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Koa Chun, far right, as Fritz in Boston Ballet's Nutcracker (Rosalie O’Connor, Boston Ballet) 2015

Submitted by the Boston Ballet
The Bedford Citizen
December 21, 2015


Koa Chun as Fritz in Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker at the Boston Ballet (Boston Ballet)[Bedford, Massachusetts, USA] – Koa Chun, of Bedford is performing in Boston Ballet’s production of Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker in the role of Fritz. Koa has been a student at Boston Ballet School for 4 years. He is in the 6th grade at John Glenn Middle School and has performed with the Boston Ballet School for 5 years.

The Nutcracker, a timeless holiday classic, will run through December 31, 2015 at the Boston Opera House.

Koa joins more than 200 other young students from around New England in The Nutcracker. Three different casts will take on various roles, such as toy soldiers, pages, reindeer, lambs, polichinelles, baby mice, and party children during Boston Ballet’s 42 performances of The Nutcracker.

Since its world premiere in 2012, Mikko Nissinen and Robert Perdziola’s entirely re-envisioned production, set in what many know as the Jane Austen era of the early 1800s, has gained record-breaking popularity. With more than 350 handmade costumes and a series of elaborate sets featuring extensive amounts of moving scenery, the production has transformed into a uniquely magical experience. This year’s production features all new lighting design by award-winning Finnish lighting designer Mikki Kunttu. Kunttu will bring a fresh, innovative perspective to this timeless holiday classic.

Students of Boston Ballet School in The Nutcracker were hailed by The Boston Globe as “adorable, focused and disciplined” handling serious pattern and partner work with “impressive aplomb.” All children performing in The Nutcracker are students of Boston Ballet School and coached by an experienced staff including Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen, Boston Ballet School’s Director Margaret Tracey, Ballet Mistress Melanie Atkins, and Boston Ballet School’s world-renowned faculty. Students have an exciting schedule through the months of October, November, and December, which includes rehearsals with company dancers, costume fittings, experiencing the unique, backstage atmosphere at The Boston Opera House, and numerous performances accompanied by Boston Ballet Orchestra and enthusiastic audiences.

Participating in a full-length ballet is an important performance opportunity for students, exposing them to aspects of ballet they don’t experience in a regular class. The students learn about the hard work and enjoyment that composes a live ballet performance, and have the unique opportunity to dance alongside Boston Ballet’s internationally acclaimed company dancers.

For a full synopsis and additional details, visit

About Boston Ballet

Since 1963, Boston Ballet’s internationally acclaimed performances of classical, neo-classical, and contemporary ballets, combined with a dedication to world class dance education and community initiative programs, have made the institution a leader in its field, with a 52-year history of promoting excellence and access to dance.

Under the leadership of Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen and Executive Director Max Hodges, the Company maintains a diverse repertoire, ranging from full-length ballets to new works by some of today’s finest choreographers. Boston Ballet’s second company, Boston Ballet II, is comprised of dancers who gain experience by performing with the Company and independently, presenting special programs to audiences throughout the Northeast.

Boston Ballet School, the official school of Boston Ballet, has a long-standing dedication to providing exceptional dance education and ballet training to students across three studios in Boston, Newton, and the North Shore. Led by Director Margaret Tracey, the School reaches more than 5,000 students (toddler to adult) each year through its four core programs: Children’s Program, Classical Ballet Program, Adult Dance Program, and Pre-Professional Program.


Copyright 2015 The Bedford Citizen

Django Mason, 14, student of the Boston Ballet (N. Mason) 2015


Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle
December 3, 2015


[Hamilton, Massachusetts, USA] – Django Mason, of Hamilton, will perform in Boston Ballet’s production of Mikko Nissinen’s “The Nutcracker” as the role of Fritz. Mason has been a student at Boston Ballet School for one year. This timeless holiday classic will run from Nov. 27 through Dec. 31 at the Boston Opera House.

Django Mason,14, will perform in Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker (N. Mason)Mason is a singer, dancer and actor presently pursuing his love of ballet. He has been performing with his family for years as a child of Broadway performers, Jared and Noni Mason, a native of Hamilton.

In Minneapolis, as a conservatory student at The Lundstrum Center for the Performing Arts, Mason fell in love with ballet. After moving to the Boston area in 2014, Mason continued to train under Katy Brunault at Hamilton-Wenham School of Dance as well and performed as Fritz in the Albany-Berkshire Ballet’s “Nutcracker” last year. Mason then began training with Boston Ballet Marblehead studio in the spring and attended the Boston Ballet Summer Dance Program in Newton. Presently a student in Boston Ballet’s Pre-Professional Program, Mason practices six days a week and dreams of one day being a principal with the company.

Mason joins more than 200 other young students from around New England in “The Nutcracker.” Three different casts will take on various roles, such as toy soldiers, pages, reindeer, lambs, polichinelles, baby mice and party children during Boston Ballet’s 42 performances of “The Nutcracker.”

Students of Boston Ballet School in “The Nutcracker” were hailed by The Boston Globe as “adorable, focused and disciplined,” handling serious pattern and partner work with “impressive aplomb.” All children performing in “The Nutcracker” are students of Boston Ballet School and coached by an experienced staff, including Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen, Boston Ballet School Director Margaret Tracey, ballet mistress Melanie Atkins and Boston Ballet School’s faculty.

© Copyright 2015 Gatehouse Media, Inc

Every year more than 200 children step onto the Opera House stage for upward of 40 performances, playing a crucial role in bringing the world of Boston Ballet’s “Nutcracker” to life.


Noah Parets, 15, of Sharon rehearses for his role as Fritz in Boston Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker(Garry Higgins, The Patriot Ledger) 2014


By Iris Fanger
The Patriot Ledger
November 27, 2014


[Boston, Massachusetts, USA] – Every year more than 200 children step onto the Opera House stage for upward of 40 performances, playing a crucial role in bringing the world of Boston Ballet’s “Nutcracker” to life. More than 25 children from the South Shore are featured in this year’s performances of the most beloved holiday ballet, which begins tomorrow night and runs through Dec. 31.

Set to Tchaikovsky’s romantic score, the ballet is a whimsical Christmas fantasy that tells the story of a little girl, Clara, who flies off to a magical land when her nutcracker doll comes to life. The brave heroine Clara may be the production’s best-known role for a younger performer. Sharing the role this year are: Aleena Rose of Wrentham, Eliza French of Boston, Emily Hoff of Wellesley and Calissa Grady of Concord. Sharon’s Noah Parets will alternate the role of Fritz, Clara’s bratty brother.

Walking into the Boston Ballet studio one dark, November night, behind a group of little girls, a visitor is struck by the calm in the building despite the many children who are there, squeezing in rehearsals after school hours and in between homework assignments. The girls with their hair tied back into buns peel off to classes, or sit together cross-legged on the floor, before they are called into rehearsal. The boys are joshing each other in groups of their own. One girl does a backward somersault on the floor, but many of the children have books open, doing schoolwork. Outside, parents are waiting in double-parked cars, or sitting inside the huge lobby drinking coffee and passing time on their cell phones. The children started “Nutcracker” rehearsals after Columbus Day.

For Parets, a sophomore at Sharon High School, the day starts at 6:30 am. After school, a parent will pick him up in time to catch the commuter train for Boston, arriving at Back Bay Station at 3:53 p.m. He must run all the way to the Boston Ballet studio on Clarendon Street to make his 4 p.m. class on time. “Basically, it’s how I warm up every day,” Parets said. On Saturdays he rides into town for his 8:30 a.m. conditioning class. During these final weeks before opening night, extra rehearsals are called with the adult dancers, meaning a seven-day week at the ballet rehearsal space on Clarendon Street.

No stranger to long hours in the theater, Parets toured for a year in the title role in the musical, “Billy Elliot,” (2012-2013) and then appeared as the Artful Dodger in “Oliver!” at Trinity Repertory Company, Providence. He reprised his role in “Billy Elliot” at Ogonquit Playhouse in Maine this past summer. Starting his jazz and tap dance training at the Heidi Miller School of Dance in Walpole at age 7, he switched to the Gold School in Brockton at age 9 because, “there were more boys there, and men teachers,” he said. He now attends the pre-professional program at the Boston Ballet.

Parets said that the theater department at Sharon High is “huge,” but “I try to stay away from the topic that I wear tights every day.” His partner as Clara is French, a freshman at Boston Latin School. She saw Parets perform in “Billy Elliot,” but did not meet him until he joined her class at Boston Ballet School. French who lives on Beacon Hill gets up every day at 6 a.m. Like Parets, she doesn’t return home until 8 p.m., or later. “I finish homework around midnight. I wake up around 6 a.m. You get used to it, ” she said. At age 14, she’s a veteran of six years in “The Nutcracker,” working her way up to Clara, after playing the baby mouse, a Polichinelle and a party girl. This year is her third in the leading children’s role.

Part of the “Nutcracker” experience is being fitted for costumes and learning how to put on make-up. Charles Heightchew, manager of Costumes and Wardrobe for the Boston Ballet since 1998, has watched French grow up. “It’s nice to see Eliza getting the roles and growing mature,” he said. As for Fritz, he is only one of the adorable 99 children who appear on stage at every performance. “If the kid is really good, he can make Fritz steal focus. They are not encouraged to do that, but it happens,” Heightchew said.

Heightchew leads a crew of 11 union dressers, two supervisors, three wig people, and 16 in the costume shop to make alterations and repairs to the more than 350 costumes for the multiple casts for this year’s production.

Parets and French are but two of the 220 children appearing in the Boston Ballet’s production this year, chosen from around 350 students who came to the early fall auditions. All the children in the “Nutcracker” company must be students in one of the Boston Ballet Schools in Boston, Newton or Marblehead. The children are divided into three casts that rotate throughout the 44-performance run.

Braintree resident and former company soloist, Melanie Atkins, is the children’s ballet master. “I do the party scene, coach the children cast as Clara, and oversee the other teachers. The kids are real pros. They handle the schedule very well. We are very excited to have Noah in the cast this year. He’s had so much experience,” she said.

Although they are aware of the time constraints, leaving few hours for their friends at school, French and Parets are firm in their choices. “I always loved it so much. I am thinking now maybe ballet will be my career,” French said. As for Parets, there’s no question, “I want to be in the theater. A part of me wants to go to college. If I stay in ballet, I’ll go to college, but not right away,” he said.


© Copyright 2014 Gatehouse Media, Inc


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Lia and Jeffrey Cirio (FilAm Magazine)


The FilAm Magazine
May 26, 2014


The Boston Ballet has announced its New York Tour June 25th to 29th. Two of their principal dancers, Filipino American siblings Lia and Jeffrey Cirio, will be performing with the company at the Lincoln Center. The Cirio siblings are such outstanding dancers, they have been featured in Boston’s leading publications and dance magazines.

It all started when Lia was very little, according to her mother Mimi. She saw “The Nutcracker” for the first time and was enthralled. “All she could ever talk about was taking dance classes.” Lia took jazz, tap and ballet for a number of years, and her teacher said she happened to excel in ballet class.

At the age of 10, Lia started taking more structured classes at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre. After attending summer programs at The Rock School in Philadelphia and The School of American Ballet in New York City, the Cirio family moved to Carlisle so that Lia could attend classes at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (CPYB), under the direction of Marcia Dale Weary. She continued her studies during the summer at Suzanne Farrell Summer Intensive, Ballet Academy East, San Francisco Ballet, and Kaatsbaan Extreme Ballet.

At the age of 16, she received a Level One award from the National Foundation for Advancement of the Arts and was a Presidential Scholar in the Arts finalist. She was also awarded the top scholarship and Founders’ Award presented by Barbara Weisberger at the Regional Dance America Festival.

That same year and at the recommendation of one of her teachers, Darla Hoover, she auditioned and was hired by Mikko Nissinen for Boston Ballet II. Lia was Boston Ballet’s Princess Grace nominee while in Boston Ballet II. She was promoted to Boston Ballet’s corps de ballet in 2004, to second soloist in 2006, and to soloist in 2007.

From 2008-2009, she toured with Trey McIntyre Project, performing throughout the United States and worldwide. She danced principal roles in McIntyre’s “Reassuring Effects of Form and Poetry” and “A Day in the Life” and originated roles in various new works by McIntyre. She returned to Boston Ballet for the 2009-2010 season and was named principal dancer in 2010.

Hailed as “one of the most accomplished actress-dancers in the company” by The Patriot Ledger, and as “an outstanding performer with tremendous stage presence” during Boston’s tour to Spain, her repertory with Boston Ballet includes featured and/or principal roles in classics such as “Don Quixote,” “Swan Lake,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” and “Cinderella.”

“I like neoclassical dancing,” Lia replied when asked about her favorite style of dance in an article at the Boston Ballet website. “Give me a Balanchine ballet, and I am a happy girl. But, I know that being a ballet dancer is more than just doing neoclassical dancing. That’s the beauty of Boston Ballet. We get a healthy dose of everything – classical, neo-classical and contemporary.”

Jeffrey Cirio (Igor Burlak Photography)While at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Lia’s brother Jeffrey, who had always been involved in sports – soccer, basketball and martial arts — started taking ballet classes. He studied at CPYB for four years, studying privately with Laszlo Berdo, before going on to study with Magaly Suarez. He also studied at Boston Ballet (under the direction of Dierdre Miles Berger and Franco DaVita), and was invited by Mikko Nissinen to join Boston Ballet II at the age of 15. After spending a year in Boston Ballet II, Jeffrey decided to return to studying ballet some more. He chose Peter Stark and Olivier Munoz at Orlando Ballet.

In 2006, he was awarded a Grand Prix medal in the regional’s and a gold medal in the New York finals of Youth America Grand Prix. He went on to win a bronze medal at the 2006 U.S. International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS. Jeffrey represented Boston Ballet School at the Tanzolymp Ballet Competition and Festival where he won a gold medal. He also participated in an exchange with Royal Danish Ballet.

He was asked to represent Orlando Ballet at the 5th Seoul International Dance Competition, where he was awarded a silver medal. His other awards include “Best Male Dancer” at the 2006 American Ballet Competition, a silver level award in ballet at the National Foundation for Advancement of the Arts 2009 Arts Week, the Senior Grand Prix Award and the Mary Day Award for Artistry at the 2009 Youth America Grand Prix, and a gold medal at the 2009 World Ballet Competition.

He went on to win a gold medal at the 2009 Helsinki International Ballet Competition, becoming the first American to do so. In 2011, he received an award from the Boomerang Fund for Artists.

Jeffrey returned to Boston Ballet in 2009 as a corps de ballet member and was awarded the coveted Princess Grace Fellowship for 2009. He was promoted to second soloist in 2010, to soloist in 2011 and to principal in 2012. Heralded as “simply sensational” by The Boston Globe and “fiercely masculine” by Pointe Magazine, Jeffrey has appeared in principal roles in numerous works with Boston Ballet, including “La Bayadere,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Cinderella,” “Don Quixote,” and “Romeo & Juliet.”

Jeffrey’s latest efforts have been in the area of choreography. He is currently involved with numerous competition solos, pieces for Boston Ballet II, and for Ballet Academy East. For the 2013/2014, his piece, “of Trial” appeared in the Boston Ballet at Home series, and he will be choreographing a World Premiere for the 2014/2015 season for Boston.

Both Jeffrey and Lia appear in galas around the country and worldwide, in addition to teaching over the summer. This summer they will travel to Mongolia with some other Boston Ballet dancers to present Jeffrey’s work, “of Trial,” along with several other contemporary pieces.

Lia and Jeffrey are the children of Ardel and Mimi Cirio of Philadelphia. Another sibling, Gabriel, 16, no longer dances, but is involved with martial arts, horseback riding, and attends a leadership school outside of Philadelphia.

Their father, Ardel, was born in Subic Bay. The family traveled the world when he was with the U.S. Navy. They eventually settled down in the Philly area, where Ardel opened a chiropractor clinic in Newtown Square, which his wife Mimi manages.


© 2014 The FilAm



By Staff reports
MetroWest Daily News
November 26, 2011

Zion Sun Harris, of Holliston, is performing in the Boston Ballet’s 2011 production of “The Nutcracker” at The Boston Opera House. He has been double-cast, and will play the role of Fritz as well as a party boy. The show runs from Nov. 25 to Dec. 31.

Harris started dancing when he was 3 years old and instantly fell in love with ballet. After attending the Boston Ballet Summer Dance Program in Newton for two years, Harris decided to make the switch to ballet this fall.

At 11, Harris currently dances five days a week and is planning to audition for the Boston Ballet’s pre-professional program this spring. He has performed in many productions, but this will be his first time performing in “The Nutcracker” with Boston Ballet.

He joins more than 250 other young dancers from around New England cast in the production. Three different casts will take on the roles of toy soldiers, angels, polichinelles, dolls, baby mice and party children during Boston Ballet’s 40 performances.

Boston Ballet School students have been a vital part of “The Nutcracker” for more than 44 years. Boston Ballet’s 2011 production showcases the talents of its company dancers and features the intricate sets designedby Helen Pond and Herbert Senn, and elaborate costumes made by David Walker and Charles Heightchew.

Copyright 2011 Holliston TAB. Some rights reserved


By Connor Holloway, Boston Ballet School Student
Footnotes The Blog of the Boston Ballet
Photo by VAM Productions
April 13, 2011


After attending the Boys’ Night Event this past Saturday (where all the BBS boys had the opportunity to see George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), I was amazed by how many young men share the same passion I do for the art of ballet. Read the rest of the article

Articles about Connor Holloway:

Nutcracker ballet launches boys toward careers in dance

Connor Holloway’s ballet dream may take him places


By Jules Becker
The Bay State Banner
Photograph by Kate Flock
December 30, 2010


Young performers come to dance and ballet in different ways.

 Ten-year-old Tyson Ali Clark, for instance, followed the example of his mother and sisters in what he described as  “a dancing family.” But Lawrence Rines found that gymnastics triggered his interest in dancing.

One thing that both African American dancers have in common is an agreement that the Boston Ballet is the perfect company for their training and early experience. Case in point: both of their variety of parts in Boston Ballet’s annual winter favorite “The Nutcracker.”

Now in his third year at Boston Ballet School, Clark is tackling the featured child role of Fritz, the temperamental son of the family hosting a Christmas party during the first act in the famous Tchaikovsky ballet. Clark attends the West Somerville Neighborhood School and is no stranger to demanding dance, having already earned such honors as “Little Mr. Petit Dancer” and the American Dance Academy Award for all around work.

Clark admitted that “my father wanted me to do sports,” but he is now very proud of his son’s dance achievements ­­ and Tyson does have some time for a little basketball every now and then.

Given this background, he welcomed the challenge of rehearsals that stretched to six weeks —“almost every day.” Last year, Tyson danced the role of a party child. For the part of Fritz, Boston Ballet artistic director and “Nutcracker 2010” choreographer Miko Nissinen advised “to act a lot” — and Clark followed suit.

“I act angry in some parts,” he observed. “I act naughty when I read the book (about history) and slam it.” Tyson also enjoyed expressing delight when mysterious sorcerer Dr. Drosselmeier gives him a watch, something the child always wanted. His favorite moments in the role are “when I ride the horse (toy horse) and when I break the Nutcracker (in a tug of war with sister Clara).” Of the role and the ballet, he declared, “It’s really fun and exciting.”

Looking to future editions of the ballet, Clark submitted ,”My favorite part of the ‘Nutcracker’ is the Russian.” If so, he would do well to talk about that part of the second act with Rines. During the first act, the roles of the Boston Ballet dancer range from Harlequin and Bear to Grandfather, Young Man (in the opening sequence) and party adult. The South End dancer first studied gymnastics at the age of seven and discovered that “in gymnastics,  there are some ballet-like steps” and found that his training served him well in preparing for the physical demands.

Rines said that his challenge is to increase his range even further. Already trained in jazz and modern dance, he readily concedes that he doesn’t have much training in the way classical ballet.

Even so, he rose to the demands. “Miko (Nissinen) is a very tough director to please,” Rines said. “He’s constantly pushing. It was difficult for me to change at first but I learned to love it. Getting a job from Miko is like winning the lottery.”

Rines has also performed in the season-opening ballet classic “La Bayadere.”

As for his many roles in “Nutcracker 2010,” Rines called Harlequin, which he also danced last year, his favorite. “It’s very jumpy,” he explained. “It’s not just ballet. You have to be a doll (in the first act) and an evil doll, kind of creepy in the second act.”

Boston Ballet fans have favorite principal dancers and sequences, but the greatness of the company’s “Nutcracker” is the remarkable strength of its corps and the crispness of its over-all performance. “The Nutcracker 2010” is no exception.     Artistic director Miko Nissinen has fired up principals, soloists and student dancers alike to reach the consistency, the exquisite form and the synchronization of a world-class company.

“Nutcracker 2010” soared with crack technique and memorable spirit at a recent performance. Lorin Mathis was a suave if not enigmatic Drosselmeier, and Fiona Wada-Gill his rightly enchanted favorite Clara. Max Pounonov proved a feisty Fritz, and Pavel Gurevich was a tall, dashing Nutcracker escort for Clara.

Gurevich returned later with strong turns as Cavalier to Rie Ichikawa’s very graceful Sugar Plum Fairy. Other standouts included Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga’s sensual Arabian sweet and Kathleen Breen Combes’s poetic Drew Drop Fairy.

Each year “The Nutcracker” stands as a kind of barometer for Boston Ballet’s artistic condition. The sharpness of the ensembles and the tightness of each scene in “The Nutcracker 2010” bodes well for the quality and the artistry of its upcoming more serious fare –beginning with Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Nights’s Dream” ballet ( April 7-17, 2011 ).   

Next year, Rines will dance in “Tabula Rasa” by Helen Pickett as part of the Boston Ballet’s “Bella Figura” program (April 28-May 8, 2011) and in the second cast for George Balanchine’s “Symphony in 3 Movements” in the season’s closer “Balanchine/ Robbins” (May 12-22,2011) . He is the only BBII dancer learning and performing the Pickett piece. ‘I’m very thankful this year for dancing a lot. It’s helping me be a better dancer.” Some day he hopes to be a ballet master and a teacher as well.


© Banner Publications, Inc

Boston Ballet’s community outreach program, CityDance, gives a talented male athlete a life in the arts.


By Christa Case Bryant, Staff writer
By Cricket Alioto Fuller, Staff writer
Photograph by Melanie Stetson Freeman
The Christian Science Monitor
Headshot – Boston Ballet
December 14, 2010


Back when Isaac Akiba used to play dodgeball with other kids in his working-class Boston neighborhood, he never imagined one day entering a world of tutus and pink slippers – let alone smiling about it.

But in a story propelled by philanthropy and boyish persistence, Mr. Akiba has not only become a dancer, he’s also cracked the top echelons of American ballet.

At the opening weekend of “The Nutcracker” ballet in Boston this year, Akiba was one of many faces beaming amid the soft shuffling of Clara’s party dress, the flourish of Drosselmeyer’s cape, and the commotion of the Mouse King fighting the heroic Nutcracker.

When he leapt onto the stage in Cossack dress for the iconic Russian dance – bursting with unaffected joy and making only fleeting compromises with gravity – the applause crescendoed to a volume normally reserved for the Nutcracker himself.

Akiba’s precision, grace, and dynamic power, showcased by one of America’s top ballet companies, are remarkable by any measure. But the fact that he was found almost by accident as a third-grader makes his arc of success unique.

In 1997, the Boston Ballet’s community outreach program, CityDance, tapped him for a 10-week scholarship; last year, he became the first participant to join the ballet’s prestigious company. He has already performed roles normally reserved for veterans.

“He has had a very unprecedented start,” says Boston Ballet’s artistic director, Mikko Nissinen.

Akiba’s story, though exceptional, highlights the evolving mission of ballet outreach programs. From New York to San Francisco, ballet companies originally saw outreach as a way to diversify the face of ballet – both on stage and in the audience.

A handful of alumni have, like Akiba, gone on to a professional ballet career. But now such programs are seen more as a gift to the community, enriching budget-crunched public schools with arts education, and cultivating creativity and discipline in students who pursue everything from writing to law.

“We know that, on average, 1 in 100 ballet students become professional dancers,” says Charles McNeal, director of education at the San Francisco Ballet. “I’m OK with that, because we are creating a society who loves and appreciates art.”

In a corner studio of the Boston Ballet School, six boys – four of whom are CityDance alumni – vacillate between moments of supreme concentration and uncontrolled boyish energy, pulling on their spandex and pushing each other playfully. But when a Tchaikovsky march calls them to attention, they purse their lips in earnest focus, leather ballet shoes squeaking across the floor.

Their teacher, Andres Reyes, instructs them to wait for the right count. “Think about what you’re going to do ahead of time,” coaches Mr. Reyes, who says parents tell him how much they value this skill of concentration in a world of incessant stimulation.

Not so long ago, Akiba was a boy in these same studios – rowdy but “precociously athletic,” says his mom. “In my fantasies, I saw him at [Boston’s] Fenway Park or Wim­bledon,” says Jane Akiba, a photographer, like her husband.

But the Akibas let Isaac choose his own path, and by the time he became a teenager, he was the only one of his friends still dancing – drawn not least of all by his enjoyment in being surrounded by willowy girls.

Enter Franco De Vita, a strict teacher from Italy who prized focus above fun. He wanted his students at the barre promptly at 6 p.m., tights tucked into their shoes, shirts spotless. Akiba struggled under Mr. De Vita’s firm hand.

“I think [De Vita] saw I had a lot of potential, but I wasn’t putting my full attention to what I was doing,” says Akiba, who recalls his frustrated teacher throwing ballet shoes at him and bringing him to tears. “He always liked me, and I liked him, that’s why it always hurt so bad.”

Akiba’s former classmate Alejan­dro Diaz saw something more profound unfolding, however. “Franco pushed him very hard because he knew how far Isaac was going to go – and he wanted to be part of that. He wanted to watch this boy, who was just a boy, grow into a dancer,” says Mr. Diaz.

Just as the dancer began to blossom, however, De Vita left Boston for another job. The Italian says he still has the “beautiful” farewell note his 16-year-old protégé wrote – a sign of a gentle heart that has touched those close to Akiba.

Akiba may not have realized his passion for ballet if it hadn’t been for his friends. “The guy could turn like crazy,” recalls Diaz, who, along with fellow classmate Luca Sbrizzi, often stayed until 9:30 or 10 p.m. to practice their pirouettes. “And we’d say, ‘Hey, Isaac, come on!’ We wanted to watch him turn; we wanted to try and do the same thing.”

Back at Mr. Sbrizzi’s apartment, the trio spent hours watching YouTube clips of ballet stars, in between PlayStation II games.

When a fierce snowstorm shut down the ballet school for a week, they bundled up in boots and jackets and imitated their favorite combinations in snowdrifts on the Boston Common.

By spring, Akiba had made such progress that he skipped a level and quickly rose through Boston Ballet’s ranks – demonstrating a commitment to dance that led him to discontinue his schooling for junior year when his performing arts academy refused to accommodate the Ballet’s demanding practice schedule.



Today he is the sole Boston native in a company that includes dancers from California to Mongolia. “When the rose is fully bloomed, it’s wonderful, fragrant,” says Mr. Nissinen, who hired Akiba last year. “But when you recognize the rosebud that’s just opening, there’s something so different, so beautiful about it…. That’s what I see in these young dancers; that’s what they represent for me.”

And what does dance represent for a society buffeted by tough economic conditions? “If you look at difficult times in history – wars and famines and economic depression – people look to art for nourishment,” says Boston Ballet School’s director, Margaret Tracey. “I think that human beings are engineered with the need to have art in their lives. It is not a luxury but a necessity.”

Indeed, outreach directors speak of the arts as a practical asset in an age demanding creative solutions. “Rahm Emmanuel studied ballet!” exclaims Mr. McNeal, referring to President Obama’s former chief of staff. “[He was] part of an historical administration, because this man had the power of the arts in his background – to perceive possibilities for how to be in the world.”

When Akiba steps out on stage, however, he’s more likely to be inspired by pure joy than the possibility of working at the White House someday.

If you go to see “The Nutcracker” this season, he advises, “Try to watch the dancer, in their face, and see if they’re enjoying it.”

Perhaps it is telling, then, that his wide grin subsided only when the dancing ended and he took a bow.

© The Christian Science Monitor.


Related Article: Young man discovered by Boston Ballet, joins company


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