Nine Up-and-Coming Ballet Dancers
DS spotlights nine young ballet talents, from teens on the verge to performers who’ve dazzled at ballet competitions and are on their way to company gigs. Here, they dish about their favorite roles, most challenging steps, hobbies and dream jobs.
Whitney Jensen, 15
Hometown: Salt Lake City, UT
Valentina Kozlova’s Dance Conservatory of New York in NYC
Honors: In 2007: golds at the International Dance Competition in Seoul, South Korea, and the World Ballet Competition in Orlando, as well as a silver at YAGP in NYC. In 2006: golds in both classical and contemporary divisions at YAGP in NYC; performed as a guest artist at Varna International Ballet Competition
Hardest role: A variation from the third act of Pharaoh’s Daughter, restaged by Kozlova after Petipa
Dream role: Odette/Odile
Best thing about NYC: independence
Indulgence: chocolate sundaes
Professional dreams: “Being able to perform often and hopefully tour the world and see other countries.”
Academics: online through Brigham Young University
Favorite subjects: English, history
Family ties: Whitney’s two older sisters are Broadway performers! One was in the original cast of The Producers and appeared in the movie version, while the other has done shows including Gypsy and was just in the movie Hairspray.
Last great read: Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight
Onstage oops: “When I was 10 years old, I was competing in a jazz competition and in the middle I forgot what I was doing and just made it up. I’m sure the audience couldn’t tell but for me it was pretty embarrassing.”
Most awesome performance experience: Dancing the Black Swan variation at Varna: “I’d been watching the competition and seeing all the amazing dancers. Being on the stage where so many principals had performed made me so happy.”
Favorite step: “I go through phases. Right now, I love big saut de basques and jetés.”
Studio start: Before moving to NYC to train with Kozlova, Whitney studied tap, tumbling, hip hop, jazz and lyrical at a studio in Salt Lake City. Once she started studying ballet at age 9, she realized it was her true passion. She was focusing strictly on ballet by age 11.
Andrew Bartee, 17
Hometown: Everett, WA
Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Seattle
The latest: studied in Denmark last summer through a new exchange program with the Royal Danish Ballet started by PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal
Honors: 2007 Princess Grace Award
Biggest role so far: Kent Stowell’s Carmina Burana with PNB last season
Favorite ballets: “Anything William Forsythe does.”
Best thing about the Northwest: “My family. It’s nice to have support when I come home, to not have to worry—or worry and know they’ll listen.”
Idol: Former PNB principal Christophe Maraval
On his strengths and weaknesses: “Movement seems to come easily to me. I’m sort of a pretty dancer, I guess. My upper body strength is lacking. I have a loose body, I’m really flexible, so it’s hard for me to build strength.”
Academics: online through Insight School of Washington
Favorite subjects: English and American literature
Last great read: David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Puanani Brown, 19
Hometown: Silver Spring, MD
New York City Ballet in NYC
Training: The Washington School of Ballet, SAB
Honors: gold in the senior female division at YAGP in 2004
Hardest role: Balanchine’s Square Dance: “It was good for my stamina and strength, but it’s half an hour of jumping. It’s incredibly exhausting.”
Can’t wait to dance: the second movement of Symphony in C
Best thing about NYCB: “Taking class with the people I’ve been worshipping for three years.”
Idols: Wendy Whelan, Janie Taylor, Darci Kistler
Hobby: playing the violin
Family ties: Her “role model and mentor” is her big sis and NYCB corps dancer Likolani Brown.
Fun fact: Puanani, who graduated high school from the Professional Children’s School, deferred admission to Harvard University and turned down an offer from Miami City Ballet in order to apprentice with NYCB.
Maria Beck, 13
Hometown: Detroit, MI
Juliana’s Academy of Dance in Detroit
Honors: 1st in her division at the 2005 YAGP semi-finals in Chicago and 3rd at the NYC finals in 2007
Hardest role: A variation from La Fille Mal Gardée that she’ll take to YAGP this year
Biggest role so far: Kitri from Don Quixote
Dream companies: ABT, The Royal Ballet
Dream role: Giselle—which also happens to be her nickname around the studio. Where does the name come from? “I’m perky, but I can also be serious,” Maria explains.
Favorite ballets: Giselle, Le Corsaire,
Technical strengths: adagio, and slow, controlled movement
Wants to improve: “My arms and petit allegro.”
Idols: Maya Plisetskaya, Svetlana Zakharova
Indulgence: ice cream—her favorite flavors are strawberry vanilla and cookie dough
Brittany DeGrofft, 17
Hometown: Tucson, AZ
Tucson Regional Ballet
Biggest role so far: Sugar Plum (called “Prickly Pear Fairy” in her school’s production).”It takes a lot of stamina, I had no idea!” she says. “It looks so effortless.”
Dream company: ABT
Dream role: Odette/Odile
Favorite ballet: Giselle
Idol: Natalia Makarova
Academics: Tucson Distance Learning Program
Favorite subject: English
Hardest step: 32 consecutive fouettés: “My extremities are so long it’s hard to get so compact so fast.”
Biggest dance hurdle: Realizing she had the chops: “When I was really young, I was so shy and self-conscious all the time—I would stand in the back of class. One day I woke up and realized I’d been given a wonderful gift. It was the biggest epiphany of my life.”
Awesome onstage story: Being presented with flowers onstage after The Nutcracker by former Ballet Russe principal George Zoritch: “He taught a class for our company and came to the show. He’s an amazing person. It was a milestone to have someone of that caliber acknowledge me.”
Favorite steps: “I really love saut de chats and anything that has to do with grande allegro and moving across the floor, having that freedom of movement.”
Other dance styles: Though Brittany’s focus is ballet, she has studied jazz and modern and even took hip hop last year “to get different styles and to move in as many ways as possible.”
David Alvarez, 13
Hometown: Montreal, Canada
The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre in NYC
The latest: Not only was David cast as Fritz in ABT’s Nutcracker, but he’s also being considered for the title role of Billy Elliot in the upcoming Broadway musical adaptation of the 2000 film.
Honors: At Youth America Grand Prix in 2006, David nabbed second place in his division—and a full scholarship to the JKO School.
Dream companies: ABT, The Royal Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet
Dream role: Siegfried in Swan Lake “It’s challenging, because if it’s not perfect, it doesn’t look good.”
Favorite ballet: Giselle
Idol: Fernando Bujones
Hobby: playing the piano
Best thing about NYC: “There’s a lot of life here!”
Fun fact: David’s family is Cuban. David was born in Montreal, then he lived in San Diego before his family moved to NYC so he could study at the JKO School.
Chelsea Monger, 18
Hometown: Reston, VA
Conservatory Ballet in Reston, VA
The latest: Chelsea just danced Sugar Plum and Snow Queen in CB’s Nutcracker.
Hardest variation so far: La Esmeralda
Dream companies: Boston Ballet, ABT
Favorite ballet: La Bayadère
Idols: Uliana Lopatkina, Svetlana Zakharova, Sylvie Guillem
Indulgence: Swedish Fish
Academics: home-schooled through Indiana University
Favorite subject: math
Factoid: Chelsea was selected for the prestigious master class series at The Kennedy Center this year. The students get to observe rehearsals and take classes taught by teachers from the companies that tour to The Kennedy Center.
Hardest step: fouettés—“Turns are definitely harder for me than other steps.”
Favorite step: Italian fouettés
Biggest dance hurdle: Chelsea injured the arch in her foot two years ago and was sidelined for four and a half months. The doctors even told her that she’d never dance again. But after physical therapy four times a week and a lot of work, she recovered completely.
Jeffrey Cirio, 16
Hometown: Springfield, PA
Boston Ballet II
Trained at: Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Boston Ballet School
Honors: In 2007: gold medal at the International Dance Festival TanzOlymp in Berlin. In 2006: best male in his division at American Ballet Competition, bronze medal at USA IBC in Jackson, gold medal in the junior division at YAGP in NYC
Hardest variation: Grand Pas Classique, which he performed at USA IBC
Biggest role so far: Dancing the prince in CPYB’s Nutcracker
Dream companies: The Royal Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, Royal Danish Ballet
Dream role: Basilio in Don Quixote. “He’s more like my personality, like a jokester.”
Wants to improve: “I’m really small, so hopefully I can grow a little more and lift company women.”
Best thing about Boston: The Red Sox
Idols: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Fernando Bujones, Rolando Sarabia
Family ties: Jeffrey’s older sister Lia, 21, is a soloist in Boston Ballet. (For more on Lia, see “The Dirt” on p. 22!)
Meaghan Hinkis, 16
Hometown: Kingsbury, CT
ABT II in NYC
The latest: At press time, Meaghan was in rehearsals for Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante and a new work by Brian Reeder.
Hardest role: Don Q pas de deux, which she recently performed with fellow ABT II dancer Joseph Gorak
Dream company: ABT
Dream role: Aurora. (“She was almost 16, so I can relate to her story!”)
Favorite Ballet: Swan Lake
Best thing about NYC: “It never stops.”
Goals: “I want to develop my artistry and trust my technique so I can go farther.”
Idols: Gillian Murphy, Alina Cojocaru
Indulgences: Sour Patch Kids, Tasti D-Lite
Factoid: When she was 13, Meaghan danced Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Dance hurdle: Even though Meaghan was a strong dancer when she began training at the JKO School, De Vita required her to start in the elementary level to clean her technique. But Meaghan was determined and didn’t question De Vita’s decision. Her hard work paid off.
Photo: Boz Swope
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Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.
Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."
Maddie has an expressive face, endless extensions, and a quiet command of the stage. She dances with remarkable maturity—a trait noted by none other than Jennifer Lopez, one of the judges on NBC's "World of Dance," on which Maddie competed in Season 2. Although Maddie didn't take home the show's top prize, she was proud to be the youngest remaining soloist when she was eliminated, and saw the whole experience as an opportunity to grow. After all, she's just getting started. Oh, that's right—did we mention Maddie's only 14?
There's a story Kate Walker, director of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, loves to tell about Emma Sutherland, who just graduated from the program. "We were watching the students run a really long, challenging piece," Walker recalls. "Several kids couldn't quite make it through. But Emma did make it all the way to the end, which is when she walked up to us faculty and very politely asked, 'May I please go throw up?' "