Category Archives: Dancer Spotlight

Dancer Spotlight: James Kopecky

Story by Susan Lee

Ballet San Jose’s James Kopecky began studying ballet in order to help himself breathe.

At the age of three, Kopecky had developed allergy-induced asthma. “My parents were desperate to find an athletic activity that was indoors,” he says. “So they sent me to ballet classes.”

Kopecky also took jazz, musical theater, and tap. The first dance company he ever joined, in fact, was Especially Tap Chicago, while he was still in high school. He credits tap with giving him a unique perspective on ballet. “Rhythmic pattern and timing is more heightened in tap than in ballet,” he points out. “So I’m more aware of those than some dancers who haven’t trained in tap. Tap also helped me become a better contemporary dancer. I can think outside the box, imagine steps in ways other dancers may not, because I was exposed to a wide range of the art.”

After high school, Kopecky decided to enter college instead of jumping straight into a company. In 2010, he got his B.F.A. in dance from Butler University in Indianapolis. Though he says that other dancers are sometimes surprise by his choice, it was the right one for him. “If I’d started dancing right out of high school, I wouldn’t still be dancing. Every dancer reaches a crossroads, and I just wasn’t ready to make dance my life. It’s not a stable career. Your body gives out on you after a certain age. I knew that I could study dance in college, and if I didn’t like it, I could major in something else. I’m a stronger person for having had that experience.”

In 2010, right after graduation, Kopecky joined Ballet San Jose as an apprentice. He’d never even been to California before. “Indianapolis was very gray,” he admits. “Now, I don’t even need a winter coat!”

Kopecky was promoted to the Corps de Ballet in 2011.

Ballet San Jose Minus 16

James Kopecky in Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Photo by Alejandro Gomez.

So far, Kopecky’s favorite role has been his twenty-minute, improvisational solo during Ballet San Jose’s 2014 performance of Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. The Isaeli choreographer is renowned for creating a dance language known as “gaga.” Kopecky found the form especially appealing because, for him, it broke down the barrier between the audience and the dancer.

“In ballet,” he says, “we’re taught to keep our bodies very controlled. Gaga is more free-form. Like me! It’s outside the box. It’s like yoga. It’s a way to research your own body, to discover how your reactions are different from the reactions of the dancers around you.”

During his solo, Kopecky stood alone on the stage during intermission, looking out at the audience. “People were still talking and coming in and out. I liked it because I was able to do whatever I wanted to. I’ve never had a chance to improvise like that before. I was able to really let go. I was, as dancers say, ‘able to leave it all on the stage.'”

And as for Kopecky’s plans for the future?

He laughs. “I’m just trying to get all my dancing in before I break.”

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Dancer Spotlight: Joshua Seibel

Story by Susan Lee

Ballet San Jose‘s Joshua Seibel has some strong advice for young dancers: never let anyone tell you what you can’t do.

Seibel should know. Years of ear trouble—and multiple surgeries—have left Seibel mostly deaf.

“People probably don’t realize I should technically be wearing hearing aids,” he says.

But Seibel’s partial deafness hasn’t stopped him from dancing. This season, he was even promoted to soloist at Ballet San Jose.

Ballet San Jose

Alexsandra Meijer and Joshua Seibel. Photo by Quinn Wharton.

 

Seibel began dancing at the age of nine at the Yuma Ballet Theater. By thirteen, he was venturing out of Arizona to a summer program at the San Francisco Ballet. “The day we drove into San Francisco was Gay Pride Day,” Seibel laughs. “I was from a small town. I’d never seen anything like that!”

In 2003, Seibel attended Houston Ballet’s summer program and was asked to stay on. “Being a student there was intense. We’d train for twelve hours a day. Then we’d sometimes perform with the company at night. I was fourteen. It was a lot of work and responsibility at a young age.”

After finishing in the semi-finals at the 2006 Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland, Seibel joined the corps of the Houston Ballet. “It was so different from being a student,” he says. “First of all, I was actually getting paid! And I was performing at a much faster pace. Houston does a significant number of shows every year, so I was rehearsing a lot of ballets at once.”

Seibel was also the youngest member of the company. “It was intimidating,” he admits. “I didn’t want to slow other people down.”

In 2008, however, Seibel discovered that he needed ear surgery. Recovery was challenging. At one point, he was even told that he would never dance again.

Seibel took time off, joined Ballet Memphis, and then needed additional surgeries. At one point, Seibel actually decided to enlist in the military instead of returning to ballet.  “Ballet dancers make great military candidates,” Seibel points out. “They are very well disciplined, very physically fit, and good at standing in lines!”

But after yet more surgery prevented him from attending basic training, Seibel took extra time off to decide what he really wanted to do with his life. “Then, one day, I saw my friends perform at Ballet Arizona,” he says. “That was that.” Seibel called Dennis Nahat, the former artistic director of Ballet San Jose, who’d offered him a position in the past.

Seibel joined Ballet San Jose as an apprentice in 2010.

“It was a huge accomplishment for me to make it back to the studio,” he says.

Seibel has made close friends at Ballet San Jose. “When I first arrived, I was so surprised at how much people smiled and laughed during rehearsal. And José Manuel Carreño was the first male dancer I’d ever really admired.  I even recorded one of his performances on VHS back in 2007. He has huge ambitions and goals for Ballet San Jose. It’s so inspiring.”

This year, Seibel has danced the roles of a stomper in In The Upper Room and a sailor in Fancy Free.

“I’ve been so lucky,” he says. “My ears don’t affect my balance or my turns. Now, I don’t even make a big deal out of my hearing.”

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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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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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Artist Spotlight: Ballet San Jose Dancer Annali Rose

Ballet San Jose dancer Annali Rose

Ballet San Jose corps member Annali Rose

After the dazzling company premiere of Don Quixote, Ballet San Jose is gearing up for an awesome mixed repertory program in March. In preparation for Program Two, we caught up with Annali Rose (one of our new corps de ballet dancers this season) to discuss her dance history with Sacramento Ballet and Trey McIntyre Project, the academic interests she pursues in her free time, and the three words that best describe her (which she answered with a little help from her friends)!

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Ballet SJ apprentice Thomas Baker. Photo credit: Olivier Wecxsteen.

Ballet SJ apprentice Thomas Baker. Photo credit: Olivier Wecxsteen.

After a successful run of The Nutcracker in December, Ballet San Jose is all caught up in the magic of love! The company has spent the past month preparing in earnest for the company premiere  of Don Quixote — or, as we like to call it, ballet’s original romantic comedy. While Kitri polishes her fouettés and Mercedes perfects her sultry smolder, we’re continuing our Artist Spotlight blog series, in which we have been focusing on the new dancers in the company this season.

For all the male dancers out there, here’s another interview just for you! Thomas Baker is a new apprentice with the company, and he has some pretty interesting stories to tell. Find out how Thomas got his start in ballet, his favorite memories from 2012, and the inspiration that made him such a fabulous “Fritz” in the world premiere of Karen Gabay’s The Nutcracker.

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Artist Spotlight: Ballet San Jose Apprentice Thomas Baker

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Artist Spotlight: Ballet San Jose Dancer Kendall Teague

Ballet San Jose Dancer Kendall Teague

Ballet San Jose Dancer Kendall Teague

Welcome back to Ballet San Jose’s Artist Spotlight blog series, in which we will continue to introduce this season’s newest dancers to our online community! In our last installment, we talked to new corps member Alex Kramer. Today, we catch up with corps member and North Carolina native Kendall Teague. Read on to learn more about Kendall’s favorite dancing icon, his summer movie pick of 2012, and his history with Ballet San Jose.

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Artist Spotlight: Ballet San Jose Dancer Alex Kramer

Alex Kramer photographed by Jade Young

Alex Kramer photographed by Jade Young

Nine days ago, Ballet San Jose gave the South Bay a one-night-only preview of our 2013 Repertory Season with an amazing Inaugural Gala performance at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts. The rep earned some very complimentary reviews from publications around the Bay Area and we couldn’t be more thrilled! Every person who took the CPA stage on November 3 — from critically acclaimed concert violinist Rachel Lee to the company dancers of Ballet San Jose, both familiar and new — gave an awe-inspiring performance. We think the gala gave Bay Area audiences a really inspiring look at the new pieces in the coming season!

Now, we’ve begun to look ahead to Ballet SJ’s new production of The Nutcracker, which will make its world premiere on December 8. As we gear up for this run of Nutcracker, we pick up where we left off with our Artist Spotlight blog series. Meet another new face in the corps de ballet: Alex Kramer, an alumnus of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and former member of ABT Studio Company. Before the gala, we talked to Alex about what inspired him to become a dancer in Grand Junction, CO, his mentor at ABT, and his thoughts about leaving New York City.

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Artist Spotlight: Ballet San Jose Dancer Cindy Huang

Ballet San Jose corps member Cindy Huang

Ballet San Jose corps member Cindy Huang

Ballet San Jose has always been a diverse company. As of this season, Ballet SJ is now home to forty-one dancers from countries all around the world, each one with a different story to tell. As we prepare for an exciting preview of our 2013 season at the Inaugural Gala on November 3, we continue to get to know the newest members of our company and learn just what makes them tick in our Artist Spotlight blog series.

A few weeks ago, I sat down with dancer Cindy Huang to discuss her dance background, her friendship with So You Think You Can Dance‘s Daniel Baker, and her special words for Ballet San Jose supporters.

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Ballet San Jose Artist Spotlight: Dancer Mallory Welsh

A behind-the-scenes photo of Ballet SJ dancer Mallory Welsh.

A behind-the-scenes photo of Ballet SJ dancer Mallory Welsh.

Ballet San Jose dancers are deep into Nutcracker rehearsals now—Principal Ballet Master Raymond Rodriguez tweeted earlier this week that staging for The Battle had begun!—with choreographer and Ballet SJ Principal dancer Karen Gabay, who is setting all-new choreography on the company. The studios are busy with rehearsals, and Ballet San Jose School is packed every afternoon with a full schedule of classes. As we get back into the swing of things, we are so excited to be able to introduce our newest dancers to you via our blog.

We continue our Artist Spotlight series from last week with Mallory Welsh, a dancer some of you may remember from past seasons at Ballet SJ. After a season away, Mallory is back to dance in the corps for a diverse Ballet SJ season of company premieres by many exciting and renowned choreographers. We sat down with Mallory a couple of weeks ago to talk about her earliest dance memory, her biggest inspiration, and her favorite non-dancing hobby.

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