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By Ellwood Shreve
Chatham Daily News
August 27, 2013

Ben Alexander, 10, has been accepted to the National Ballet School of Canada (photo by Diana Martin) 2013


[Chatham, Ontario, Canada] – You never know where your inspiration to aspire to new heights will come from – all that matters is you follow through on it.

Ten-year-old Ben Alexander is about to take a huge step in attaining his dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer. The Chatham boy is leaving home in September to attend the National Ballet School of Canada. He will live, train and be educated at the prestigious Toronto school, after spending part of his summer auditioning to earn a place there.

Ben, who started dancing at age three, and has been training with long-time dance instructor Florence Abel since age 4, remembers exactly when he became inspired to take up dancing. “I started because I wanted to be a reindeer in the Christmas show my sister was in,” he said with a big grin.

Ben enjoys dance because there’s always an opportunity to grow and “I really love competing.”

Abel, who has had plenty of students accepted into the national ballet school over her 55-year instructing career, praises Ben for having “the strength and flexibility” to be successful at ballet, along having a “sense of imagination … and of course a love of dance.”

She believes a key factor for Ben being accepted into the national school is he was able to complete Grade 3 and Grade 4 of the Royal Academy of Ballet exams last year – it typically takes a year to complete one grade. Abel added Ben achieved this feat while earning high distinction marks, including 94 for Grade 3 and 86 for Grade 4.

While she will miss her student, Abel said, “I want him to follow his dream, that’s for sure.”

Ben, who had been attending McNaughton Avenue Public School, is ready to take on this new challenge. “I’m going to miss everybody, but I’m really excited,” he said.

Judging from the demanding schedule of the school, Ben will have plenty to keep him busy. He’ll be attending academic classes from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., which include an emphasis on the arts with such courses as the history of ballet and the history of art and music.

His schedule calls for him to be in the dance studio from 1-3:30 p.m. daily, before heading back to school for another hour. Then he heads back to the studio after class for more training. Students also spend Saturday morning in the dance studio.

Ben won’t be able to rest on his laurels just because he was accepted into the program this year. Every student must audition each year to keep their spot in the school. Ben said his goal is finish his post-secondary education at the national school.

His mother Cherie Alexander admits she’s going to miss Ben and it’s not easy to see him go off the school at such a young age. “My philosophy is my job (as a parent) is to give them (my children) all the opportunity to be the best adult possible,” she said.

Alexander said Ben has had great experiences with Abel and performing with Pure Dance Academy’s elite ballet company in Chatham. She is looking forward to seeing her son excel at his new school.

“It’s nice he’s getting pushed by other boys at his level and at his age,” she said, adding kids from around the world attend the school.

The national ballet school has two streams for post-secondary study – one for becoming a teacher and the other to become a professional dancer. Ben said he’s aiming to go pro.

The ballet he dreams of playing the lead in is Don Quixote, having been inspired by famous Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov’s performance. “He’s my idol,” Ben said.

© 2013 Chatham Daily News

By Ben Lypka
The Squamish Chief
August 22, 2013

Christopher Waters, 11, will attend Canada's National Ballet School 2013[Squamish, British Columbia, Canada] – It’s not quite his original dream of becoming a soccer star, but Squamish native Christopher Waters is using his legs and feet in a slightly different way. The 11-year-old Ecole les Aiglons student will head to Toronto this fall after being offered a spot at the prestigious Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS).

Waters said it was his love of soccer that led him to the world of ballet. “I started dance when I was five,” he said. “I always wanted to become a soccer player and my dad said most athletes did dance as they grew up so they could become better at sports. So I started doing dance and I got better the longer I did it.”

He said dance helped him with his coordination and balance in soccer but he learned to love the stage. “I enjoy how you use movements to express people’s feelings,” he said.

Waters has spent his dance career at the Howe Sound Dance Academy, having learned his craft under instructors Donna Kirkham and Shalimar Blanchard. He said he never really thought he was a great dancer until he received praise from his father as he improved.

“I didn’t really think I was that good at dance, but whenever we had our year-end recitals my dad would always tell me, ‘Wow, you’re a great dancer for a boy,’” he said. “He told me he’d never seen a male dancer like me before and what he said felt really special to me.”

He said it was a difficult decision to move to Ontario for an entire year to pursue dance but that a summer session at the NBS cemented his desire to try it. “I tried it just for the summer and met a lot of friends from all across Canada and some from even places like Japan and Mexico,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, I had nice teachers and learned a lot.”

This year was the second straight summer Waters attended the NBS session and last year he was also offered to attend the school year round but declined the invitation. “I was accepted for the full year last year but I felt more like staying home with my friends and family,” he said. “This year all my friends got accepted and I decided to go.”

He said he’s looking forward to the challenge of moving across the continent and the additional dance practice that will fill his days. “It’s kind of a mixed blessing,” he said. “It’s exciting because you’re going to a new school with new things but at the same time, I’m really going to miss my friends and family in Squamish. It’s going to be a whole new adventure.”

But Waters won’t stay away for long. He said he will be back in town in late October during a school break and hopes to celebrate his 12th birthday in Squamish. His family will make the trip to Toronto during Christmas break and there will also be times to visit in the spring.

“They’re going to miss me,” he said, of his family. “But when in Toronto there’s always going to be a lot of stuff for me to do to keep busy.”

The school works with other dance groups to out on productions throughout the year. For example, NBS casts and rehearses students for the Nutcracker but the production is run by the National Ballet of Canada company. Students can attend the NBS all the way to Grade 12 but are assessed on an ongoing basis to ensure they respond positively to the program’s broader challenges.

“I want to go there and see what it’s like,” he said. “You can always take a year off and come back but if I continue going there or not depends on how much I like it.”

For more information on the NBS, visit

© Copyright 2013 Glacier Community Media

By Parvaneh Pessian
Photograph by Sabrina Byrnes
Durham Region
August 11, 2012

Up until two years ago, Eamon Stocks had never attempted ballet. Dancing since the age of 7, the 11 year old from Whitby had dabbled in everything from break dancing to hip hop and jazz before he stepped into his first ballet class in 2010.

“It was a hard (transition) because at first, I didn’t know what they were talking about when they said things like ‘first position’ or ‘fondu,'” recalls Eamon, who was recently accepted into the prestigious National School of Ballet in Toronto.

“The more I did ballet, I found I had a real passion, love and passion for it.”

Located in Toronto, Canada’s National Ballet School is one of the world’s foremost training institutions for aspiring young dancers. The facility attracts students from around the world and is the only ballet academy in North America to provide elite dance training, academic instruction and residential care all on one campus.

“I went there last year for the summer program and I loved it so now that I’m finally old enough to make it in, I feel really proud of myself,” says Eamon.

There are about 150 students in the program, which runs from September to July and combines a professional ballet curriculum with academic classes for Grades 6 to 12. Students spend between two and four hours in the dance studio daily, depending on their age.

“We have different classes every day along with ballet so it’s really intense but it feels really good,” he adds. No stranger to hard work, Eamon won Durham Has Talent at the Oshawa Centre in 2011, singing Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing and has been a member of the Whitby Courthouse Theatre youth group for the past two years. He also takes piano and vocal lessons and recently completed Grade 5 at John Dryden Public School in Whitby with straight A’s.

Eamon is looking forward to stretching his abilities and reaching new heights in dance at the ballet school. “I feel like the only person in the world when I’m on stage performing, especially in solos, and I love ballet because it really works me,” he says.

“I love a good challenge and ballet is definitely one of the big challenges that I have in life.”

© Copyright 2012 Metroland

By Elena Ferrarin and Kimberly Pohl
The (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald
May 23, 2012

If life falls into place for Arthur Stashak, a year from now he’ll be gazing out at one of Hamburg’s historic canals, taking a quick breather between his pas de deux and variations classes. The 17-year-old, who grew up in this northwest Chicago suburb, wants nothing more than to move to the German port city and study at the Hamburg Ballet School’s postsecondary program under renowned choreographer John Neumeier.

Do well there, and the world will be Stashak’s stage as he embarks on a professional dancing career. “There’s no doubt in my mind this is the life I want to be leading,” Stashak said. “I can’t believe that I’ll be dancing all day soon and even getting paid for it.”

But Stashak needs to finish school first, and for him, that’s in Toronto. He’s a senior at Canada’s National Ballet School, one of the world’s foremost training institutions. He accepted a full scholarship to attend the school after performing three years ago in New York City at the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the world’s most prestigious ballet and contemporary dance competitions.


The move to Toronto came after Stashak’s freshman year at Maine West High School, when it proved too difficult to juggle his dance schedule with traditional schooling. So Stashak decided to sacrifice the comforts of home for the half-century-old school up north.

“I knew we had to send him somewhere he’d get the absolute best training,” Stashak’s mother, Cathy Stashak, said. “I miss his smiling face. I’ve watched his passion and maturity blossom.”

At school, Stashak’s free time is minimal. A typical day starts with four hours of academics in the morning, followed by lunch, an upper-body workout and then three dance classes until about 6:30 p.m. After that, it’s back to the dorm for dinner, homework and an essential good night of sleep. Saturdays may require several more hours of work depending on upcoming performances. “It takes a toll on your body and can be really exhausting,” Stashak said. “But I love being different from normal society, and I couldn’t imagine moving back.”

Industry leaders have recognized Stashak’s talent in recent years, offering him spots in several elite programs. He’s studied under Spanish dancer Angel Corella at an intensive summer course in Segovia, Spain, and twice spent three weeks in Martha’s Vineyard at Stiefel and Stars, a highly selective workshop led by Ethan Stiefel, co-star of the 2000 movie “Center Stage.”

Closer to home, the Des Plaines Arts Council made Stashak a three-time recipient of its fine arts scholarship, allowing him to study with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago and the Faubourg School of Ballet in Hanover Park.

“Stashak is extremely bright and impassioned about exploring his talent,” said Mavis Staines, artistic director and co-CEO of Canada’s National Ballet School. “And that means he doesn’t find long hours of practice boring, but rather an opportunity to problem-solve and explore.”

Stashak’s journey began about 12 years ago when his mother dropped his twin sister, Katie, off at dance class. “He looked at me from the back seat and said, ‘Why can’t I go, too?'” Cathy Stashak recalls.

Before long, Stashak and his sister won small roles in the Joffrey Ballet’s “Nutcracker” at the Auditorium Theatre. In 2007, which proved Stashak’s fifth and final “Nutcracker” performance because he’d grown too tall, he was the first boy ever cast as polichinelle No. 1 — the first child who comes out of Mother Ginger’s hoop skirt — and danced a 30-second solo.

Even before moving to Toronto, his commitment to dance kept Stashak’s life hectic. Weekdays usually involved a full school day in Des Plaines, baseball or football practice, a brief sponge bath and dinner while his mom drove the 25 miles to Hanover Park, several hours of training at Faubourg, and then homework into the wee hours.

Adding to the stress were peers who bullied him for being a male ballet dancer, a tough period Stashak doesn’t mind now. “If I was a normal, popular kid, I wouldn’t have gone to Canada,” Stashak said. “It was character building and gave me an even greater passion and drive to show everyone what I could do.”

What Stashak can do appears to defy gravity, with his 5-foot-8 frame weightlessly leaping and moving in ways most can’t fathom.

Still, he’s not the model dancer. Many ballet companies are drawn to taller men with long legs and good feet, which extend a body’s line with beautiful arches and flexible ankles.

But what Stashak lacks in technique, he makes up with a certain X-factor. He brings charisma and energy to the stage, and excels at interacting with his partners and portraying a story. Plus, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who works harder.

“Being onstage just elevates me,” Stashak said. “I may not have a classical body or the best technique, but I can shine.”

That’s one reason Stashak thinks Hamburg would be such a good fit. Unlike more traditional dance companies, Hamburg mixes classical with contemporary dance, which involves more freedom and less rigidity.

He also wants to experience life in Europe. “I hate knowing just one language, and ballet provides an amazing opportunity to learn about new cultures,” Stashak said.

As one of his mentors, Staines believes Stashak will be an asset to whatever company he ultimately joins. “Arthur is incredibly musical and has a particular catlike movement,” she said. “Though he’s working quite hard, it looks fluid and without effort.”

Although he won’t be able to join a company until he stops growing completely, Stashak hopes he’ll find a spot where he can build a reputation that will open stage doors everywhere. “I have the passion and the love and the strive for it,” Stashak said. “This is definitely the life I want to be living.”

© Copyright 2012,

By Michael Crabb
The Star (via Langfield Entertainment Newsletter)
May 18, 2012

Jeremy Ransom is mining his teenage memories. For this year’s National Ballet SchoolSpring Showcase he’s restaging a cheerful, technically dazzling work called Here We Come that hasn’t been seen for almost 20 years and in which Ransom danced as a Grade 12 student at its 1978 ballet school premiere.

And it’s not just any work. Despite celebrated Russian-American choreographer George Balanchine’s oft-quoted assertion that “Ballet is woman,” Here We Come, choreographed by Erik Bruhn, is designed to celebrate male dancing.

The Danish-born Bruhn was widely considered the finest classical male dancer of his generation. He was also friends with the National Ballet of Canada’s founding artistic director, Celia Franca. Through that connection, Bruhn forged strong links to Canadian ballet as a dancer, teacher and producer of the classics, ultimately becoming the National Ballet’s artistic director in 1983.

For more than a decade before that, Bruhn had been paying regular visits to the National Ballet School as a guest teacher. Naturally enough, Bruhn was assigned to the boys. It was the ballet equivalent of having Wayne Gretzky coach the high school hockey team. Those, like Ransom, fortunate enough to be his students have never forgotten the experience. “He had a huge impact,” says Ransom. “He gave us tough things to do and rejoiced when we really bit into them.”

Bruhn’s own Copenhagen schooling had been in the tradition of the great 19th-century Danish ballet master August Bournonville, whose choreography gave ample scope for virtuoso male dancing. Bruhn thus assumed that men should have an equal place with women in ballet and went on to prove that, with no sacrifice of virility, they can dance with elegant, expressive refinement. It wasn’t just about how high you could jump. It was about how you got up there and how you came down.

“Erik brought with him that knowledge of the Danish tradition,” say Ransom. “And he had his own special take on rhythm and co-ordination. It was hard as students to acquire his particular way of moving, but it was fascinating to experience.”

As the years progressed, a talented group of male students, many of whom progressed to stellar professional careers, blossomed spectacularly under Bruhn’s mentorship to the point he decided they deserved a work to showcase their accomplishments. Thus Here We Come, a suite of dances for 12 men, set to Morton Gould marches and with a jaunty nautical air, was born.

By the time Bruhn became National Ballet director, several of that original cast, including Ransom, had joined the company and Here We Come was revived in 1983, but Bruhn died of lung cancer in 1986 and his ballet disappeared from the repertoire. The school revived it for a 1993 showcase but since then it’s remained dormant until Ransom, now 51 and on staff at the school, began teaching parts of it to his students. From there, the logical step was to revive the whole ballet to challenge a new generation of ballet school boys with Here We Come’s very challenging choreography.

“It’s hard to get right,” explains Ransom, who’s been collaborating with fellow teacher Ana Jojic on the revival. “I keep being reminded how difficult it actually is. You just have to dive into it. We’ve been working the boys very hard, but I’m glad to say they’re doing very well.”

The Spring Showcase runs May 24 to 26 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis St.; 416-964-5148 or

By Karen Longwell
Northumberland News
March 20, 2012

Two local dancers will study at Canada’s National Ballet School this summer. Ryan Wood, 14, from Cobourg and Alix Mintha, 11, from Port Hope were each accepted into the school’s summer month-long program, said Cobourg Dance Alliance ballet teacher Denise Simpson.

For Ryan the move to ballet was a little late. He started taking recreational hip hop lessons two years ago, he said. His teacher, Kerry Brough, thought he should try ballet and asked Ms. Simpson to watch his dancing.

“We saw something in him,” said Ms. Simpson who studied at Canada’s National Ballet School. “There is a lyrical quality to the way he moves.”

When Ryan started ballet he took to it right away, he said. “I loved it,” he said.

He isn’t nervous about living in Toronto and being away from home. His mother Becky Wood is excited for her son. “It’s a great opportunity,” Ms. Wood said, adding she will miss him.

Talent runs in the family for Alix as her brother dances, said Ms. Simpson. Alix also has an interest in hockey and loves physical activity, said Ms. Simpson. But she definitely has a talent for ballet, she added.

“She has a very entrancing quality,” she said.

The chance to study at the National Ballet School is “very elite and very special,” Ms. Simpson said. It is wonderful to have two students from a small community attending the school, Ms. Simpson added. “It is amazing the amount of talent we have in a small area.”

Alix and Ryan auditioned for the school in January and were recently notified they were selected, said Ms. Simpson. Students are selected from the July program to continue on in the full-time program in the fall. Very few are selected for the full-time program, she said. Graduates of the school go on to pursue careers at dance companies all over the globe, said Katherine Harris, communications manager with the National Ballet School. Alumni dance not only with The National Ballet of Canada but with the Royal Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Boston Ballet and many more, said Ms. Harris.

© Copyright 2012 Metroland

By Donal O’Connor
The Beacon-Herald
August 24, 2011

It’s not every day that a recent ballet school grad lands a contract with a major European ballet organization — let alone a two-year contract — but hard work and determination have paid off for Graeme Fuhrman.

The 20-year-old Stratford dancer, a graduate of the National Ballet School in Toronto, is off to Hamburg, Germany, next month where he will join seven other young dancers of the newly created German National Youth Ballet.

“A two-year contract is rare for a first time (dance) job,” said Fuhrman during an interview at his Stratford home. And he’ll be working in one of the best cities in the world when it comes to support for ballet, he added.

The troupe will have its own shows in addition to performing with the Hamburg Ballet. Fuhrman is one of two Canadians chosen for the company, the other being Natalie Ogonek, an Ottawa-area resident who is also a grad of the National Ballet School.

“Since it’s the German National Youth Ballet, we will have shows all over the country to perform. It’s very exciting,” said Fuhrman.

It wasn’t easy landing the job. Fuhrman went to Europe in January for a month and auditioned for dance companies in eight cities including Amsterdam, Munich, Dresden, Toulouse and London. “It sounds fantastic but it’s a lot of work. It’s very stressful,” he said.

One of the challenges was trying to impress people with his dancing after hours of cramped train travel and sleeping on couches.

Fuhrman’s breakthrough actually came during a second trip to Germany in February when he auditioned in Hamburg. He had returned to Toronto following his first round of auditions.

A relative latecomer to ballet, Fuhrman was already 15 when he was accepted at the National Ballet School where he completed his three final years of high school. Prior to that he had a year at St. Michael Catholic secondary school here in Stratford. Earlier he had attended Stratford Montessori School.

He recalled going to a number of Stratford Shakespeare Festival performances as a child. “I loved them.”

Later on he took part in performances with the local youth theatre group Playmakers! Theatre School and in Grade 9 took a week-long dance course with On Stage Studio, also here. “Once I tried that I was hooked, I guess,” said the soft-spoken, self-assured dancer.

Fuhrman had been on the local swim team Skyac as a youngster. His mom, Linda Bathe, encouraged him to try dance. “It’s not what most 13-year old boys do,” he said, remembering his mother’s suggestion.

A turning point came after a dance class with Annette Av Paul here in Stratford when the former ballet dancer and longtime dance coach advised Fuhrman and his mother that if he was serious about dance he should get into a ballet school.

That turned out to be a lot of work, Fuhrman said. And not everyone who enters the school becomes a career dancer in the end.

During his final two years at the ballet school Fuhrman performed in The Nutcracker in St. Johns, N.L., where it’s tradition to invite National Ballet School dancers to take on lead roles with the community ballet company.

Fuhrman was five years at the ballet school in all, including two years of post-secondary dance training.

As he counts the days to his Sept. 15 departure for Hamburg you can bet the solidly built, sixfooter dancer will be doing what’s necessary to remain supple and fit for what lies ahead.

“It’s very easy to take steps backwards and lose your strength and technique,” he acknowledged.

The company of eight young professional dancers between 18 and 23 years of age will work at the Ballettzentrum Hamburg, home of the Hamburg Ballet. The dancers will perform in theatres, schools, museums, nursing homes and even prisons and there are plans for performances abroad as well as in Germany.

© 2011  Sun Media Corporation

The Globe and Mail
February 21, 2011


In a large studio space filled with production assistants, stage managers, dance instructors, squawking walkie-talkies (and, yes, parents), the four boys who play Billy Elliot in the Toronto production of the hit musical are taking a well deserved break to eat a lunch of turkey sandwiches and potato chips.

A typical day for these young men – J.P. Viernes, 14; Myles Erlick, 12; Cesar Corrales, 14; and Marcus Pei, 12 – begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m., six days a week. The hours are spent in ballet class, tap class, classes to polish their acro (a style of dance that mixes classical and acrobatic elements), rehearsing scenes and, of course, homework.

It’s no wonder then that they all agree keeping up their energy is the most difficult part of preparing for the show. “The hardest thing is the stamina,” Corrales says.

Playing the role of Billy Elliot is a monumental challenge. While the boys have years of ballet experience – they beat out 1,500 other wannabes for performances in Toronto as well as Chicago – most have had to learn to sing, to act and to become proficient tap dancers.

“They’re extraordinary kids. They have to be able to absolutely stay focused, stay fit, stay mentally healthy, act, dance, sing and carry a big show on their shoulders,” says producer David Furnish. “It’s a tough job. And that’s a challenge. It’s not like you can go out and find these kids and they just exist. They don’t. You have to bring them up a big learning curve.”

After Pei passed his first two auditions, he was put in tap classes to help round out his skills for the show. Corrales also had to polish his tap, although he almost didn’t try out for the role.

His mother had seen a notice for the auditions and suggested he try out. “I was like, ‘I don’t know mom, they do everything and I only know ballet and acro.’” But he decided to go ahead after his mom suggested he go just for the experience, even if the demands of the part seemed daunting.

All the boys recognize that Billy is the role of a lifetime.

“I’ve always wanted to become a professional ballet dancer. I always want to perform for people,” Erlick says.

Viernes, who started to take ballet when he was seven years old after watching his older sister’s recitals, auditioned for Billy for the chance to try something new. “I like the role of Billy Elliot because, first of all, it’s a very good role to dance. It’s also kind of a new role for me because I haven’t had much acting experience,” he says.

Stephen Daldry, who directed the film (made in 2000) as well as the musical, says playing Billy in the stage version is a much, much more difficult task than the movie. “Some kids have been in training for it for over a year,” he says.

So what makes a Billy? A certain amount of charm is required, as is dance ability, of course. But there is one thing above all that makes a kid right for the part, Daldry says. “At the end of the day, what you’re looking for more than anything else is determination and tenacity,” he says.

Thankfully, he adds, the show has been able to draw on students at the National Ballet of Canada, many of whom have performed in the show over the years in its various incarnations. “The Canadian National Ballet School has been an enormous resource for us,” Daldry says.

Three of the Billys in the Toronto production – Pei, Erlick and Corrales – are students at the school.

“Canada has a great bed of talent,” Furnish says.

After the musical’s initial success in London in 2005, Furnish hoped it would next make its way to Toronto (his home town). But the play wound up in Sydney for “logistical reasons.”

Now that it is here, the Billys who go to school in the city have that much more energy for the show. “I’m excited to be in Toronto because now my friends will be able to see the show,” Erlick says.

For now, though, lunch is over and it’s time for the boys to head back to their afternoon classes.  They don’t mind. Their hard work is part of what this show’s about.

“I think we all need to believe in hope,” says Furnish, “that if we have dreams and if we have ambitions and if we have skills and talents – that if you really put your heart into something and you work at it hard enough – that you can make your dreams come true.”


© Copyright 2011 The Globe and Mail Inc

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