10 Things You Should Know About Hamlet

By Pei-San Brown, Community Education Director

1. William Shakespeare’s The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is over 400 years old, more than 4,000 words long, and takes over 4 hours to deliver.

William Shakespeare’s The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, 1604

William Shakespeare’s The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, 1604

2. The first ballet version of Hamlet was choreographed by Francesco Clerico in Venice in 1788.

2.Francesco Clerico, 1795

Francesco Clerico, 1795

3. The most famous ballet version of the play in the 1900s was choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska, who also danced the title role in her Hamlet in 1934 at the Paris Opera Ballet.

3.Costume designs by Georges A. de Pogedaieff for the queen, Hamlet, and king in Nijinska’s ballet, 1934. From the Harvard Theatre Collection.

Costume designs by Georges A. de Pogedaieff for the queen, Hamlet, and king in Nijinska’s ballet, 1934. From the Harvard Theatre Collection.

4. Stephen Mills was inspired to choreograph a contemporary ballet version of Hamlet by Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 movie version of the play.

5. In his version of the ballet, Stephen originated the role of the Ghost in 2000, reprised it in 2009, and will once again dance it in 2015.

The Ghost played by Stephen Mills and Hamlet played by Paul Michael Bloodgood (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

The Ghost played by Stephen Mills and Hamlet played by Paul Michael Bloodgood (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

6. Company dancer Frank Shott originated the role of Laertes in Mills’ Hamlet, and is responsible for coaching fellow dancers in the fencing sequences each time the ballet is staged.

Fencing rehearsal (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Fencing rehearsal (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

7. After dancing the role of Laertes in Mills’ Hamlet in 2000 and 2004, Frank was cast in the title role of Hamlet in 2009 and will dance that role again in 2015.

Frank Shott as Hamlet and Johnstuart Winchell as Laertes in Ballet Austin’s Hamlet, 2009. (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

Frank Shott as Hamlet and Johnstuart Winchell as Laertes in Ballet Austin’s Hamlet, 2009. (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

8. Frank’s wife, company dancer Jaime Lynn Witts, is dancing the role of Ophelia for the first time in 2015; however, her Hamlet will be fellow company member Paul Michael Bloodgood.

8.Ballet Austin Hamlet rehearsal with Paul Michael Bloodgood as Hamlet and Jaime Lynn Witts as Ophelia, 2015.

Ballet Austin Hamlet rehearsal with Paul Michael Bloodgood as Hamlet and Jaime Lynn Witts as Ophelia, 2015. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

9. The first time Paul was cast as Ballet Austin’s Hamlet in 2009, his onstage love, Ophelia, was danced by his wife, Anne Marie Melendez.

9.Real life husband and wife duo Paul Michael Bloodgood and Anne Marie Melendez as the lovers, Hamlet and Ophelia in Ballet Austin’s Hamlet, 2009. (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

Real life husband and wife duo Paul Michael Bloodgood and Anne Marie Melendez as the lovers, Hamlet and Ophelia in Ballet Austin’s Hamlet, 2009. (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

10. Ballet Austin’s Hamlet will feature live musical accompaniment by the Austin Symphony Orchestra for the very first time in 2015.

Join us for Hamlet September 4-6!

Meet the Mad Men and Women of Hamlet

By Molly Morrow, HR & Accounting Associate

Famous for the skull, the bloodshed and those six little words “to be or not to be,” Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been revamped and re-imagined by countless artists over the centuries in a hundred different mediums, including dance.

Ballet Austin’s production is a gorgeous modern interpretation that uses the body to soliloquize and prefers the sound of water to the sound of words. We thought we’d give you a little background on the characters of Hamlet to help you translate Shakespeare into ballet this Labor Day weekend.

The Ghost

The Ghost played by Stephen Mills and Hamlet played by Paul Michael Bloodgood (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

The Ghost played by Stephen Mills and Hamlet played by Paul Michael Bloodgood (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

The Ghost sets the story in motion. As soon as the Ghost is alone with Hamlet, he drops a pretty heavy bomb on our leading man: he was murdered by his own brother, Claudius, who is now married to Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude. Logically, the Ghost charges Hamlet with avenging his death.

Fun fact: It is frequently written that Shakespeare himself played the Ghost in the Globe’s productions of the play. Stephen Mills carries on that tradition and will play the Ghost in Ballet Austin’s production.


The poster child for Prozac in the Elizabethan age, the Prince is also a comedian: playful, clever and full of wit. In the text, Hamlet’s first line even contains a pun – “A little more than kin, and less than kind.” Less than kind is right: Hamlet proves Claudius’ guilt by reenacting the murder with a troupe of traveling actors, accidentally kills Ophelia’s father (maybe check behind the curtain next time,) eventually returns home to confess his undying love for the now-conveniently-dead Ophelia and murders Claudius.

In Ballet Austin’s production, Hamlet’s conflicting desires and descent into madness are expressed through three alternate Hamlets that appear to him as visions. Hamlet will be played by company dancers Frank Shott and Paul Michael Bloodgood, and Hamlet II-IV will be played by James Fuller, Oliver Greene-Cramer and Orlando Canova.

Both Hamlet and Ophelia casts in rehearsals. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Both Hamlet and Ophelia casts in rehearsals. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)


Claudius is a man of pure and unspeakable evil. He murders Hamlet’s father, marries Hamlet’s mother, and then, like any good sociopath, convinces everyone that Hamlet himself is to blame for all the dying and suffering. Lucky for us, Shakespeare’s sense of justice and blood-lust is dead on, and Claudius ultimately gets what’s coming to him. Claudius is played by Ballet Austin company dancer Edward Carr.


Gerturde and Hamlet dance by Aara Krumpe and Paul Michael Bloodgood. (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

Gerturde and Hamlet danced by Aara Krumpe and Paul Michael Bloodgood. (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

The woman who brought Hamlet into this world is of course complex, heartbreaking and infuriating. Once married to Hamlet’s noble father, she chooses with inexplicable and breathtaking speed to marry her dead husband’s brother, who is also her dead husband’s murderer. Her failed attempt to explain herself and her actions to Hamlet inadvertently leads to Polonius’s murder. Gertrude dies, as does most everyone in this play, from being poisoned. She is played in this production by Aara Krumpe and Rebecca Johnson.


Ophelia is a doomed woman if ever there was one. In love with a man who is existentially preoccupied at best, and suicidal at worst, she is driven mad with grief from the news of her father’s death and drowns herself. Ophelia’s drowning is a scene of surprising beauty in Ballet Austin’s production, as Ophelia dances in a track of real water on stage. This fall she is played by Ashley Lynn Sherman and Jaime Lynn Witts.


Brian Heil as Polonius and Frank Shott as Hamlet during rehearsals. (Photo credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Brian Heil as Polonius and Frank Shott as Hamlet during Hamlet rehearsals. (Photo credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Polonius is the pompous, long-winded armchair poet of this tragedy (there’s at least one in every Shakespeare play). Ironically, for all his advice on being true to one’s self and having a method to one’s madness, Polonius is a coward: he hides behind a curtain when Hamlet confronts his mother Gertrude about her marriage to Claudius, thus sealing his own fate. Polonius is played by Ballet Austin II dancer Brian Heil.


Fencing rehearsal (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Fencing rehearsal (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Laertes is vengeance personified. His whole reason for being is to rain on Hamlet’s parade, just because Hamlet may or may not have killed his sister and his dad. Laertes also happens to be quite handy with a sword. Claudius poisons the sword, of course, and then – just for good measure – poisons a goblet of wine as a kind of Shakespearean Plan B, because you can never have enough poison. Ballet Austin brings the magnificent swordfight to life with a fencing match that dances across the stage, an unusual and distinctly inspired element of this ballet. Laertes is played by Christopher Swaim and Jordan Moser.

Purchase tickets today to see Stephen Mills’ modern interpretation of Hamlet, guaranteed to leave you thankful for your seemingly undramatic family drama.

Why Do YOU Dance?

By Vicki Parsons, Butler Center for Dance & Fitness Director

I knew at a very young age that I loved to move my body. Whether it was playing tag with the neighborhood kiddos, hiking, swimming, or one of many sports, I loved it! And while dance lessons were not on the list, I can tell you that when the music played, I could not be still.

I fondly remember the dance craze of the 60’s: The Twist, the Mashed Potato, the Loco-motion. And if you grew up in the 70’s you probably grooved to the Funky Chicken and YMCA. Every generation has their dance – dance has always been, and will always be.

America’s Dance Craze

America’s fascination with dance exploded with the popularity of So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars. Last summer, ballerina Misty Copeland’s breathtaking Under Armour ad brought ballet into our living rooms.

Dance can be seen on billboards, in TV commercials, and sells everything from Mountain Dew to cell phone service. The rising interest in dance as an alternative form of exercise has positively impacted the fitness industry.

Why Do YOU Dance?


People love to dance. But why? I decided to play roving reporter at Ballet Austin’s Butler Dance Education Center this past week and investigate. I didn’t have to rove far since  we bring dance to adults of all ages and ability levels 7 days a week. I walked from studio to studio asking people, “Why do you dance?” I asked professional company dancers, dance instructors, people sitting in the lobby, children in our kid’s camp… I even asked the barista at Starbucks and took to Twitter to hear what people had to say! 

“Dance is one of the things that brings me the most joy!”

 Tara Alperin, Butler Center Instructor

“Dance has always moved me.”  – Company dancer Orlando Canova

A photo posted by Ballet Austin (@balletaustin) on


“I dance to chase the crazies away.”

– John, Starbucks Barista

“I dance to work out. It’s a fun and positive way to exercise. I have lost 18 lbs. dancing!”

– Laura, Butler Center Member

“Nadanam, manidhanaaga pirandha ovvoruvanum alli alli paruga vendiya amurdhamada adhu!”

Prakash Mohandas, Butler Center Bollywood Instructor

“I dance because it’s like physical journaling; a way to speak when I don’t have the words. Sometimes it’s happy, sometimes it’s sad, but I always get that amazing feeling of release once I’ve done it.”

– Boo Ruis, Butler Center Instructor

“Yo bailo, porque el baile es vida, es una expresión de creatividad, es arte en movimiento, es mi libertad”

– Janet Alvarado, Butler Center Customer Relations

“We celebrate Dance, revel in the universality of this art form. Dance crosses all political, cultural and ethnic barriers and brings people together with a common language – Dance.

World Organization for the Performing Arts

“I dance because I don’t really have a choice…when I hear good music, my body just reacts to it with movement. It’s the best feeling.”

– Hannah Brightwell, Butler Center Instructor 

Now tell us why you dance at @BalletAustinCTR !

The Third Day Theory

By Anne Marie Melendez, Ballet Austin Company Dancer

The third day is always the worst. Your alarm goes off in the morning and the simple action of rolling over to shut it off is painful. Your neck is stiff,  your arms are aching, your back spasms, and your abdominal muscles feel torn. And then, you try to stand up.

First day back in the studios (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

First day back in the studios (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

First Day Back

Coming back to work as a professional dancer after a three month layoff (sometimes longer!) can be similar to your “First Day of School.” It’s both exciting and slightly scary. The whole crew is back together, there are lots of hugs and “How was your summer?” inquiries, as well as welcoming the few new faces. You’re a little bit worried about how out of shape you might be and wonder how well your legs are going to hold you up as the day goes on. But on Day 1, there is always a buzz of energy that comes with the beginning of a new season. The excitement of new repertoire to work on, new opportunities, and the new goals we have set for ourselves. And we’re not tired yet.

Company class starts promptly at 9 am and is always taught by Artistic Director Stephen Mills. Day 1 feels familiar, regardless of how much dancing you did over the summer, Day 1 is the time to ease back into the daily grind. This season was no different.

Frank Shott during company class on the first day. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Frank Shott during company class on the first day. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

What Do You Do All Summer?

Every one of us approaches our summer layoff differently, while always trying to stay in shape in some form or another. A handful of the dancers teach at the Ballet Austin Summer Intensive, including Orlando Julius Canova and Christopher Swaim. Some dancers take on other dance projects or opportunities, whether local, or off to some other parts of the world. For instance, this summer Oren Porterfield, Jordan Moser, Jaime Lynn Witts and Ed Carr performed in Asheville, North Carolina with Nick Kepley’s Motion Dance Theatre. Ashley Lynn Sherman just returned from an intense three weeks at the National Choreographers Initiative in Irvine, California, while Preston Patterson co-directed and choreographed for the Southern Illinois Music Festival.

Some of us take on other projects outside of the dance field, such as my husband Paul Michael Bloodgood, who continued finishing up his first feature length documentary film, Trenches of Rock, which is currently undergoing sound editing/mixing as well as color correction. And others, while still trying to stay in shape, incorporate huge life events into our summers, such as Grace Morton and Ian Bethany who were married in a beautiful Seattle ceremony this past July.

The 2015/16 Season

(Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Season Opener, Hamlet, includes several fencing scenes as part of the ballet. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

The 2015/16 season starts us off with Stephen Mills’ Hamlet, one of my personal favorites. For most of the company, rehearsals start off with a bang. Associate Artistic Director, Michelle Martin, usually starts rehearsing the larger group sections right away. For a production like Hamlet, this meant starting with scenes like Ophelia’s Funeral and the opening Wedding scene. We need time with these scenes to get the material out to the dancers, but also to have time to clarify and clean steps. Sometimes Stephen takes the opportunity in these early rehearsals to make small adjustments and changes to choreography. The nuts and bolts of the ballet remain the same, but the nuances evolve and grow with each restaging.

From Day 1, the men cast as Hamlet (Frank Shott & Paul Michael Bloodgood) and Laertes (Christopher Swaim & Jordan Moser) start fencing rehearsals. Since not all of the ballets in our repertoire involve fencing, and since it involves swinging sharp objects, it’s a good idea to start these rehearsals early… And slowly.

Week one is generally about getting a good bulk of the material laid out and to slowly work through it before we start layering our characters on top of the movement. Week one often times also includes our first costume fittings. Though the costumes for Hamlet are already built, wardrobe has a limited amount of time to make repairs and adjustments for specific dancers.

A photo posted by Ballet Austin (@balletaustin) on

The Third Day

My Third Day Theory is basically that the third day of new movement or choreography is the day you are the most sore. This seems to remain true whenever we start a new rep or have a new visiting choreographer. With new material you inevitably are using new muscle groups that you may not have been using the same way a week ago. Or the high probability that there is lots of repetition as we learn a new phrase of choreography. Nothing prepares you for dancing all day, like dancing all day. And this isn’t the type of gym where you might have a “leg day,” and then focus on a different muscle group the next. Everyday is “leg day” in ballet.

The tools are still all there, but what we lack most is stamina. I think general stamina problems like jumping for long periods of time, and calf endurance are pretty common across the studio. For the men, it’s also often lifting/partnering stamina. Lifting weights at the gym isn’t quite the same as lifting a woman all day long. A human body’s weight distribution isn’t as evenly balanced as free weights, and free weights don’t change shape and position when you lift them. 

And for the ladies, it’s the pointe shoes. “Little Pink Coffins,” as I like to call them (thank you Allisyn Paino for that one,) are really brutal that first week back. By Friday afternoon you can usually find the ladies lying on the floor with their swollen feet up in the air and looking forward to their evening ice bucket.

(Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood

Ballet Austin dancers recovering after their first week in their “Little Pink Coffins” (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)


As the week rounds up, we’re still sore, but usually not as bad as Day 3. But I find it a welcome fatigue. A reminder of the muscles I still have and the years of experience and training behind me. There is something gratifying about working your body that hard and feeling like you really earned your weekend rest, or your Friday night pizza, or your glass of wine, or whatever it is you personally look forward to on Friday. The first week back always reminds me that what I do for a living is quite a special and remarkable thing.

So, cheers to surviving Week 1! Get some rest, ice your feet and we’ll see you back at the barre bright and early Monday morning!

Behind the Scenes of Gala Giving: Pick Your Poison

By Christi Cuellar Lotz, Director of Development

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” – Hamlet

Ah, Fête season. Any who knows me would not argue for one moment that event fundraising is just that… madness! But what better way to highlight the mission and purpose of an incredible non-profit than to bring folks together who share a passion for the organization, show off what we do, and ask for their support? Truly, the Fête and fête*ish have become Ballet Austin brands in their very own right. But through the glitz and rock-and-roll glamour, there is, indeed, purpose.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream themed fête*ish

A Gala Unlike Any Other

The Fête doesn’t have a structure like other galas. We pride ourselves in telling our story – with one heck of a back-drop. This year, the Hamlet-themed evening provides all kinds of fun and creepy ways to celebrate. And as Stephen Mills says, “Creepy is only ever good.”

There are many ways to give at just about every level possible. My job is to make sure you find one you love.

The fun part for Fête-goers is that their friends can see them do it. I think Michael Barnes once called gala-giving “philanthropy in front of other people.” The “Paddles-Up” portion of the evening, as I call it, happens just after the live auction where folks have hopefully purchased incredible, once-in-a-lifetime packages for killer deals. There is then the opportunity to give outright to some of our community and education programs. Many who come to the Fête don’t realize all that Ballet Austin does, outside of producing first-class professional ballet productions. But wait. There’s more.

Live Auction during 2014 Fete

Live Auction during 2014 Fête

Did You Know?

  • Over $250,000 in scholarships are given to students who want to learn ballet but don’t have the means
  • The Pilates Pink Ribbon program is offered free of charge to nearly 100 breast cancer survivors regardless of means
  • School-based Dance In The Classroom is offered free of charge (leotard and shoes included) to two Title I schools
  • Thousands of tickets to the final dress rehearsal for every major performance are offered free of charge to clients of local social-service non-profits

And I could go on.

Five to six programs are highlighted each Fête and each is introduced by our wonderful auctioneer followed by a 1-minute video about the program. Our goal? To make you cry. And to also help you realize how lucky you are and what a difference you can make. Of course I’m just standing in the corner a nervous wreck hoping someone – anyone – will raise their paddles for the highest level. And someone does… And then often, someone else. And then I love everyone the rest of the night because it just goes downhill (and up in funds raised for Ballet Austin) from there. But that’s just me.


fête*ish Highlights

fête*ish offers another level of giving opportunity – this year’s is called a “Skull Pull” in celebration of the event theme Hamlet. (Again, creepy = fun. Who doesn’t want to pull a skull?) You pay a certain amount for your chance to win a prize worth that amount or more! Instant gratification is the name of the game here, and I’m not gonna lie, it can get addictive. Last year’s “Key Pull” was sold out as fête*ish barely got going.

By the time you read this, we’ll be a few weeks away from what’s been dubbed as “Austin’s Best Black Tie.” Each year, we challenge ourselves to live up to this! The amazing team working on the event (shouts out to Mandarin Design Lab, Ruby Rogers Events, TWIN Liquors, Ilios Lighting, the JW Marriott and many others) makes sure that each year tops the one before. Many of these vendors have been working on Fête/fête*ish for a number of years and their creativity never ceases to amaze me.

So what are some of YOUR favorite memories of past Fête/fête*ish events? I’d love to know!


10 Things You May Not Know About Pilates

By Vicki Parsons, Butler Center for Dance & Fitness Director

I am a fan of anything that helps a person live an active and healthy lifestyle. But Pilates is especially beneficial. The problem is that there are still plenty of myths and misconceptions floating around about Pilates that tend to get in the way of giving it a try. While I can’t dispel all of those myths – and am a firm believer that you just have to give it a try to be convinced – here are a few things that you might not have known.

1. Pilates is not just a fad of the rich and famous.

Pilates has been around for almost a century. Yes. Longer than sliced bread! While plenty of celebrities, dancers, and fitness gurus practice Pilates, it is now more popular than ever as one of the best foundational exercises for anyone.


2. Over 10 million Americans practice Pilates.

That’s a huge number and it’s still growing. As the benefits of Pilates become known, more and more Americans are trying it for themselves.

3. Pilates was designed by Joseph Pilates.Joseph-Pilates

Joseph Pilates was a German-born self-defense instructor at Scotland Yard in England. During World War I, he was detained as an “enemy alien” with other German nationals. It was during his time in war camps that Pilates refined his ideas by rigging springs to hospital beds, enabling bedridden patients to exercise against resistance and rehabilitate.

4. Pilates is done on a reformer but can be adapted for mat work.

Joseph Pilates loved to tinker with equipment and machinery, which led to the design of the Pilates reformer we have today. As far as the dreaded magic circle, Joseph made the original “magic circle” from the steel bands around beer kegs.


5. Crunches are overrated.

Pilates gets to the core of the matter. It gives you a stronger core without the crunch! When the core is strengthened, the entire body changes; improved posture, balance, strength, and flexibility. Slouching is corrected, effects of sitting can be reversed, back pain is alleviated, and more. Pilates benefits both men and women of all ages and skill levels.

6. Rodeo cowboys do Pilates.

(Photo Credit Baker County Tourism via CC)

(Photo Credit Baker County Tourism via CC)

Pilates is all about the core and rodeo cowboys need a strong center of balance for riding bulls and bucking broncos! Because the Pilates method is renowned for its benefits in improving flexibility, strength, balance and body awareness, athletes from every sport find it the perfect foundation for their training.

7. One hour of Pilates burns calories all day long.

Pilates is all about resistance exercises. Resistance training is scientifically proven to create lean muscle and speed up metabolism to burn calories all day long. Cardio exercise is great; but as soon as you get off the stationary bike or treadmill, you stop burning calories. With Pilates, the second you finish your workout, you start burning calories.

8. Ballet Austin’s state-of-the-art Pilates Center is doubling in size.


Pilates reformers inside the newly renovated Ballet Austin Center.

Upon completion in August, Ballet Austin’s Pilates Center will be 1500 square feet, equipped with 12 Balanced Body reformers, as well as Balanced Body Chairs, Barrels and Towers to accommodate private and group appointments at all levels.

9. Ballet Austin’s Pilates Center has 8 Certified Instructors.

Under the direction of Pilates Program Director Vlada Sheber, we have 8 Certified Pilates Instructors. They are trained, caring, and passionate about their Pilates practice. And they will push you to your best.

Ballet Austin In

Ballet Austin Pilates Program Director Vlada Sheber working with a client.

10. It’s easy and affordable.

With new client packages and offers available year round it’s always a good time to try. Start with a private session or bring a friend to a group class.


Spending My Summer Vacation With Ballet Austin

By Bill Piner, Academy Director  

Ahhh… Summertime in Austin. The time when everything slows to a crawl. The sun is high in the sky and temps top 100. Everyone heads to the lake, or to cooler climes in northern states. You would think it would be nice and quiet at 501 W. 3rd St. But you’d be wrong.

Summertime is actually one of the busiest seasons at Ballet Austin. Classes at the Butler Center for Dance & Fitness are packed 7 days a week for the entire summer and the Academy’s Senior Summer Intensive Program brings students from as far away as Japan and Panama to Austin for six weeks of intensive study and potential job opportunities.

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive Level 8 (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive Level 8 (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Each summer, after a 27 city audition tour, over 250 students descend on Austin.
They come here to take part in a program that is designed to improve their individual dance skills. For the post-high school crowd, they audition for a coveted position in Ballet Austin II, Ballet Austin’s paid apprentice company, or the Butler Fellowship Program, a nine-month, intensive training program that provides 15 talented students the opportunity to train at Ballet Austin tuition-free.

A Day In The Life

This is a very concentrated and intensive time for the Academy. From 8:45am to 6:15pm the studios are filled to capacity with some of the most focused young adults you will find. From my office I can look into the Armstrong/Connelly Studio. Right now the Level 6 dancers are learning a piece of original choreography from Company Dancer and Academy faculty member, Christopher Swaim, which they will perform at a small performance at the end of the session. Chris’ choreography pushes these young dancers to new limits and challenges them to take risks and find new strengths.

For the highest levels it’s all about learning what’s unique about Ballet Austin and assimilating. Will they be accepted into the year-round program or not? Will this be the next step in their personal and professional lives or not? There is a lot riding on these few weeks and it can be a nerve-wracking experience.

“I chose to spend my summer training at Ballet Austin because I was looking for an opportunity to further my dance career. Having just graduated from high school, I wanted to come to a program where I could possibly stay for the 2015-2016 season, and I knew that Ballet Austin could provide an opportunity for me. Ballet Austin’s summer program has reinforced the technique I know, expanded my artistry and allowed me to think differently about my dancing. Not only have I grown as a dancer in just four weeks, but I have also met new people with whom I have become extremely close. My classmates and I have had different yet relatable experiences. Even though some of us may be competing against each other to get a position as a Fellow or Ballet Austin II member, we all share one similar trait: the love for dance. This similarity allows for friendships to be created which aid the extremely memorable and enriching experience here at Ballet Austin.” –  Kayla Hallman

Kayla will be joining the Butler Fellowship Program in August.


Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin correcting a student’s position. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

I choreograph on the two youngest levels in the program, where they are still struggling to find the control over their bodies that will enable them to make the prescribed shapes of classical ballet. The pace is slower, but the sense of accomplishment is just as great. When the entire group performs for an audience of their peers (final rehearsal on performance day is performed in front of the other levels in the program) and the cheers of approval erupt, I’m reminded why I chose this profession. This struggle, this mastery, this acceptance is something they all can relate to and it seals a bond that will stay with these young artists well beyond their six weeks in Austin.

Teaching (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Bill Piner, Academy Director, rehearsing with Level 4 student for upcoming Summer Intensive performance. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

These bonds and friendships, challenges and growth, fun and hard work, all combine to make the Summer Intensive experience one that will live with these dancers forever. This is a huge commitment and requires dedication and sacrifice from the entire family. This is another aspect of the program that I find inspiring – the fact that parents will do everything in their power to provide the best for their kids. And the fact that these kids will take that challenge and some of them will become professional dancers. Over 70% of Ballet Austin’s professional company of dancers started right here in the Summer Intensive. For them, and many others, the sweating, struggling, laughing and learning ended with the ultimate goal, a professional contract and the realization of so many dreams and aspirations.

This is how I’ve spent my summer for the past 24 years. It may not be as relaxing as going to the coast, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Swan Lake: Then and Now

We’re all familiar with some version of Swan Lake. But there is so much more to this timeless ballet than the inner angst portrayed in the most recent pop-culture rendition, Black Swan. The Swan Lake that we all know and love, choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, initially had a rough start. Let’s take a look at where it began how we arrived to the acclaimed ballet of today.

The World Premiere in 1877

The first premiere of Swan Lake was actually choreographed by Julius Reisinger, ballet master at the Ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre (now the Bolshoi Ballet.) “When the premiere of Swan Lake took place, it was a disappointment to everybody, especially its composer [Tchaikovsky].” famed choreographer George Balanchine comments. “The choreographer was a hack ballet master who possessed neither the talent nor the taste to choreograph a work to the music of a major composer.”

Anna Sobeshchanskaya

Anna Sobeshchanskaya

The Russian ballerina intended for the role of Odette, Anna Sobeshchanskaya, was replaced by Pauline Karpakova. “Karpakova was a run-of-the-mill dancer past her bloom, who insisted upon interpolating sure-fire ‘numbers’ from other ballets in her repertoire to replace some of Tchaikovsky’s music which she could not appreciate, understand or even count,” Balanchine continues.

It wasn’t until 18 years later when the famed choreography of today was pieced together.

The 1895 World Premiere

In November 1894 Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov agreed to work together to revive Swan Lake. Petipa choreographed the acts that took place in the castle and castle garden, and Ivanov choreographed the lakeside acts, including the corps de ballet of swans.

Ivanov was the first to base his choreography on the structure and emotional content of the music, rather than displaying how technically brilliant his lead dancers were. Ivanov also was one of the first to use the corps de ballet to its fullest potential and to help tell the story of the ballet. He excelled in making patterns and shapes on the stage with the corps as shown in the lakeside acts in Swan Lake, as well as the snowflakes’ dance in The Nutcracker.

The premiere of this new work took place at the Mariinksy Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia on January 17, 1895. Unlike the Moscow premiere in 1877, it was a huge success.

Pierina Legnani

Pierina Legnani

The occasion was also a testimonial gala for Pierina Legnani, who danced the double role of Odette/Odile and could not restrain herself from injecting her 32 fouettes from Cinderella, this time as the coda of her black swan pas de deux in the ballroom scene.

Swan Lake of Today

Since then, over 155 versions of Swan Lake have been performed by at least 115 companies based in 25 countries. Few other ballets from the 19th-century have had such lasting and widespread popularity.

The Petipa-Ivanov production has formed the basis of most subsequent stagings around the world. Most current versions of Swan Lake retain the core of what is considered the original Petipa-Ivanov choreography, though with some new choreography added.

Ballet Austin prepares to perform the famed ballet once again Mother’s Day Weekend, with the Austin Symphony Orchestra with live accompaniment. Join them as they close the 2014/15 season. Now is the time to check off that box on your “ballet bucket-list.”

Reference: Balanchine, George, and Francis Mason. 101 Stories of the Great Ballets. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1989. Print.


Ballet Austin Premieres Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project at the Acco Festival in Israel

The Light International Premier filled the auditorium and the energy and excitement were large. Our Austin delegation took up most of the entire 8throw, so we had a great vantage point for the performance. There were welcome addresses by Albert Ben-Shloosh, the Director of the Acco Festival; Raya Strauss, one of the leaders in the region and Steve Adler, a Ballet Austin Board member and a leader in Austin responsible for the arrival of the Light project at Acco.

Steve shared some background information on Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project and the importance of communities engaging in dialogue around hate, prejudice and bigotry. He also described the importance of both what is seen in the ballet, and what is not seen in the ballet. Artistic director Stephen Mills wrote a story based on the experience of Holocaust survivor and Houston, Texas resident Naomi Warren.

Albert presented Steve with the Guest of Honor Acco Festival trophy, given to one act at each Festival that represents a center point of the festival. It was quite an honor for the Light project.  Steve gave the trophy to Cookie Ruiz, and here’s a photo of her with it.


The lights dimmed and the performance began. Flawlessly done, the dancers danced the 5 acts of the ballet. As expected, it was powerful and moving. Words don’t describe the feeling this ballet gives the audience. The big question prior to the performance was how it would be received by an Israeli audience. The answer:  they loved it. In a country that deals with the issues of the Holocaust regularly, the combination of precisely executed dance elements by accomplished and professional dancers like those in the Austin Ballet and the subject material built into the story of the Light project was extremely well received by the Israeli audience. Even our tour guide, Dani, commented on how wonderful the performance was and how deep and thought provoking it was for him. But the confirming sign of success was the clapping at the end of the show. It started out as any audience, with wild applause, but very quickly the clapping morphed into a rhythmic, synchronized clapping that went on for several minutes. Our Austin delegation was somewhat surprised, not knowing what the synchronized clapping meant, but we were then told that it was a high form of praise and acceptance in Israel, and common after a successful performance.

Light Performance 1

After the show, Stephen Mills came onstage to answer questions from the audience. He was asked about the symbolism of some of the elements in the ballet, and he described what his vision was. He was asked about the story and he shared some of his experience with Naomi Warren. He also was asked about the ending, and he let the audience know that Naomi’s wishes were for a positive, survivor ending, since she was a survivor.

All in all, a fantastic (shabab) evening none of us are likely to forget.

– Keri Pearlson, a member of the Jewish Community Association of Austin (JCAA) Board of Directors.

(View Keri’s other blogs here)

Ballet Austin prepares for Opening Night

We had heard about the wonders of an Israeli breakfast. It comes with the price of the room. We went downstairs as usual to choose from yogurt, eggs, vegetables, hummus,  herring and a stunning assortment of bread looking things – pound cake, pita, rolls, etc.   We learned quickly that the shy go hungry in thionstages “buffet free for all.” As the dancers wandered in – slowly and a bit red eyed – they shared the stories of their evenings out.

It was a slow morning,  so we took a walk through the old city. The signage is in Arabic or Hebrew depending on the part of town. There are booths of everything you can  imagine including some inredibly fresh fish from the Mediterranean a few feet away. Most people know my mind goes blank when I am presented with too many options so I was unable to focus at all of the spices in burlap bags, clothing and toys that light up.

We walked the ancient tiny streets which were like the smallest Venice alleyways except,  there are cars everywhere. Acco has traffic circles instead of stop signs and lights. Pedestrians have the right of way but it takes a while to get comfortable with the near death experiences. Right of way does not mean that they won’t drive an inch away from you.

vip 1:00pm the dancers had their first chance to go inside the theater.  Bill Sheffield, the Ballet Austin crew and the local tech folks were working magic with the small space. I loved watching the spacing rehearsal. Listening to the strategies to make Light work in a new space is fascinating. It included Stephen’s vision with the collaboration of the company.We had coupons to eat dinner in the Acco entertainers garden.  We all walked over to the opening ceremonies where we were greeted by three rows of VIP seats marked with Ballet Austin signs. It is so odd. The only English in Acco are the words Ballet Austin. Albert has thought of every detail to make our stay amazing. We stayed for the concert as long as we could. Then we escaped early to go get some sleep.


– Barbara Shack