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Choreographer Joshua Bergasse, left, teaching David Alvarez steps for his swing role in On the Town (Sara Krulwich, The New York Times) 2015

 

By Gia Kourlas
New York Times
April 24, 2015

 

[New York City, New York, USA] – “Are you O.K.?” the choreographer Joshua Bergasse asked his newest dancer during a recent rehearsal for “On the Town” at the Lyric Theater. “Do you want to breathe for a minute? Take a minute. Get some water.”

In other words, if you don’t tell David Alvarez, a swing in the show, to take a break, he won’t.

Being a swing, a performer responsible for learning multiple ensemble roles, for “On the Town,” an athletic, jazz-influenced ballet show, is grueling, yet not even close to some of the punishing physical acts Mr. Alvarez, 20, has put himself through. Mr. Alvarez spent three years of his childhood at another Broadway theater starring as Billy Elliot, the irrepressible British boy seduced by ballet. When he was nearly 16, he took his final bow and finished high school. And then he joined the Army.

“Ballet and ‘Billy Elliot’ prepared me to pass every possible training in the Army,” Mr. Alvarez said after a rehearsal. “When I did basic training, I always thought, this is hard but it’s not ‘Billy Elliot’ hard.”

Context helps put “ ‘Billy’ hard” into perspective: Basic training could mean 300 push-ups in the middle of the night, sleeping for 30 minutes and then having a five-mile run. “All I remember is how hungry I was,” Mr. Alvarez said with a friendly smile.

In 2009, Mr. Alvarez won a Tony, along with Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish, with whom he alternated in the part. (Mr. Kowalik is now a sophomore at Princeton University, and Mr. Kulish acts and competes in ballroom dance.) Yes, Mr. Alvarez is aware that he’s in a strange position: He has gone from starring in a musical to joining the military, only to make his return to the stage in a musical about the military. And just how many Tony-winning swings are there on Broadway?

But the strapping Mr. Alvarez — he has blossomed from a ballet waif into a muscular, self-assured young man with the same dark curls — doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder about being a swing after having been a Broadway star. “I feel like people think I should, and some people want me to,” he said. “But I don’t care. I’m just an average guy. Just because I have a Tony doesn’t make me any different or better than any other performer.”

After such acclaim, Mr. Alvarez’s decision to join the Army after high school might have seemed like an unusual career move, but it was always part of his plan. “I’ve wanted to join the Army since I was 13 or 14,” he said. “I knew the experience would be an unforgettable one and something that would teach me a lot about myself and help me grow.”

After basic training, he was part of the 25th Infantry Division stationed in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, where he was selected for a reconnaissance platoon and trained as a sniper. During that time, a two-and-a-half-year contract, he was sent abroad but declined to disclose details, citing personal security reasons.

“When I went through basic training and through recon trials, I was always a good shot,” he said. “I never planned to be assigned as a sniper at all; I just wanted to go infantry, but I’m a weird guy: I always like a challenge.”

He realized that the best soldiers were slim like him — “they could be dancers,” he said. At the same time, the Army toughened his body up. “Sleeping outside for 30 days at a time, walking around with 200 pounds of gear — it’s really rough,” he said. “In Fort Wainwright, it’s cold, and I remember we’d be out on the field for 30 to 45 days in almost negative-60 degrees. It’s all psychological; it’s about pulling through. After the Army, I know the difference between just hurting and an injury.”

His intention had always been to return to Broadway after the Army to try acting as an adult. For now, he’s dancing and will perform in “On the Town” through mid-June, after having successfully filled in as a last-minute replacement in February.

But his real ambition is to act, especially in films. “It’s not that I don’t love dancing, it’s that I love acting more,” he said. “When I did ‘Billy Elliot,’ I completely fell in love with getting all of my emotions out and developing a character. That’s what I’d like to get back into.”

Mr. Alvarez found his way to “On the Town” through the show’s associate choreographer, Greg Graham, who was a dance captain on “Billy Elliot.” (Stephen Hanna, who played the older Billy in the musical, is also in “On the Town.”) His transformation, Mr. Graham said, has impressed him. “It was like your little brother who goes away,” he said, “and you see him again and he’s a grown man and he’s taller than you.”

Born in Montreal to Cuban parents, Mr. Alvarez began his dance training in San Diego. When he was 11, he auditioned for and was accepted to American Ballet Theater’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York, where his family moved. He was a student there when he joined the cast of “Billy Elliot.”

“His jumps are so high, and his turns are so clean,” said Mr. Bergasse, who likes his performers to have a strong ballet foundation. “He is so focused and determined — you just admire him for this work ethic he has. I like men who are kind of daredevils, which I think David really is.”

Mr. Alvarez now wears a wristband, a gift from an Army friend, printed with three words: “Fear Is Dead.” He said most of his fellow soldiers didn’t find out about his “Billy Elliot” past until after he left the Army. “My first sergeant announced it,” he said. “I wasn’t there, thank God, but everyone texted me. I just wanted people to see me for who I was.”

 

© 2015 The New York Times Company

 

By Tats Rejante Manahan
The Philippine Daily Inquirer
November 17, 2014

 

Lope Lim in Steps Dance Studio's Pepe's Secret Garden (Steps Dance Studio, Manila) 2012[Manila, Philippines] – In a culture that hails machismo as an asset, in an art form predominantly peopled by females, it is seldom to chance upon young males who declare their intent to pursue dance for the plain and simple reason that they like it.

In recent decades in the Philippines, the average age of males choosing to take up dancing is about 17. In other countries, like the United States, for example, it is not unusual for young boys to take to dance studios at an earlier age like 8 or 9.

Perhaps times, indeed, are a-changing because the male dance population is slowly getting younger. To the dance aficionado, this is good news because it will mean that good male dancers will have longer stage time. In the ballet world and in a more rarified dance form, flamenco, two young men have set their eyes far into the dance world.

At age 10, Lope Lim, on a family vacation in Las Vegas, watched a show that featured a hip-hopping Fil-American masked dance group called the Jabbowokeez, which in 2008 won Best American Dance Crew.

Lope recalls: “The first dancer entered doing a back flip and just started dancing. I remember the feeling he gave me… You know the unexplainable connection to dance. You were with him in that connection. So I went home completely inspired.”

The four months following had Lope dancing to music in his room at least four times a day. ” And it wasn’t necessarily hip-hop or ballet or modern. I was just dancing to the music.”

Finally, he raised up the courage to ask his mother to enrol him in dance class. It must have been around this time that Sofia Zobel-Elizalde, directress of Steps Dance Studio, saw him jump. Her eyes, trained after 20 years of running a dance studio, and many more years spent as a dancer herself, recognized the potential in Lope.

Ironically it wasn’t a hip-hop class he joined but ballet.

It has been five years since Lope stepped into a dance studio. Finishing an intensive summer workshop at the Alvin Ailey Dance Studios in New York, he looks forward to six months training at the Kirov School in Washington, DC, an award given to him as the silver medalist in the Junior Division B in this year’s Asian Grad Prix held in Hongkong.

 

Ballet body

Given his lean physique, Lope is aware it is ballet that suits his body type. ” Ballet likes my body,” he says. He does not, however, inhibit himself from dancing jazz, contemporary and hip hop.

He mulls over his dance preferences, citing the neoclassical style of Hamburg Ballet’s John Neumier, while also attracted to the work of choreographer Ohad Noharin of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company.

Noharin has developed his own dance style called Gaga, which has a seemingly free-style flowing movement that requires the dancer to be so intimately knowledgeable of his body that the movement it produces stems from an incredible discipline of knowing how far or how tight it can move.

Neumier’s neo-classical pieces are highly intellectual.“The dances they produce are just so versatile and innovative that you can’t help but want to dance for them,” enthuses Lope.

In a recent preview for a competition, the Lope whom I had first seen dancing lyrically at age 10 in a Christmas presentation of Steps Dance Studio, had now grown into a 14-year-old adolescent, lean and handsome of face.

And even this early, he exhibited strength and determination in his dancing. In a neo-Filipino piece, his sharp accents cut the air, his musicality obvious in his phrasing. The assuredness in the precision of his movements, specifically his footwork, showed a mastery of his anatomy on the choreography. It was a breath of fresh air.

 

Purest form

Meanwhile, 22-year-old Russell Wisden has chosen flamenco, particularly Nuevo Flamenco, perhaps the purest form of flamenco, as it almost remains faithful to the original form the Gypsies originated in their wanderings from India to Spain.

Where ballet urges the dancer to use his core to defy gravity, flamenco, with its rhythms and counter-rhythms, requires the dancer to use his core just as strongly, enabling him to execute zapateo (footwork) in rhythmic precision, yet rapidly, and on a downward emphasis.

Russell was 3 and living in Singapore when he would accompany his mother to take his older sister to ballet class.

“From those days, I developed a love for music and rhythm which took me through the multi-disciplines of classical ballet, ballroom, jazz, modern and hip-hop,” he recalls.

In 2009, his mother enrolled him and his two sisters, Rosanna and Rosvera, in a 24-session flamenco program under Cecile de Joya at Fundacion Centro Flamenco.

De Joya, whose patience in teaching beginners the complexities of flamenco is well-known, spotted the talent in the siblings, and in Russell particularly, being the only male in her class.

 

Spanish training

Shortly after, the siblings were sent to Spain, where they spent two months studying flamenco. They go back there regularly “to study the rhythmic patterns, stanzaic form and mode of the various palos (rhythms). It gives us a depth of the feel for the Gitanos ethnicity of Andalusian flamenco,” enthuses Russell.

Flamenco traditionally is only complete with a quadro: the dancer, the guitarist, the singer and the one who claps.

Intrigued by each of these, Russell learned guitar and percussion, and has also started to compose music and even attempts to sing (“medyo kulang pa sa vocal”).

Russell’s innate talent for this dance form and its music has already made him a qualified teacher for dance, guitar and cajon in the flamenco Center, at the Ballet Philippines Studio in SM Aura, Makati Sports Club and Symmetry Dance Studio in Parañaque.

He performs regularly at tablaos with Centro Flamenco and in Singapore, where he is occasionally invited to perform, at times with his sisters.

 

Stereotyping

Being half-British helps in the stereotyping of what a bailaor should look like. To even add to that mystique, Russell keeps his hair long. Lean and tall, he possesses that undefinable quality called duende, which sets apart an ordinary dancer who knows his steps, from a performer who feels his dance. In Russell, the package is complete.

Lope Lim and Russell Wisden are two young men who have had a calling so unlike any other, and both pursue it with a determination and a passion; and for us potential spectators, the better for the refinement of our lives.

© Copyright 2014 Inquirer.net

 

 

 

By Evan F. Moore
Southtown Star
October 7, 2014

 

 

Yiannis Ekonomou, 11, is a rising star (Southtown Star) 2014[Orland Park, Illinois] – If you happen to watch “Dancing With The Stars” or “America’s Got Talent” in the upcoming years, you might see Orland Park resident Yiannis Ekonomou as a contestant. The 11-year-old boy’s resume is impressive. He has been dancing since he was 5.

“He was always dancing around the house,” Nicholas, Yiannis’ father, said. “We took him to a dance lesson one day and he liked it.”

Ekonomou said he saw something special in his son and knew that dance wouldn’t be a passing fad for him. “You can see it was something that came from his heart,” Ekonomou said. “He has a natural talent, and he can elevate himself.”

This summer, Yiannis won two national dance titles for his hip hop and contemporary solos as well as several judges’ choice awards in multiple competitions. He also danced in fundraisers sponsored by the American Heart Association and the Safstrom Children Education Fund.

He performed in the 2013 Nutcracker with the Joffrey Ballet as the lead boy in the party scene.

The Century Junior High School student has a strict regimen that requires him to train 15 to 20 hours a week.

“When I started doing hip-hop, at that moment, I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” Yiannis said. “I love dancing.”

Alyssa Johnson, the artistic director and owner of Perfection Dance Artistry in Palos Heights, has Yiannis as a student in her contemporary jazz and power company class. She said she knew he was something special during their first session. “For a young gentleman, he is dedicated to this,” Johnson said. “I was impressed the first day he came into my basement. He picked up right away.”

She also said that she was surprised at Yiannis’ drive at that age.“If you tell him to do something, he picks up the correction right away. In this industry, you’re looking for a kid that knows what he wants,” she said.

Yiannis’ parents support his dancing but have stressed that he must maintain good grades in school if he wants to keep his demanding schedule. Ekonomou said his son also plays soccer and is taking piano lessons.

Yiannis’ goal is to become a professional dancer and join “Dancing with the Stars” as a choreographer. His other favorite shows are “Dance Moms” and “So You Think You Can Dance?”

“I look at their (dancers’) technique. I look at how they do things,” he said.

Yiannis said he gets plenty of support from his classmates at school.“They think it’s pretty cool because they’ve seen me on TV auditioning,” he said.

 

© Copyright 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC

 

Academia de Ballet e Dança – Annarella, Portugal

 

Banner, Academia de Ballet e Dança - Annarella, Portugal (Annarella Academia de Ballet e Dança)

 

Broadway World
March 11, 2014

Tommy Batchelor (Tommy Batchelor)Tommy Batchelor, who starred in the Tony Award-winning musical Billy Elliot on Broadway and in the First National Tour will join the cast of Short North Stage’s upcoming production of The Who’s Tommy as a featured dancer. The musical is the inspirational story, based on the classic 1969 rock album by The Who, about a deaf, dumb and blind boy who becomes a celebrated pinball wizard. This rock opera is a perfect fit for the energetic and spontaneously creative young man, whose explosive style mirrors the driving rhythms and passion of The Who’s music.

Batchelor, now an 18-year-old dance major at the Ohio State University, has been dancing since he was five-years-old. He was inspired by a seeing a documentary about the legendary tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson starring Gregory Hines.

At twelve-years of age he was spotted by scouts for the Broadway production of Billy Elliot at a Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest international ballet competition for young dancers. After auditioning, he was offered the role of understudy to Billy and sent to London with the original cast for training.

“Overall those days were a lot of fun, but they were definitely tough,” he recalls. Along with the three other Billys who were to rotate performing the role on Broadway, he not only had to learn all the dances, but also take singing lessons and study the dialect of North Eastern England, where Billy lived.

“The rehearsals never stopped,” he recalls. “The show is very hard. The physical stamina is only part of it. The mental stamina required for a 13-year-old to carry a three-hour show is a lot more than most 13-year-olds are used to-especially if you’ve never acted or sung before.”

Tommy welcomed the life style of a Broadway show kid. For one thing, it freed him from what he considered the boredom of normal schooling. The many other young performers in the cast-boys and girls-created a strongly bonded social life. And the producers provided tutors for the cast both in New York and on tour. After leaving the show in late 2010, he decided against returning to normal high school life, getting his high school degree on line, while living part time at home or with friends in the New York City area.

So how did he find his way to OSU? He first became aware of Columbus when asked by Bart Freidenberg, a Columbus resident who saw him perform Billy in Chicago to sing the national anthem at the annual Tournament of Champions here. Tommy also took in an OSU-Nebraska football game while in town. He was so inspired by the professionalism of the Buckeye marching band, that he investigated the celebrated dance program at OSU.

“My journey has been finding my own voice in dance-discovering myself,” he says. An older colleague advised him: “If you want to become your own artist, then go to OSU.”

When asked if he’s happy with that choice, Tommy flashes a big smile. “I’m always looking for something new, and right now OSU is it.”

OSU dance program offers him great challenge he currently, and he is not looking much beyond college. He doesn’t think he wants to be a professional dancer, but knows that dance will always be integrated into his life, perhaps as a choreographer or entertainer. He’s currently intrigued by dance film. “With film you can capture perfection-repeating a sequence until you get it right.”

What brings Tommy to the stage at the Garden? For one thing, he misses musicals and a friend in his dorm mentioned the auditions to him. “A fellow cast member, David Bologna, played in the musical Tommy in New York and I thought it could be a lot of fun. Musicals are a great form a storytelling and a great way to see life. They help keep you from getting trapped in normalcy. It’s nice to walk down the street with a song in your head.”

Tommy’s role in the Short North Stage production will be as a featured dancer throughout the show. Director/Choreographer Edward Carignan plans at least one dance solo for him-the opening of the second act, a choreographed pinball game with projections, where he will dance with an actual pinball.

The Who’s Tommy opens with a preview on April 10 at 8 p.m.. Performances are at 8 p.m. on April 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 & 26. Matinees at 3 p.m. on April 13, 20 & 27.

© 2014 Copyright Wisdom Digital Media

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Travis and Tyler Atwood have appeared on the reality program “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition 2013 (photo by Dave Hansen)

By Matt Sheley
The Newport Daily News
October 7, 2013

[Jamestown, Rhode Island, USA]  — Twelve-year-old twin brothers from Jamestown are tearing up a nationally broadcast dance reality show. Travis and Tyler Atwood and their mother Sheryl have appeared six times on the Lifetime program “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition,” with their seventh appearance set to air Tuesday, Oct. 8, at 9 p.m. on Cox cable channel 40. There are 12 episodes in the series.

Bound by a confidentiality agreement, the Atwoods couldn’t tell The Daily News much about the show, but they agreed the experience was one the boys would do again in a quickstep.

Eighth-graders at Lawn Avenue School, Travis and Tyler said everyone has been really cool about the TV show and treats them the same as before they left in early April for taping on a locked set at a studio in Glendale, Calif.

“Literally, we couldn’t get out of the set,” Tyler said while sitting in his family’s living room in Jamestown. “Because it was a reality show, they don’t want anyone to know what happened. Whenever anyone asks, we just tell them to tune in.”

“It was so much fun,” Travis added. “We had a tutor on set for school, and everyone was really nice even though it might not always look that way (on TV).”

Episodes highlight the friction generated among the 11 young dancers — and their mothers. The dancers are competing for a $100,000 cash prize as well as a full scholarship to the Young Dancers Program at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York.

When the show asked the Atwood twins if they were interested in competing, their parents — Sheryl and Chris — had a heart-to-heart discussion. They agreed to permit their sons to dance, but to stay clear of the drama.

Travis, Tyler and their mom were subjected to a battery of interviews and tests to make sure they could withstand the pressures of reality TV. Sheryl and Chris Atwood had to agree to withdraw the boys from school until taping for the show was completed.

“People at my office who’ve watched it have said that my wife and the boys have handled themselves so well,” said Chris Atwood, who did not make the trip because he was tied up with business. “That was always the No. 1 goal, for people to see a family can have this type of experience and be themselves.”

Active in sports from soccer to snowboarding, Travis and Tyler said they got into dance at the age of 6 or 7 after seeing “So You Think You Can Dance” on TV one night. They were interested in learning some hip-hop moves, so they signed up for classes at the Talent Factory in North Kingstown.

More Photographs by Dave Hensen

“When I saw that they were the only boys in the class and all the girls were wearing ballet slippers and frilly costumes, I said this will be one and done,” Sheryl Atwood recalled, laughing. “Then, at the end of the class, they were getting high fives from all the girls and I had to rethink things.”

Since then, the boys have done extremely well at competitions and have earned a name in the national dance circuit. They will make a public appearance on Sunday, Oct. 27, at 9 a.m. at Just Dance on Metacom Avenue in Warren.

“I see it as another way to express myself,” Travis said about dancing. “If I had a bad day at school or playing sports or something like that, I can work it out when I dance.”

“At first, I did it because it was a good way to meet girls, but it’s really good exercise and way more intense than people realize,” Tyler added. “It’s a really good workout.”

The brothers said they enjoy dancing but neither sees himself making a career out of it, not at this point, anyway. For now, they are focused on school work and sports, which they said they would like play for a living. In addition to dance and sports, the twins are interested in engineering, marine biology and robotics.

Sheryl and Chris Atwood said they hope their sons learned some important lessons from the TV competition and use the experience as a stepping stone in the upcoming chapters of their lives.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some people had comments about doing this type of thing. But we had very frank conversations about what this was and what we were getting into,” Sheryl Atwood said. “I think we showed you can go on reality TV and not argue or get on each other, just focus on what was important there and dance and stay a strong family.”

“I can’t say enough how great everyone has been, particularly the teachers and staff at Lawn Avenue,” Chris said. “It’s been a wonderful experience for the boys and
our family.”

© 2013 NewportRI.com

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Emile Gooding. 8 , named best modern dancer at national competition 2103

By Hugh Fort
GetReading
September 9, 2013

[Reading, England] – A budding Billy Elliot from Earley has been named the best modern dancer of his age group in a national competition. Eight-year-old Emile Gooding beat thousands of other young dancers to come top in the Festival of Theatre Dance competition.

Emile, who goes to Earley St Peter’s School and is a member of The Lodge School of Theatre Dance in Earley, won a local round before he took part in the regional finals in Southampton, where he came first in the modern category and second in ballet.

He then went to the national finals at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London, where he came fourth in ballet and first in modern dance.

Emile’s mum Sedge said: “When he got to go the West End for the Nationals we really thought this is amazing, just to be taking part. “Emile and I were a bit blown away so when his number was called out and we found he had won, I was shaking and speechless. I rang his dancing teacher Miss Sarah Jane and could hardly speak. It’s a buzz I will never forget.”

By  Tennessee Mansford
3 News
June 10, 2013

Joel Walsham (Photo by Joel Walsham) 2013A young man has become the first New Zealander to be awarded a scholarship to a prestigious United States dance university. Joel Walsham will be living his dream, but as a young male dancer in New Zealand, his road to success hasn’t been easy.

Last time Walsham was on the news, he was 11 years old and auditioning for the hit stage show Billy Elliot. Seven years on, he says the Billy Elliot film has helped to challenge stereotypes about men in tights. “Ballet isn’t just about guys in tights and girls in tutus,” he says. “Ballet is rugged, it’s athletic and it’s a lot of things that males are.”

Early this year Walsham flew to the US to audition for three prestigious dance schools – New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, the Ailey School and LINES Ballet in San Francisco. He was accepted into all three.

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Spoiled for choice, he picked LINES Ballet, where he’ll be the only international student dancing while studying fine arts at the Dominican University of California. The LINES ballet programme is unique in that it offers a conservatory style technical training with one of the world’s top neo-classical companies, as well as a liberal arts education. Studying there is prestigious and very expensive.

Joel Walsham (Photo by Joel Walsham) 2013-02Walsham has a $17,000 scholarship grant, but he still has to fundraise another $20,000. “As a young person who’s seeking support to go overseas to gain skills to bring back to New Zealand, there’s generally not a lot of support,” says Walsham.

Jacqui Cesan has been teaching Walsham for 11 years. She also runs a dance studio for boys in Auckland. “If we put as much money into arts as we did into sport, our dancers would be the All Blacks of the world,” she says.

“Now we have really good dance programmes at Auckland University, Unitec, there’s more coming through, there’s still not enough and so we applaud kids like Joel who go on and take another opportunity.”

And as he prepares to head overseas., Walsham says attitudes towards male dancers still have a way to go. “The world needs to move beyond Billy Elliot, we need to get to a point where Billy Elliot doesn’t symbolise every dance, and every male dancer isn’t Billy Elliot.”

He’s grown from an 11-year-old who wanted to be Billy Elliot into an 18-year-old who just wants to dance as Joel Walsham.

Copyright © 2013 MediaWorks TV

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