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  • Writer's pictureKristyn Burtt

American Ballet Theatre's West Coast Presence Inspires A Generation of Dancers

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

American Ballet Theatre's annual production of The Nutcracker at the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts in Costa Mesa, California is in full swing right now. While the New York-based company enjoys its West Coast home, the children in the production train here year-round.

The American Ballet Theatre William J. Gillespie School at Segerstrom Center for the Arts opened in September 2015. Five years in, the school is seeing their young dancers flourish in the dance studio and on the stage with the professionals. 

Kenneth Easter, a faculty member at the William J. Gillespie School, former ABT company member and children's ballet master for The Nutcracker, explained to Dance Network why school is thriving in its early years. 

"In the first four years, we always opened the auditions to any of the dance schools in Southern California to be a part of the show. This is the first year that we've only used students in our school. The school is evolving, and doing productions like The Nutcracker, encourages new students to join us because having the professional company here on the West Coast is a draw."

For 12-year-old Logan Cooper, playing the lead role of Clara after understudying the character in 2018, is a dream come true.

"It's an amazing experience. I love that I get to watch Isabella Boylston perform. She's my favorite. The way she executes everything, it's just beautiful to watch."

While Clara may be the coveted lead role for a young female performer, everyone wants to be a Polichinelle, the fun characters who run out from under wacky Mother Ginger's dress. Anyone who has ever done The Nutcracker knows that it's one of the longest and most technical dances for the kids. 

"It's important to pay attention to the details of the steps because they are very hard. You have to watch your technique in this dance, but you get to be a silly character and wear a silly costume," Stella Stulik, 12, told Dance Dish. "I love the hats because they are really tall with a feather sticking out of them. Plus, we get to do fun steps outside of the ballet norm. When else can you do a step like the Caterpillar where we each go under each other?"

For other young performers in the show, they love the challenges each role brings. Grier McLarand, 10, plays the Little Mouse where she not only has to dance and act throughout the show, but her costume also presents some unique obstacles. 

"The hardest thing for me is getting to be where I need to be on the stage because the mask that I have to wear is hard to see through. I make it work," she said confidently. "The eyes are to the side, so I see through the mouth area and the beak. It's fun and there are a lot of nice people I'm dancing with. It's what I would personally like to do in life."

One big thing on the young male performers' minds this year is the impact of #BoysDanceToo. 15-year-old Chase Rogers, who plays The Nutcracker Boy in ABT's production, was thrilled to see the positive outcome of the movement. 

"When the whole #BoysDanceToo happened in the media, it made me happy because everyone started talking about it. It made me feel that there was a community and I was not alone because we all had stories to share. It makes you feel really special to be a male ballet dancer."

That feeling of community and encouraging young boys to dance is something Easter hopes will resonate into 2020 at the William J. Gillespie School.

"The longer the school has been open, the more boys we get. The more boys we get, the more the pre-professional division becomes experienced as far as partnering, stage acting and that dynamic in class,” he said. “It even feeds into the girls because it challenges them to try the guys' jumps. If we remove the stigma of being judged about a male dancer and focus on... are you having fun? Are you excited about coming to dance? The school is evolving technically, but having guys be a part of the school is a major part of that development."


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