Ballet San Jose Reaches Out

Story by Susan Lee

“Who wants to play an instrument?” Clifford Rawson asks a group of East San Jose second graders. Hands shoot up around the room. A few minutes later, the children are experimenting with Rawson’s electric piano. A few minutes after that, they’re trying out their first pliés.

“They’re just so enthusiastic,” Rawson marvels. “And for most of them, this is the first time they’ve even had a music or a dance lesson.”

Two years ago, Ballet San Jose began its Education and Outreach program to help disadvantaged schools realize that ballet is for everyone. “Their music and arts programs had been slashed,” Rawson says. “So we decided to try and fill the gap.”

Beth Ann Namey teaching a group of Outreach students about ballet. Photo courtesy of Ballet San Jose.

Beth Ann Namey teaching a group of Outreach students about ballet. Photo courtesy of Ballet San Jose.

Rawson, the Education and Outreach Coordinator and a graduate of the Boston Conservatory, handles the music side of the program. Beth Ann Namey, a former Ballet San Jose Soloist, teaches dancing. Rawson and Namey travel to four elementary schools and two middle schools in East San Jose. The schools are selected for their low standardized test scores and their high percentage of children who qualify for the free lunch program. Ninety-four percent of the students are minorities.

“We really wanted to reach a broad range of kids who may not have had access to the arts at all,” Rawson says.

The hour-long Music and Motion class introduces first, second, and third graders to the basics of rhythm, melody, and ballet. “I’ll play music they know first, like Star Wars,” Rawson says. “Then I’ll move on to marches, waltzes, and the different instruments in the orchestra. Beth Namey will talk about ballet. How old is ballet? Why has it lasted so long? She’ll have the children do tendus or sway like trees in the wind.”

Afterwards, Rawson will invite interested students to study at Ballet San Jose for eighteen weeks – for free. “We had fifty children for the First Step program this year. We also started an Invited Performances program to give students and their families the chance to see The Nutcracker for free. It was so popular that we’re continuing it with our upcoming performance of Cinderella.”

Other outreach programs have been equally successful, such as a ten-week after-school class at Horace Mann elementary school. At the end of the session, the students have a recital for their family and friends.

For older kids, Rawson and Namey give presentations on ballet in school cafeterias or gyms. “We’ll have some of our trainees come in and do a barre or some partnering with fancy lifts. Then we’ll talk about how to become a professional dancer.”

Rawson is especially proud of a recent partnership with the San Francisco Autism Society. “We were able to offer a sensory friendly dress rehearsal of The Nutcracker for children with developmental challenges. They often have a hard time sitting still or being quiet, but they’re very musical! It was the first time most of them had been able to go to a performance with their families.”

Dancer Grace-Anne Powers connecting with an Outreach participant from the San Francisco Autism Society. Photo courtesy of Ballet San Jose.

Dancer Grace-Anne Powers connecting with an Outreach participant from the San Francisco Autism Society. Photo courtesy of Ballet San Jose.

Last year, Ballet San Jose’s Outreach program reached more than 4,000 students. This year? Over 5,600. “We’re growing the program quickly,” Rawson says. “We have big plans.”

Interested in helping the program get even bigger? Just go to the Ballet San Jose website and click on “Donate.”

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Dancer Spotlight: Amy Marie Briones

Story by Susan Lee

Amy Marie Briones is truly a home-grown talent. Briones grew up in San Mateo, where she attended the Ayako School of Ballet until she joined Ballet San Jose in 2006. She was only sixteen at the time.

“I wanted to start ballet when I was two year old,” Briones says. “But my mother told me to go and play basketball with my brothers! I finally made it to my first class when I was four, and I wanted to go every day after that.”

Briones and her brothers were homeschooled, which she says was good for her soon-strenuous ballet schedule. It worked so well, in fact, that when Briones attended the prestigious USA International Dance Competition, Dennis Nahat, the former Artistic Director of Ballet San Jose, spotted her right away. “He asked me if I wanted a job,” she laughs. “I told him, ‘Well, I’m only sixteen, but yes!'”

Amy Marie Briones in Dwight Rhoden's Evermore. Photo by Alejandro Gomez.

Amy Marie Briones in Dwight Rhoden’s Evermore. Photo by Alejandro Gomez.

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Review Roundup: MasterPieces

As we closed the curtain on last weekend’s MasterPieces performance, the Ballet San Jose Company was glowing at their achievement, and the feeling was clearly contagious. Reflecting on their success, here are a few thoughts about the performance from our reviewers.

Carla Escoda of the Huffington Post commented on Ballet San Jose’s performance of Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room, stating,

The company threw themselves into that electrifying work with great style and daring – a triumph from start to finish.

Maykel Solas, Alexsandra Meijer, and Amy Marie Briones in Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room. Photo courtesy of Ballet San Jose.

Maykel Solas, Alexsandra Meijer, and Amy Marie Briones in Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room. Photo courtesy of Ballet San Jose.

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How DO we make all that fog?

It's so foggy!

Ballet San Jose’s Production Stage Manager Les Reinhardt shared this fun comic from Q2Q Comics yesterday in anticipation of our MasterPieces performance. One of the works on the program, Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room, features heavy “fog” on stage, actually termed haze and smoke. Here’s some fun facts about how we get all of that smoke on stage! Continue reading

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Guest Stager: Stacy Caddell

After an acclaimed Nutcracker, our dancers are back in the studios rehearsing for our first program of 2015, MasterPieces. This week we are joined by Stacy Caddell, who is working with our dancers to stage George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations along with Sandra Jennings, also back in the studios since December. The ballet along with the company premiere of Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free and the return of Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room make up the MasterPieces program, which will be performed on February 20-22 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts. These three works truly live up to the title of MasterPieces, and we are thrilled to be presenting this exquisite and diverse program. Keep reading to learn more about Stacy Caddell. For tickets to see MasterPieces, visit the Ballet San Jose website. Tickets start at only $25!

Stacy CaddellStacy Caddell

Stacy Caddell was born in Norfolk, Virginia where she began her dance training at the age of five. She attended the School of American Ballet and joined New York City Ballet at the invitation of George Balanchine in 1980. In 1991, Caddell joined Twyla Tharp’s company. She later toured with Tharp and Mikhail Baryshnikov in the full evening production of Cutting Up. After retiring from the stage, Caddell assisted Tharp at American Ballet Theatre on Known by Heart and at New York City Ballet on Beethoven’s Seventh. From 2002-2005, she served as Dance Supervisor for Tharp’s Tony Award winning Broadway show Movin’ Out. Caddell’s choreographic credits include the HBO series The Sopranos, the opera Aida for the Todi Festival in Virginia, and a ballet, our special waltz, for Ballet Academy East where she is a permanent guest faculty member. Caddell is currently a repetiteur and travels internationally to stage the works of Twyla Tharp and George Balanchine for Twyla Tharp and the George Balanchine Trust respectively.

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Dancer Spotlight: Ommi Pipit-Suksun

Story by Susan Lee

After living and working in three different countries, principal dancer Ommi Pipit-Suksun has finally found a home at Ballet San Jose.

Pipit-Suksun grew up in Thailand, where ballet was not very popular.  “There’s no professional ballet company in the country,” Pipit-Suksun says.  “And there weren’t even any dancers in my family.”

Ommi Pipit-Suksun

Ballet San Jose Principal Dancer Ommi Pipit-Suksun and Soloist Rudy Candia. Photo by Robert Reed.

So how did she wind up choosing ballet? Continue reading

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Guest Stager: Sandra Jennings

We’re in the middle of Nutcracker season, but we’re already thinking ahead to the New Year! This week, we were joined in the studios by Guest Stager Sandra Jennings, also ballet-mistress and coach at Mariinsky Theatre. Sandra is working with the Company to stage George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations for Ballet San Jose’s MasterPieces program. MasterPieces will be performed at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts February 20-22, 2015.

Sandra Jennings

Sandra Jennings, courtesy of Mariinsky Theatre

 

Sandra Jennings

Sandra Jennings was born in Boston and began her dance training at an early age with June Paxman of the Washington Ballet and later with E. Virginia Williams at Boston Ballet. Later Sandra trained with teachers such as Harriet Hoctor, Shanna Bereska and Margaret Gill. Continue reading

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In the Studio: Amy Seiwert

Here to choreograph a new work for Ballet San Jose’s Bodies of Technology program, Amy Seiwert is in the studio and setting her ballet on our Company of dancers. The work will combine the world-renowned innovations and inventions of Silicon Valley with the artistry of groundbreaking dance and choreography, and will premiere at Bodies of Technology at the California Theatre on March 27-29, 2015. Tickets are on sale now at balletSJ.org.

Read more about Amy Seiwert below!

Amy Seiwert

Amy Seiwert, photo courtesy of Amy Seiwert’s Imagery

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Guest Stager: Shelley Washington

Joining us this week is Shelley Washington, here to stage In the Upper Room for Ballet San Jose’s MasterPieces program. Performed last season, Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room enjoyed standing ovations and glowing critical acclaim. Here’s what Rita Felciano of the San Jose Mercury News had to say of the performance:

In the Upper Room in an applause machine. One moment you have four women stalking and whirling in toe shoes, the next a leisurely group jogs backwards in slippers. The choreography’s demands on speed and precision partnering kept dancers on their toes and audiences at the edge of their seats. It was quite a ride.

We are again looking forward to seeing this masterpiece performed for the 2014/2015 Season and are so lucky to have the talented Ms. Washington here to set the stage. Read below to learn more about Washington’s background and many achievements, and don’t miss Ballet San Jose’s performance of In the Upper Room, on stage at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts February 20-22, 2015.

 

Shelley Washington

Shelley Washington

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Guest Stager: Philip Neal

Today Ballet San Jose is pleased to have Philip Neal in the studio working to stage Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free for our MasterPieces program, which will be performed at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts on February 20-22, 2015. Neal will work with the Company through October 15, and we are very excited to have him in the building. Read Neal’s biography below to learn more about this talented artist.

Philip Neal

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