Shaping Sound Dance Company first debuted its full-length production That’s Where I’ll Be Waiting in 2013. Two years later, the contemporary show—with explosive energy from co-choreographers Travis Wall, Nick Lazzarini, Teddy Forance and Kyle Robinson, and dancers like Jaimie Goodwin, Chantel Aguirre and Amy Yakima—is still going strong, earning nightly standing ovations. What’s it like touring with one of the most popular dance productions around? Dance Spirit asked longtime company member Kate Harpootlian (whom you’ll recognize from “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 12 Team Stage!) to keep a diary for a week on Shaping Sound’s 2014–15 tour. —Jenny Ouellette
Kate Harpootlian (lower left) on the tour bus with Shaping Sound Dance Company (photo courtesy Harpootlian)
January 23: Last Rehearsal in L.A.
I was really excited to get back into rehearsals for the second half of Shaping Sound’s second tour. Once in L.A., we had four days to regroup, which is usually pretty fun. I’ve known most of the dancers since I was teenager, so getting together is like a big family reunion.
This time, though, the week got serious after our company’s morning ballet class. One of the show’s dancers, Matthew Peacock, found out he’d been booked as the assistant choreographer for Madonna’s Grammy performance. It’s an amazing opportunity for Matthew, but it means one of our understudies, Rory Freeman, will now be taking over his part. Our limited four-day rehearsal period—which we’ve had to do without props, since they’re in Texas already—has been pretty hectic. Rory is a rock star, though, and our last run-through went smoothly.
January 27: Tech in Fort Worth, TX
Today we flew from L.A. to Fort Worth—and we didn’t waste much time before going to the theater for tech. Once we were onstage, with the lights, costumes and props (!), it really sank in that tour was starting. Our set features walls that we climb up and fall off. We move them around ourselves during the show, and remembering to lock or unlock the walls while we’re performing isn’t easy. So a thorough tech is absolutely necessary.
With fellow Shaping Sound dancer Ben Susak (courtesy Harpootlian)
January 28: Opening Night in Fort Worth
Tonight’s performance was electric. My favorite part of the show is the duet I perform with Ben Susak in the “Wild Is the Wind” section. We have a great connection and we both really get into character. We also tend to change little things up each show, which keeps the piece fresh for us, even though we’ve danced it so many times. After each performance, we always do a meet-and-greet in the lobby. I love getting to speak with fans, but tonight was especially magical: My dad was there to give me a big hug!
January 29: Tulsa, OK
The grueling tour schedule has begun! We checked in to our Tulsa hotel around 4:30 am, disoriented and exhausted after our overnight drive. Believe it or not, though, it felt great to be back on the tour bus! Sometimes we’re driving for up to 12 hours at a time, and, for that reason, the bus has become one of our favorite places to hang out. We usually eat dinner and watch our most recent performance while we wait for the crew to load out—and we also love playing Catch Phrase. Our competitive group gets pretty rowdy!
Luckily, we were able to go back to sleep once we arrived at the hotel, and I felt pretty good when I woke up around 10 am. I grabbed a couple of dancers for breakfast and hit the hotel gym with Channing Cooke.
Harpootlian (third from left) during a Shaping Sound curtain call (photo courtesy Shaping Sound)
We had a 4:30 pm call time, but first we had to load all our stuff back on the bus since we’ll be leaving right after the show. Three hours before every show (our call), the company meets for notes, info about our next tour stop and to get our lighting and spacing cues. An hour and 15 minutes before curtain, we take a company ballet class. Then I put my costume on, and five minutes before curtain, we regroup onstage for our company’s pre-show ritual: After some words of encouragement, we take a few deep breaths. Our last exhale—a long “ahhh” sound—turns into a yell. Then we do a shake-off counting down from 8, and when we get to 1, someone shouts out “Shaping Sound” and we do a loud group clap. We like to think the better the clap is, the better the performance will be. It must have worked tonight!
February 1–2: Skokie, IL
After a four-show run in Kansas City, MO, and Minneapolis, MN, we finally have a couple days off. Some of the company stayed in Minneapolis, but the rest of us arrived to a full-on blizzard here in Skokie. It gave us a good reason to stay inside and rest.
Harpootlian with Travis Wall (photo courtesy Harpootlian)
Monday in Skokie was bright and sunny, so I went into Chicago to take ballet class at the Lou Conte Dance Studio—home of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Then I headed to the hotel to take a quick rest before teaching a master class with Ben and Channing. I guess it wasn’t much of a day off, but I love teaching. Plus, I got to reward myself afterwards by exploring Chicago one of my favorite ways—through my stomach! A lovely dinner with Travis and Nick was the perfect way to end this first week.
Shaping Sound’s 2015–16 tour kicks off this month in Escondido, CA, and runs through February. Visit shapingsoundco.com/tour for details.
High school senior Savannah Gaillard has been attending the New York University Future Dancers and Dancemakers workshop at Tisch School of the Arts for the past three years. The uber-focused and dedicated teen chronicled the final three weekends of the 2016 program: Every Saturday, from February through April, she and her mom, Nancy, took the train from their home in Haymarket, VA, to NYC so Savannah could experience life as a BFA dance major at Tisch.
Pint-size triple threat Evie Dolan has played bass-guitarist Katie in Andrew Lloyd Webber's School of Rock—The Musical since the show opened on the Great White Way this past December. The 11-year-old NYC native has studied everything from ballet to lyrical to jazz at the Joffrey Ballet School and, more recently, at Downtown Dance Factory. She's also a natural actress and plays piano, ukulele, guitar, mandolin and saxophone. Along with the other 13 kids in the School of Rock cast, Dolan performs all eight shows per week. She took Dance Spirit behind the curtain for a look at seven days in her Broadway life. —Courtney Bowers
Name the dance job, Taylor Gordon's probably had it: The 27-year-old's resumé includes performances with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, off-Broadway productions and stints with concert groups like Exit12 Dance Company. But only this year did the New Yorker fulfill her longtime dream of dancing abroad, earning a spot as a dancer with TUI Cruises. What's it like to travel the world on a giant ship? Gordon documented the first few months of her seafaring adventures for Dance Spirit.
Jazz cutie Alexia Meyer wasn’t new to competing when she auditioned for “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 12. In fact, Alexia—who trained at The Dance Club in Orem, UT—practically grew up on the comp and convention circuit; in 2012, she toured with New York City Dance Alliance as the Senior Female Outstanding Dancer. This summer, America watched (and voted!) as Alexia dominated Vegas callbacks and became a Top 14 Team Stage finalist on “SYTYCD.” But what’s it like being part of the show when the cameras aren’t rolling? Dance Spirit asked Alexia to let us in on all the “SYT” secrets.
Monday, July 13 (Week 1)
We made it to sunny L.A.! The Top 20 flew out last week and settled in at the apartment complex where we’re all staying. Since today was show day, our call time was 5:15 am. As soon as we arrived on set, we got into hair and makeup. The whole hair and makeup team is amazing, but Dean Banowetz is one of my favorite stylists. In addition to being incredibly talented, he’s hilarious—his personality is as big as his beard! Every time he finishes my hair, we part by dramatically saying “XOXO.”
(courtesy Alexia Meyer)
This week, I was in the Top 20 opening number by Christopher Scott, a Broadway routine with Team Stage by Warren Carlyle and a jazz trio by Brian Friedman. I’d never danced in a pair of heels as high as the ones Brian put us in. It was hard, but I kept thinking about how this was going to be the first time America would see me dance—I wanted to do my absolute best.
In the end, performing on the “SYTYCD” stage for the first time was a moment I’ll never forget. And afterward, when I saw how proud Brian was of our trio, I felt like I could take on anything thrown my way.
Friday, July 17 (Week 2)
My body was really feeling it this week thanks to rehearsals for the Team Stage group routine, which was choreographed by Travis Wall and set to “Stabat Mater” by Woodkid. I loved the piece, but I was really nervous for my big basket-toss in the middle of it. Being thrown in the air is exhilarating—and terrifying. I was supposed to try to relax my body mid-throw, but how can anyone relax when they’re 15 feet in the air? In one rehearsal, I was launched in the wrong direction and gave Jim Nowakowski a bloody nose! Luckily, we nailed it during the show itself.
Meyer and the rest of the "SYT" posse (courtesy Alexia Meyer)
Wednesday, July 22 (Week 3)
This week I was cast in a contemporary trio with JaJa Vankova and Derek Piquette, choreographed by Stacey Tookey. We started learning the piece today, and our rehearsal was filmed. Having a camera in the room has been an adjustment for me. It feels like my every move is being watched! At first, I got really nervous whenever I made a mistake while the camera was rolling. But Allison Holker, whom I admire so much, told me to just be my goofy self, which is great advice. Eventually I learned to focus on having fun with the incredible choreographers and dancers I was working with, camera or no camera.
Saturday, August 1 (Week 4)
This week, Neptune and I learned a piece by Dave Scott. I loved the crazy characters he created for us! But it wasn’t an easy routine. Neptune and I spent a lot of our free time—which means after 9 pm at night—practicing on our own. Back at the apartment complex, there’s a big hallway in front of my room that the dancers and I have dubbed the Rehearsal Hall. You can always find at least one group in the Rehearsal Hall!
This week, we also started working on Travis’ “ghost light” routine for Team Stage. We had wardrobe fittings, too—and oh my goodness, the ghost light costumes were so cool. Marina Toybina, our costume designer, is insanely creative. Whenever we go into the fitting room, she’s playing Spanish music. She says it’s the only thing that calms her down during all the craziness.
Sunday, August 9
The weeks have flown by! Sundays are “dry block” days, where we work out all the blocking onstage. But when we aren’t blocking, we have time to bond with one another. It’s been really fun to hang out and goof around. I especially love it when we get to practice standing next to Cat Deeley, as if we’re listening to the judge’s critiques. Cat always keeps things entertaining with her witty comments. She really is as kind as she seems on TV!
Team Stage rocking Sonya Tayeh's powerful group number (Photo by Adam Rose, courtesy FOX)
But we bond during serious moments, too. Today we finished practicing Sonya Tayeh’s intense group routine, and by the end of the rehearsal, we were all in tears. It was such a powerful moment.
Monday, August 10 (Week 5)
Tonight marked my final “SYT” performance as a contestant, but I’m so grateful that Sonya’s group piece was my last before being eliminated. Working with her has been such an enlightening process. I also can’t believe that after all these years of watching the show, I got to perform on it. I can’t wait for the adventures ahead. I know this is only the beginning!
In our October issue (on newsstands now!), we feature 23-year-old Elisa Montalvo, who choreographed for the first season of “So You Think You Can Dance” in China. She shared every detail about her time on the show—from a phenomenal one-legged dancer to an unexpected blackout!
She also made this fun video about her trip to China to share with her family and friends:
Want to read all about Elisa’s “SYTYCD” adventure? Click here to buy a copy of our October issue.
Brittany Metelko (by Dirty Sugar Photography)
Imagine having the chance to live in NYC, take classes from top choreographers and get audition tips from casting agents. Young dancers from across the country do just that during Broadway Dance Center’s Professional Semester, a program designed to help them launch their careers. When 23-year-old Brittany Metelko was chosen to participate last fall, the Ohio native and recent University of Akron grad packed her tap shoes and moved to a studio apartment on the Upper West Side. She documented her four-month adventure for Dance Spirit. —Rachel Zar
Today was orientation for the Professional Semester (ProSem) at BDC—a big step toward making my Broadway dreams a reality. There was a welcome reception where the staff explained what would be in store for us. We’ll take 12 classes per week, including three ballet classes, five in our concentration style (mine’s theater) and a ProSem master class. Afterward, I mingled with the rest of the dancers. They’re so diverse, and we all clicked right away.
Even though we had to audition to get into the program, today we took a placement class so the faculty could suggest our class levels. We learned theater, contemporary ballet, hip-hop and tap combos. Then we performed in small groups for the panel. I’m most familiar with theater, tap and ballet, but I tried to embrace hip hop as well, and it was a blast.
Our first master class was this morning with David Kent, dance captain for Chicago on Broadway. We learned “Hot Honey Rag.” I love Chicago, so I was extra excited. Afterward, we had a Q&A session with him where he gave insider feedback on all our industry questions.
Dancing to “Gangnam Style” on “Good Morning America” (courtesy Brittany Metelko)
This morning I got to dance on “Good Morning America,” doing “Gangnam Style” with Psy! The show called BDC saying they needed extra dancers. The day started at 3:30 am, but I was too excited to be tired. A producer positioned me on a roof overlooking Times Square. There were cameras everywhere—including one in a helicopter flying overhead! I got to dance in the teaser footage leading into the commercial and then again during the segment.
Tonight I danced an improvised tap solo at BDC’s Performance Project, which is a series of informal shows all BDC students can be part of. I was the only ProSem to participate, and I’m so glad I did. Everyone was supportive, cheering me on and congratulating me on my solo.
The ProSem students had a promotional photo shoot today atop an apartment building with crystal-clear views of the Empire State Building. I mixed it up, wearing my tap shoes for some shots and jumping around barefoot for others. The surprise of the day was when I was asked to model in ads for The PULSE On Tour.
Today, BDC arranged for an exclusive tour of the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. Our guide was former New York City Ballet dancer Jennifer Tinsley-Williams, who gave us the inside scoop on the company. Plus, we got to watch a working rehearsal onstage. I dreamed of being a ballerina when I was younger, so this experience was a treat.
We’ve officially started working on three dances for the final ProSem showcase: hip hop by Neil “Dradle” Schwartz, Latin fusion by Ashlé Dawson and theater by Jim Cooney, which we started learning today. It’s based on “Bend and Snap” from Legally Blonde, and it’s going to be great!
An image from Brittany's rooftop photo shoot (by Dirty Sugar Photography)
We had a mock audition today with Steve Vaughn from Parsons Dance. We brought headshots and resumés and performed in small groups as if it were a real audition. As we learned the combination, we’d occasionally stop for feedback from BDC faculty along with a casting director. I’m excited we’ll have more of these throughout the semester, including one with Emmy Award–winning “Smash” choreographer Joshua Bergasse.
Over the past few days, Hurricane Sandy came through NYC, closing down much of the city. I’m lucky and grateful there was no damage to my apartment, and my heart goes out to all who were affected by the storm. BDC reopened today, and it’s holding a series of benefit classes to raise money for the American Red Cross.
During my time here, I’ve been choreographing a tap piece, which I presented at the second Performance Project tonight. The show acted as an audition for the final ProSem showcase in December. Out of the 38 pieces, only five were chosen, and I’m ecstatic my piece was one of them! I can’t wait to show my choreography to friends, family, agents and casting directors.
Today started with another mock audition, this time with Rhapsody James and Clear Talent Group agent Julianna Lichtman. We were asked to dress as if we were auditioning for a Rihanna music video but could only wear black. I wore high-waisted shiny leggings, a sequined crop top and combat boots. Rhapsody and Julianna said they especially liked my look.
After a few classes, 10 of us went to Times Square to film a flash mob for a BDC sizzle reel. We definitely attracted a crowd. Then we moved to Lenny’s deli to film more. Tapping in a deli was a first for me!
(Front) Performing Ashlé Dawson’s "Pasado El Control" (courtesy Broadway Dance Center)
I can’t believe we just had our final mock audition. Choreographer John Carrafa taught us a theater combo, which we danced to two completely different songs. It allowed us to play around with our character choices. This time, “cuts” were made, and those who made it through were asked to sing and act. Coming into the program, I was always nervous about singing, but practicing this semester has made me much more confident.
We did it! We delivered two amazing showcase performances. The day started with tech rehearsal at the Manhattan Movement & Arts Center theater. Then, we had a two-hour break, which I spent with my parents, who came in from Ohio.
During the second show, some of us were given special awards. I received an award for perfect attendance as well as one for professionalism. I was surprised and honored.
Performing and then saying goodbye was bittersweet. I feel lucky to have met such wonderful, talented people during my time in the program. I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Brittney in class (by Rosalie O'Connor)
It’s impossible to look at Brittney Feit and not see a ballerina. Even as she walks down the street, her long neck and perfect posture immediately give her away. But what’s getting her noticed at Tulsa Ballet is much more than a look: it’s her impeccable artistry, technical ability and work ethic in the studio and onstage.
Born in NYC, Brittney fell in love with the artistic side of ballet at 11 when she began studying at the Lumière Ballet School in Long Island, NY. There, she was given many chances to perform and focus on her movement quality, acting and stage presence. “As I got older, though, I saw the need to work intensely on my technique,” Brittney says. At 16, she auditioned for and got into the Ellison Ballet Professional Training Program. Three “boot-camp–like” years later she graduated and landed a spot in Tulsa Ballet II. She documented her second year in TBII for Dance Spirit. —Kate Lydon
August 1, 2011
Today is the first day of my second year with TBII, and I’m excited that four other Ellison Ballet Professional Training Program graduates are joining the second company. TBII has its own repertoire, and we also learn roles for company productions. Last year we had three second-company classes per week and company class the rest of the time. This year, I hear we’ll take company class more often and be cast in even more productions.
With Jose Antonio Checa Romero dancing “Somethin’ Stupid” in Twyla Tharp’s "Nine Sinatra Songs" (by Rosalie O'Connor)
September 16, 2011
Right now, the second company is working with the main company on Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow. I’m thrilled to be dancing a different role in every act.
October 27, 2011
The main company’s season is in full swing. This evening, I performed in William Forsythe’s In the middle, somewhat elevated, and it was amazing! Of course, my favorite parts are my solo and pas de deux. The off-balance work makes me feel free and powerful. This weekend, I’ll perform the “Somethin’ Stupid” duet from Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs. It’s a funny piece, in which two lovers try to dance in sync, but keep coming up short. My partner, Jose Antonio Checa Romero, and I
are having a good time with it.
December 12, 2011
Nutcracker time! Last year, I understudied the principal role of adult Marie, and this year, I was given a performance—I couldn’t believe it! There’s a moment in the snow scene when four boys lift me above their heads—when I saw the snow falling and the company all around me, it felt like a dream.
As adult Marie in "The Nutcracker" with Claudio Cocino (by Julie Shelton)
February 5, 2012
Right now, Edwaard Liang is choreographing a brand-new Romeo and Juliet for Tulsa Ballet—his first full-length! The whole second company is involved in the production.
March 15, 2012
Today I signed my apprentice contract with Tulsa Ballet! The company manager gave
me a big smile as she handed it to me, since she knew I’d been hoping for that moment. I was one of four TBII dancers to be asked to join, and we’re all so excited! We’ll officially move up into the company in July.
April 17, 2012
I’m on tour with TBII in Oklahoma City. I love that TBII does so much traveling and dancing for new audiences.
Today, we’ll perform our outreach program, Journey Through Dance, for high school students. It’s fun to dance for little children, because they never hold back their reactions!
Brittney preparing to perform Darrell Grand Moultrie’s "Box the Outside" (by Julie Shelton)
May 2, 2012
Our season is coming to a close with one of the most exciting performances, Off the Floor: Creations in Studio K. Every year, three choreographers work with us to create three world premieres. Tonight I’ll be dancing in Darrell Grand Moultrie’s piece, Box the Outside. It’s happy and playful, which is refreshing. I was an understudy, but I stepped in during a preview for some of our patrons and for a few rehearsals while the dancer I was covering was injured. Now we’re sharing the role, and I’ll get to perform it six times this week! On the day I went in during the preview, Darrell announced that he has been in this business a long time, but doesn’t see a lot of people jump in as an understudy the way I did. The audience and the company applauded, and it confirmed what I already know and hold dear: Hard work pays off.
By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be an apprentice with Tulsa Ballet!