, 2012

JP Viernes, in flight as a Shely Pack Dancers student[Half Moon Bay, Ca. USA] About 80 Shely Pack Dancers students, ages, 2 through 16, will perform the classic “Nutcracker” ballet Wednesday, Dec. 19, at Skyline College.

The Pack students will perform the holiday classic in its full length at the college theater at 7:30 that night. The students have had lots of time to get ready: the pack school held a special summer camp in July to introduce its students to the complexities of the ballet.

Appearing in the ballet as Herr Drosselmeyer is James Manning, husband of Pack Dancers founder Shely Pack-Manning. Also appearing in the prominent role of the Prince is Half Moon Bay resident JP Viernes.

His character is the rebirth of the Cavalier who returns to life after a disastrous battle with the Rat Queen. As such, Viernes has numerous pas de deux dances in the second act, pairing with characters Clara, the Rat Queen and the Snow Queen.

It’s all only appropriate for the young dancer who started studying with the Pack Dancers at a very young age. At 16, he is a student at the School of the Arts in San Francisco, heading for a career in dance.

In between those times, though, he has crossed the country in the traveling Broadway production of “Billy Elliot” in the title role. He performed the role for two-and-a-half years, and in that capacity, made an appearance on television’s “Oprah” show with Sir Elton John.

© Copyright 2012, Half Moon Bay Review

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David Bologna on making it to Broadway with ‘Billy Elliot’

By Robert Faires
The Austin Chronicle
December 11, 2012

David Bologna, Billy Elliot The Musical[Austin, Texas, USA] -When the Chronicle sat down with David Bologna to talk about his time in the original Broadway cast of Billy Elliot the Musical, the Austin song-and-dance phenom had a lot to say – more than we could squeeze into the printed interview. So here’s a fuller version. The national tour of the musical opens at Bass Concert Hall today.

Expressing Yourself, David BolognaBologna’s road to the Great White Way and a Tony Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical at the age of 14 began in New Orleans and includes a stint as a championship Irish dancer, being the go-to kid in his Trent Kowalik and David Bologna of Billy Elliothometown’s theatre community, his family’s move to Austin following Katrina, and months of auditions before he won the role of Billy’s best bud, the irrepressible, cross-dressing Michael.

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Copyright © 2012 Austin Chronicle Corp

By  Michael Morain
Des Moines Register
October 19, 2012

It’s hard enough to land the title role in “Billy Elliot.” It’s even harder to keep it secret.

Drew Minard, 12, of Clive did both. The national touring production gave him permission to announce the news earlier this week, nine months after he was tapped for the part. His Facebook page exploded with “likes.”

He grinned.

“Mom made me leave my phone in the car.”

Minard was just 3 when he pulled on his first pair of ballet shoes and has spent the last quarter of his short life dreaming of starring in the show about an 11-year-old English kid who discovers he’s much better at ballet than boxing. Minard was 10 when he flew to New York for his first audition, at the suggestion of Iowa City native Alex Ko, who played Billy on Broadway a few years back. Minard danced and sang well, the casting director said, but he was too short, just 4 feet 6 inches.

Two more auditions and four inches later, he is finally ready. But he’d better make the most of it. At 4 feet 10, he is just two inches shorter than the limit. One of the previous Billys had to quit after shooting up six inches over the course of his contract.

“I want to put a brick on my head. I want to stay short,” Minard said during an interview at his kitchen table. He looked like an ordinary kid — Nike T-shirt, black shorts, bare feet churning the air under his chair.

He and his mother, Michele, will fly to New York on Sunday, while his dad, Tim, stays home to hold down the fort.

The family plans to swap their Clive home for a local townhouse and buy an apartment in New York. It will make things easier when Minard auditions for whatever comes next. He has his eye on “Mary Poppins” and the stage version of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda.”

He’ll train for a few weeks in New York with another Billy, from Florida, before they hook up with the touring cast in Omaha. His first performance will probably be in Austin, Texas.

The seventh-grader has been Skypeing with Madison Barnes, an Altoona girl who joined the tour almost three years ago, for advice about how to prepare and what to pack.

He does his schoolwork online, too. He would have enrolled at Indian Hills Junior High this year but instead chose an online program because he knew he’d be hitting the road. The kids in the “Billy” cast have a tutor.

Like the fictional boy he’ll portray, Minard has been teased for his inter­est in ballet. He brushes it off now, but the experience — and the documentary “Bully” — prompted him to start an anti-bullying club at his former elementary school, Crossroads Park in West Des Moines.

He plans to donate part of his “Billy” earnings to the club and a local program called Dance Without Limits, for kids with special needs.

But that’s just the bonus. The best part of the whole deal, he said, is getting to dance a role that very few kids ever do.

“I think I’ll be No. 70 in the whole world,” he said. (Forty-eight pigs were used in the filming of the 1995 movie “Babe” for the same reason: piglets and tweens grow fast.)

Someday, if there is a reunion for all the dancers who ever played Billy, it’s unlikely any of them will have had more fun than Minard.

“I saw Alex dance, and I just wanted to be up there. I just wanted to be up there for two hours,” he said. “I’m just ready to get out there and do it.”

Copyright © 2012

Related Articles:

Young Ballet Des Moines dancer wins big in New York

Drew is setting his sights to dance on Broadway

The Runcorn and Widnes World
September 20, 2012

The search for ‘Billy Elliot’ has found not one but two gifted young ballet dancers. Harry Dutton, aged 11, of Ascot Avenue, Runcorn, has been chosen to perform a solo routine, ‘Electricity’, from the famous musical, after an appeal was made in The World.

Ben McCurry, aged nine, of Sutton Weaver, staged such an impressive audition, a dance in Bugsy Malone has been specially created just for him.

Rob Littler, aged 53, of Norman Road, Runcorn, who runs Victoria Music Group, and is co-ordinating the show, said: “Ben was so cute and dedicated, we had to find a place for him. He was a little small for Billy but too big a talent not to include in what is a showcase for local people.

“Harry’s freestyle dancing was wonderful. He is a really talented young man.

“These boys are living the dream.”

Harry’s mum, Jane, a nurse, said: “He was four when he started a dance class. He loves ballet and tap. He is so excited he got this part. He is constantly tapping his feet, he can’t sit still.”

Harry, a pupil at The Heath, attends the Elliott-Clarke Theatre School in Liverpool every Saturday and hopes to study dance at GCSE.

Ben’s mum, Nikki, a warehouse manager, said: “Ben has always loved dancing, from being a small toddler. Whenever we put music on, he’d be dancing around the house. He has a real flair and natural rhythm.”

Ben, a pupil at Hill View, Beechwood, attends Scarlets Dance and Drama Academy in Wicksten Drive every Saturday.

Tickets for ‘Encore, A Journey Through A Hollywood Musical’, on October 25 and 26, are now available, priced £8/£6 from The Brindley box office on 0151 907 8360 or online at

© Copyright 2001-2012  Newsquest

By Jody Feinberg
Photographs by Greg Derr
The Patriot Ledger
July 09, 2012

Noah Parets, 13, felt something had changed when he returned to his Sharon home last week, after an absence of more than two months. “I thought, ‘Wow, I must have grown, because the house felt smaller,’” said Noah, who is 4 feet, 8 inches tall and made his stage debut July 1 as the star of the Broadway national tour of “Billy Elliot the Musical.” The Tony Award-winning musical runs at The Opera House from July 24 to Aug. 19.

Noah isn’t taller than he was in April, but his house may seem smaller because his world has grown significantly since he started training for the demanding role of Billy Elliot. Playing an English boy who confounds his working-class father to pursue his dream of being a ballet dancer, Noah not only has to excel in dance, but also sing and act.

After a recent debut in Louisville, Ky., Noah received three standing ovations. The elation he felt sharply contrasted with his fright in the minutes before the curtain opened. “I felt incredible,” Noah said. “It was like nothing I had ever done before. And when the audience clapped, I felt such energy.”

Dancing is second nature to Noah, who dances five to six days a week at The Gold School in Brockton and is the American Dance Awards’ Junior Male Dancer of the Year 2011. But he had never acted or sung onstage. Nonetheless, at an open casting call in New York City in September, the casting director was won over by his dancing talent and his first attempts at singing and acting. He was called back to audition again for two full days in January, and he found out he got the part in February.

That doesn’t surprise his teacher, Rennie Gold, the school’s owner and director. “Noah is mature beyond his years when it comes to how he trains,” said Gold, who has taught Noah jazz, modern, ballet and tap since he was 7. “He’s very focused and learns quickly. When he first came to the school, I saw that he had tremendous potential.”

“Footloose” actor and Stoughton native Kenny Wormald also got his start at The Gold School.

Noah is a compact bundle of talent, who moves with the good posture and grace common to dancers. At ease in conversation, he has a warm smile, large, expressive blue eyes with long lashes and well-proportioned features. He also remains humble, aware of how much more he can learn. “There’s still a lot more for me to develop,” he said. “(As Billy Elliot) I’m very angry most of the time, and I’m working on showing shades of anger.”

To learn the part, Noah has worked harder than he could have imagined – 12 hours a day seven days a week. That included three hours of academic tutoring to finish seventh grade at Sharon Middle School, fitness classes and physical therapy.

“In the beginning, I thought, ‘How am I going to do this?’” he said. “But I learned the part in pieces and then I knew the whole thing.”

Robyn Parets, his mother, stayed in New York with him during the training and travels with him on the tour, where he shares the role with three other performers and is under contract at least through December.

With parents who have encouraged his dancing, Noah doesn’t identify with Billy Elliot’s anger, but he does with his passion. When he sings “Electricity,” Noah expresses how he feels when he dances. “I feel amazing when I dance,” he said. “I feel strong and free. The lyrics in the song make sense to me, because that’s how I feel.”

Like Billy Elliot, Noah became aware of his desire to dance by seeing others do it – penguins in the animated film “Happy Feet” and girls in a tap class. “It just looked like the coolest thing ever,” he recalled. “I kept thinking, ‘How are they making all those noises with their feet?’”

As Billy Elliot, Noah dances many numbers in tap shoes, in particular the challenging, explosive 4 ½  -minute “Angry Dance,” where he releases the anger, frustration and sadness building within him. Since Billy’s mother died, he is raised by his father, a striking miner with troubles of his own who can’t understand his son’s passion for dance.

Robyn Parets said she was overwhelmed with emotion when she saw her son perform for the first time. Parets owns and runs Breath Joy Yoga in Sharon and has a 16-year-old son, Ethan, who sings in an a cappella group and performs in musicals at Sharon High, as well as a 10-year-old stepson.

“I cried the whole time,” she said. “I had never seen him sing or act before and I couldn’t believe what he was doing. And it’s a show that touches on a lot of emotions. You see the support he ends up getting when the family and community come full circle.”

Copyright 2012 The MetroWest Daily News

By Deborah Martin
San Antonio Express-News
March 28, 2012

Not just any kid can fill Billy Elliot’s ballet shoes. And it’s not just because he’s also got to know tap, too.

“When you see a boy that is right for the show, they have that special something — there’s an openness — and you know when you talk to them in the audition,” said Alison Levenberg, dance captain and resident choreographer for the touring edition of “Billy Elliot.” “You see how they process the material that they have to learn, and you know right away that they’ve got the potential for it.”

The musical follows rough-and-tumble Billy, who discovers a natural gift and, eventually, love for ballet. When his widowed dad, a striking coal miner, forbids him from taking dance classes, Billy takes them on the sly, preparing to audition for the Royal Ballet School.

In the touring production, four boys rotate in the title role, meaning each boy typically does two shows a week. The demands on them aren’t just physical, noted children’s casting director Nora Brennan. In addition to being able to dance, the boys have to be able to sing and act. They’ve also got to master the distinctive Geordie dialect spoken in the part of England where the show is set. “Stephen Daldry, the director, says it’s like asking a child to play ‘Hamlet’ while running a marathon,” Brennan said.

Boys who make the cut to be Billy have at least a few years of dance training, but there’s still a learning curve to get them up to speed before they ever step on stage. “They start out as dancers,” Brennan said. “And they’ve never acted, some have never sung, some have rarely spoken in class. They’re just little boys who love to dance. And none of the boys come to us ready to go; there’s a lot of training involved. If their strength is ballet, we provide an enormous amount of tap training and gymnastics training.”

The boys also have a tremendous amount of focus and determination, she said. “It really just comes from inside the boy,” Brennan said. “They’re not doing it for approval, they’re not doing it be cool — it’s not considered cool at all; they get teased and picked on at school. They do it because they love it. And you can kind of see that.”

The boys, who range in age from about 10 to 12, have a pretty short run in the show. Once their voices start to change and they begin to shoot up in height, they have to leave. That is made clear from the moment a boy is cast, Brennan said. “We have a conversation, telling them that this will last maybe a year,” she said. “So they know it’s not personal in any way. It’s not about them; it’s just, this is the age of the boy, and he has to appear to be 12.”

They leave the show with a lot of additional skills, Levenberg noted: “What they’re learning on this show is above and beyond anything that they would be exposed to if they were at home at their dance schools,” she said. “It’s an incredible experience that we get to share with some amazing boys.”

Because the turnover rate is so high, Brennan is constantly on the lookout for potential Billys and for the other kids in the cast, including the girls who make up the ballet class. The web site lists audition information, including how to audition online if they can’t do it in person.

Brennan has, on occasion, handed her card to a mom with a little boy who seemed to have some potential. But most of the Billys are found through open call auditions held across the country.

“They all come and we spend the day teaching them dance combinations,” Brennan said. Billys, she said, “aren’t easy to find. So it’s not something where you hold an open call and get a lot of them. You’re lucky to find one. You have to keep hunting.”

© 2012 Hearst Communications Inc.

See also: The challenge of being Billy Elliot

               Building an Army Of Billy Elliots

Royal Academy of Dance
Press Release
March 13, 2012

Scottish dance sensation Harris Beattie is currently starring as the young Billy in the London West End production of Billy Elliott The Musical, at the Victoria Palace Theatre.

13-year-old Harris, the grandson of legendary Scottish entertainer Andy Stewart is currently a student at Danscentre in Aberdeen where he is taught by Karen Berry (a Trustee, member of the Creative Panel for RAD Syllabus development and an appointed tutor and supervisor for the RAD’s Faculty of Education). Karen spoke of Harris’s achievements: ‘Harris is one of the most modest, unassuming and talented children that I have come across in all my years of teaching. He is an utter delight to work with and coupled with his excellent work ethic – I am sure that he will go very far. Harris is one of over 80 boys who now attend classes at Danscentre, Aberdeen. Dancing is the norm for boys in Aberdeen and it’s just fantastic to have the opportunity to work with so many talented young men.’

Harris received three standing ovations during his first performance on Wednesday 22 February. Speaking about how thrilled he is at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play Billy, he commented:‘I started ballet when I was seven years old and I now dance at Danscentre in Aberdeen. My teachers at Danscentre have been brilliant, especially Karen Berry who has also been a fantastic mentor to me. Since joining Billy Elliot I have made some great new friends, all of whom have helped to make rehearsals such an exciting and fun experience. I dedicated my first performance to my Auntie Debbie and Uncle Keith, they have done so much for me, I can’t thank them enough.’

Harris has been an active member of the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) since 2007: in 2010 he won the 2010 Genée Dance Challenge in Birmingham with his solo The Enchantment, choreographed by Karen Berry. Later that year, Beattie performed the same winning solo at the exclusive Supper with the Stars gala dinner, held to raise funds for the Genée International Ballet Competition 2010 in London, in front of dance stars Chris Hollins and The Royal Ballet’s Sarah Lamb, Tamara Rojo and Steven McRae.

Harris was also one of the 18 students from dance schools across the UK, chosen to demonstrate a range of exercises from the RAD’s new Grades 1-3 Syllabi in front of over 500 delegates at the Mermaid Conference & Events Centre in London on 3 January 2012.

By Ben Archibald
The Daily Record
March 10, 2012

The teenage grandson of legendary Scots entertainer Andy Stewart has fulfilled his dream – of playing Billy Elliot on the big stage. Harris Beattie, 13, was picked to perform the role after impressing tutors in the Royal Ballet School’s associate programme, which nurtures young talented students between the ages of eight and 15. And now he’s playing the part of Billy in front of thousands of theatregoers in London’s West End.

Harris is following in the footsteps of his famous grandfather, who had a number of hit singles, including Donald Where’s Your Troosers, and was compere of the 1960s TV variety show The White Heather Club.

His first performance, after months of training, came last month at the Victoria Palace theatre.

Andy’s widow, Sheila, who lives in Arbroath, was in the audience for his debut night and described his performance as “absolutely amazing”.

And she reckoned that Andy, who died in 1993, would have been very impressed. Sheila added: “Harris is entertaining people and doing his own thing, and I know Andy would have been very proud.”

Harris, from Bieldside, Aberdeen, says he has a lot in common with Billy as his mother, Linsey, died less than three years ago. His aunt and uncle, Debbie and Keith Gordon, have been his legal guardians since.

He said: “There is a connection between Billy and I. His mum died when he was young so I know how he feels. My mum loved Billy Elliot the Musical and I’m so happy to be in it.

“However, I dedicated my first performance to my Aunt Debbie and Uncle Keith – they have done so much for me. “They took me into their family, looked after me and have given me so much love. I can’t thank them enough.”

The play – based on the 2000 hit film starring Julie Walters and Jamie Bell – has been performed on stage since 2005. Cults Academy pupil Harris, who has danced since the age of seven, is the newest member of the cast and the 29th boy to play the role of Billy.

There are generally three or four young people assigned to a part at any given time. They do two shows a week and are then in the wings waiting to step up in the event of illness or injury.

Sheila added: “They all live together in London in what’s called the ‘Billy House’. They have lessons in the morning, dance training and rehearsals in the afternoon, then a performance at night if it is their turn to play Billy. It’s not just dancing either. They have to learn accents too as Billy is a Geordie. It’s amazing how much they do.”

Harris started taking Saturday ballet lessons in Carnoustie, Angus, and after his mother’s death and subsequent move to Aberdeen, dancing became central to his life.

Sheila said: “He was at dance classes every day of the week and lived for his dancing in Aberdeen. “His mother had seen Billy Elliot before and loved it. She would have been over the moon.”

© 2012 Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail Ltd

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