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By Robert Michaelson
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript


BENNINGTON — A young Bennington boy has found solid footing in ballet and will be putting his skills to the test when he performs in Boston Ballet’s 2010 production of Mikko Nissinen’s version of “The Nutcracker” at The Boston Opera House later this month.

“I’m really excited, mostly just dancing in front of people, there will be a lot of people,” said 13-year-old Mac Gershfield in an interview on Sunday.

All the children performing in “The Nutcracker,” the famous ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, are students of Boston Ballet School, which includes 250 other young dancers from across New England. There are three full casts preparing for the 40 performances scheduled to run from Nov. 26 to Dec.31.

Gershfield began his ballet training two years ago with former Boston Ballet soloist Reagan Messer at Moco Arts Dance Center in Keene. He joined the Boston Ballet two months ago after spending six weeks at a ballet-intensive program at Seiskaya Ballet in St. James, N.Y,. on Long Island.

“I like the base of all the movements,” said Gershfield about his love for ballet. “I like how you have a solid base and you do the movements with that base.”

The young dancer will be doing a lot of those movements when he plays the role of Fritz for six performances, before moving to the role of a Party Boy for the remaining seven. He said he is excited for the first set of performances because Fritz is a “standout role” in the production. Fritz is the brother of Clara, and ends up breaking the treasured nutcracker as he tries to wrest it from his sister’s grasp.

Gershfield is homeschooled and the middle child among six other siblings in his family, which includes an older brother who has also trained as a ballet dancer. His mother, Hazel Gershfield, is proud to see her son make the cut for the performance.

“It is a big privilege,” she said on Sunday. “but he does it because of the fun and because he loves it.”

Mac is one of the few boys in his group and especially enjoys dancing with a partner. The training can be a bit rough for a young dancer, especially working on reaching the point where he begins to catch the female dancers.

“That was painful, trying to catch girls in mid-air,” he said of watching his brother in similar training.

“I never thought of it before, the energy that is there. You have to be so strong to pick these girls up,” his mother added.

The ballet dancer trains most of the week, which he said is important to keep from getting hurt while dancing. The most challenging part is dealing with injuries,” he said. “I’ve been getting a strain on the inside of my shin.”

He makes sure to warm up before each class and takes it easy on the jumping to help his injury heal before the show.

The ballet dancer said he has been playing the drums for about a year, which he says helps him find his rhythm while he is practicing his ballet. He also enjoys other styles of dance including modern, tap, jazz and hip-hop.

When asked about whom he looks up to in ballet, Gershfield immediately responded with the famous Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov because he is “very relaxed and flexible.”

He is looking to keep on improving his skills in order to better immerse himself in dance and turn it into a full-time career. “I feel like the better technique, the more fun you can have,” he said. “You feel cleaner and can move around more efficiently.”

Boston Ballet School is the largest ballet school in North America and has had students help celebrate the holiday season with “The Nutcracker” for more than 43 years.



Ally Donnelly
September 18, 2009

 Isaac Akiba, 20, Boston Ballet 2009

Boston, Mass. – This weekend at the Boston Opera House, “Night of the Stars”, a showcase of dance. The show will feature everything from modern dance to classical ballet. It will also premiere the talents of a young man discovered by the ballet in a Boston public school when he was just nine.

Now more than a decade later, he has joined the elite company.

NECN’s Ally Donnelly introduces us to Isaac Akiba.

Ribbons of sweat shimmy down Isaac Akiba’s body. He has been hard at work for hours. First class, then rehearsal, then more rehearsal. This day, six hours of dancing at the Boston Ballet School in the city’s South End.

Akiba: “Uh. It can be ridiculous sometimes. You go home and you’re wasted. Your muscles hurt and your calves are cramping.”

20-year-old Akiba stands 5 foot 7, not even 140 pounds. With his ruddy face and hesitant voice — he has more the demeanor of a shy teenager than a tenacious dancer.

Akiba is the ultimate city kid done good. He is the first dancer ever to start with the ballet’s public schools program and work his way up to become a company dancer. One of only 52 dancers — in the prestigious….Boston Ballet.

Miko Nissinen, Artistic Director: “If you compare some kids playing hoops in the park and compare it to the Boston Celtics, that’s the kind of uh — I mean, it’s when you get in to a professional company of this caliber — you’ve made it.”

The schools program, CityDance — introduces ballet to 3rd graders throughout Boston. Akiba was just nine when dancers came to his working class Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

Akiba: “I remember we went to the auditorium and they put us in a line, they made us stand on toes.”

And that was it. Akiba was hooked. He won a scholarship for a 10-week program — and has been working his way up the ballet ranks for the last decade.

Akiba: “I love being on stage and performing; it never stops being challenging — I love that about it.”

Miko , Artistic Director: He’s a strong dancer, a dynamic dancer, he’s a good turner, a good jumper. I’m in awe of how much artistic depth he has at this age.

Miko Nissinen is the ballet’s artistic director. He first noticed Akiba when he danced in the holiday staple the nutcracker when he was 12. Nissenin knew Akiba “had it” by the time he was 17.

Mikko Nissinen: You have flawless diamond and now we have to start cutting it. It’s not easy life. It’s fantastic life, it’s fascinating life.

The ballet goes into schools in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods where becoming a ballet dancer isn’t exactly seen as the “tough guy” thing to do….but leaders say they’ve got a sure fire way to combat that “sissy” teasing.

Margaret Tracey, school director: “We show them how high they have to jump and how many times they have to turn and have to lift women over their head and then catch them and not drop them.”

Nissinen: “After I showed what kind of physical condition you are — they thought ballet dancers were superman — who did more push ups when everybody else collapsed.”

Tracey: “It really breaks down the barriers and shows that dance is for everyone.”

Akiba says because other boys from his school went into the program he wasn’t teased much, but having male role models has been critical.

Akiba: “You’re around such beautiful dancers and you can be insecure sometimes in class and on stage, but it’s something you have to get through and realize it’s all a process.”

Miko: “I’ve been really amazed how he opens up and lights up on stage — so that’s the beautiful sight. What I’ve seen — first there was a little crack and now, it’s like, it’s opened.”

Quietly, Akiba admits he loves performing in front of an audience…the dark stage…the bright lights. “All of your work, you know, has led up to something you’ve created and hopefully it’s beautiful to other people watching you dance.”

And when the applause comes…he knows at least part of it is for him.“It’s very self satisfying. Yes! Finally, I got it. And that can be a great feeling.”

A great feeling, as a corps dancer in the Boston Ballet.

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© 2009 NECN

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