Tag Archives: ballet

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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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.

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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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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: 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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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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Dancer Spotlight: Nathan Chaney

Ballet San Jose sits down with our newest company member, principal dancer Nathan Chaney. This season is Nathan’s first with Ballet San Jose. In this interview, Nathan speaks about his dance background, what inspires him, his advice for aspiring professionals, and his views about dancing with Ballet San Jose.

Nathan Chaney is Ballet San Jose's newest Principal Dancer. See him perform May 9-11 in Masterworks of Movement and Theatre

Nathan Chaney is Ballet San Jose’s newest Principal Dancer. See him perform next May 9-11, 2014 in Masterworks of Movement and Theatre.

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Ohad Naharin, choreographer of Minus 16

Neoclassical to Now opens in one week on Friday, February 14. This program offers a wide range of styles, from Neoclassical Serenade choreographed by George Balanchine, to Jorma Elo’s contemporary Glow-Stop. Also featured in this program is the company premiere of Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Each work differs dramatically from the others, and Ballet San Jose’s dancers have to quickly adapt and move from one style to the next.

Transitioning into Minus 16, the dancers remove their pointe shoes and take on a very different style of dancing called Gaga. Pioneered by Ohad Naharin, Gaga is a “movement language” emphasizing sensation and pleasure in movement. This particular style of dance is very popular in Israel, especially in Tel Aviv, and it is the main style of dance taught at Batsheva Dance Company where Naharin is artistic director. Through Gaga, our dancers are learning and discovering new ways of moving, and according to Danielle Agami, assistant to the choreographer and one of the stagers for Ballet San Jose’s performance, “some of them are beginning to understand Gaga. They have to break down the habits that have been ingrained through years of classical ballet training.”

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Media Roundup: Ballet San Jose 2013 Gala

In less than two weeks, Ballet San Jose will host its 2013 Gala in celebration of new Artistic Director José Manuel Carreño and will feature guest artists from American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and more. Our excitement is growing by the day, and so are our media mentions! Take a look below to see who else is getting hyped up for our event.

To buy tickets and to find out more about this year’s Gala, visit our Gala homepage at balletsj.org/gala.html.

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