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Dancing with the Pros: Views from Our Academy Students

By Danielle Tolmie, Principal Dancer, Eugene Ballet

Eugene Ballet Academy’s young dancers have a unique opportunity with the upcoming production of Alice In Wonderland and The Large Rock and The Little Yew. For the first time in several years the company will use students in both ballets from various levels of the Academy. In Alice in Wonderland, upper level division students have been working with Artistic Director and Choreographer Toni Pimble to become Butterflies during the Caterpillar scene and Flamingos in the Queens Croquet scene. In Resident Choreographer Suzanne Haag’s The Large Rock and The Little Yew, lower level division students are featured as animals at the Baobab Tree.

We feel fortunate to have so many talented young dancers from the Academy joining our company on stage. I sat down with a few students to find out what some of the challenges are, what it’s been like working with our Artistic Director and Resident Choreographer, and to discuss what this opportunity means to them.

The choreography for both the Flamingos and the Butterflies in Alice in Wonderland is comprised of corps de ballet work. The dancers must work together as a single unit doing the same choreography and in unison. “We are a flock of birds,” said Carly Miller, who plays a Flamingo in Alice. “So being together is very important in order to portray that. We have exact counts that we must be on, and if one of us is off it’s very easy to spot.” Faolan Adams had similar feelings about being a Butterfly. “The timing can be difficult. We must really watch one another to make sure we move as one.” Hannah Sugai portrays a Dik-dik, a small antelope from Africa, in The Large Rock and The Little Yew.

Because this is a world premiere, the students have had the opportunity to be a part of Suzanne’s creative process. Usually the final version that the audience sees will go through slight variations. For Hannah that’s one of the most challenging things about being in the ballet. “When there are changes to the choreography they can be hard to get used to and remember.” That’s what all of the long rehearsals are for. By the time these young dancers get to the stage, the steps will be performed with confidence and a strong understanding of the technique they need to execute the moves with ease.

Being in the company’s production offers these students the opportunity to work with artists not normally available to them. The students have nothing but respect and admiration while also feeling honored to be working with Pimble. When asked what it has been like having her at the front of the rehearsal studio, Miller explains, “She’s intimidating in all of her accomplishments, but as someone running the rehearsal, she’s kind and funny. I find her inspiring.”

As dancers, we get used to working with the same choreographers, repetiteurs, and teachers and how they run things. “You have a different mindset in the studio when someone new is leading rehearsal. They manage things differently and often times the way they teach choreography is different. It can be very refreshing,” said Adams. For those young dancers in The Large Rock and Little Yew, working with someone outside the Academy is a whole new experience. So is getting to work so closely with our professional company dancers. “It’s a little scary being in the room with the company,” said Hannah. “They lift us really high, but it’s been fun and exciting to be a part of it.”

One thing is for sure, all three young dancers love experiencing the performance from behind the scenes. “Being backstage and watching how the company interacts is one of my favorite parts,” Adams shared. It’s true! Seeing a performance from the wings is an entirely different perspective that very few get the chance to witness. The students see the dancers they look up to in their element being real people. During the performance, the excitement, anticipation, and adrenaline that the company feels is palpable. Miller explains that “being an aspiring artist myself, I love seeing what life would be like if I were to pursue a professional career.” These are the moments where we as professional dancers inspire the next generation to pursue this extraordinary art form. They are the future of Eugene Ballet.

Do not miss the opportunity to watch these wonderful young artists share the stage with our company on February 8 and 9 at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts.  Click here to purchase tickets!

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