I didn’t realize I’d let so much time pass since my last post. Time flies when you’re having fun…not. Julian and I got back from New York, and I entered into a harried three and a half weeks of getting him to the TDC summer intensive, preparing for my daughter’s 18th birthday party and to go off to New York University just three weeks later. In the midst of all of that, there was an immense amount of college shopping to accomplish, doctor’s appointments to make and keep, and my work to get done. There was also the emotional upheaval of my daughter leaving behind a boyfriend. Then I had to get on an airplane and fly back to New York and get her settled into school and fly back just four days later, which was emotionally draining for me as well.
In the midst of all of that, my husband and I also were trying to help Julian figure out what he was going to do dance-wise this school year. Originally, we had thought he would go back to TDC, a program we love and totally support for the great pre-professional classical, modern and contemporary training it offers (plus some jazz, tap, and hip hop). However, the feedback Julian received in New York seemed to be pointing to him needing to spend at least a year on classical ballet training. So, amidst everything else, we had many conversations with people at TDC and also went for an audition at City Ballet.
In the end, we opted for City Ballet, a Vaganova-based program, in San Francisco, run by a Russia-born dancer, Galina Alexandrova . I’m sure Julian will have days when he regrets this choice–he surely will not be coddled here nor will his moods or whims be allowed or tolerated, but he will come out with the clean technique everyone says he needs to achieve at this point in his dance career. He will be taught be Alexandrova, Lupe Calzadilla, and Yuri Zhukov.
Here’s why we opted to change dance programs and dance focus:
First, Julian auditioned for the JKO School, ABT’s all-year ballet school. He was turned down. When I asked for an explanation, Franco Devita explained that for his age Julian’s technique was not as clean as he would like to see it. He didn’t feel comfortable moving him across the country (and possibly his whole family) in case working with Julian didn’t work out for some reason. He said sometimes he brings in boys to the school and then they don’t take correction well, they don’t get along with him or him with them, etc. Julian and I have heard of several such cases where the boys dropped out mid year–or were asked to leave. He told Julian to go home and clean up his technique and come back and audition again. If he had accomplished the goal, he would be accepted into the school even though he would be a senior at that point. (We know a boy who did this–in fact, he went to City Ballet for just six months to clean up his technique–and was accept into JKO with a full scholarship for this comping school year; he is a senior.)
So, we took DeVita’s advice to heart. He said no matter if Julian stayed at TDC and got additional ballet instruction or joined a full ballet program, cleaning up his technique needed to be the focus. We didn’t think we could accomplish this with just a little bit of extra ballet–at least not in the way we had been doing it in the past. Obviously, that had not been working since Julian’s technique is not as clean as the other “ballet boys,” those in full ballet programs all year long.
Mind you, DeVita’s words of wisdom came from a man who sees a boy graduating from high school and entering a ballet company immediately. He is not thinking of the boys leaving JKO School an entering college. Julian is still thinking of going to college. In his mind, Julian’s level of technique must be more advanced at his age to be be ready for a company in another two years.
Second, at the end of the Complexions intensive, Dwight Rhoden told Julian he wanted to work with him next summer at the barre, and offered him two intensive sessions for the price of one to accomplish this. Desmond Richardson mentioned that he needed to clean up his upper body technique (his arms, which I’ve always called “noodle arms”). I asked Rhoden what Julian should be doing this year–stay at TDC and supplement with more ballet or join a ballet school, and his response was firm: “Join a ballet school so he can work on cleaning up his technique.” He felt certain that one or two years of work on technique would put Julian in good stead to do whatever he wanted in the dance world. He has the ability to move, everyone agreed, and he has the training in contemporary from TDC. We took these words to heart as well–even more so, since they were not coming from anyone trying to enroll Julian in their school or get money out of him in any way. In fact, Rhoden offered to mentor Julian, answering questions and concerns via email.
Third, after Julian worked with Wilhelm Burmann at Steps on Broadway, I asked Burmann what he thought. He had no investment in Julian whatsoever. He said he needed to enter a ballet program for all the same reasons. He said he had an ability to move and to put movements together, but he needed to clean up his technique. He suggested a full ballet program.
Fourth, Julian wants to know that he can get work in a classical ballet company or in a contemporary ballet company–or on Broadway or anywhere. He knows classical ballet training lies at the core of achieving that goal. Additionally, he loves ballet. After this summer, his love and desire to pursue ballet had increased tremendously. For at least two years–maybe because of the influence of being at the ABT Summer Intensive with all those “ballet boys”–Julian has been torn between doing contemporary ballet, which he adores, and doing classical ballet, which he also adores, full time. He is not sure which he would like to pursue…but he knows he must have the classical technique, and this was driven home to him by every teacher he had this summer.
With all of that and the fact that Julian had a sincere interest in pursuing ballet at this point in his young life, we went looking for a ballet program. We did not want to go back to Ballet San Jose; been there, done that. San Francisco Ballet School is quite large, and from what we had been told by many people, Julian would likely get lost there and not get the individual attention he needed. Without that, this year of ballet would be a loss. Also San Francisco Ballet might put him in Level 7 (something we will never know for sure), which would preclude him going to school because of the early start time of this level. As parents, were were unwilling to have Julian do high school on line, and Julian didn’t want that either. We also heard from some former San Francisco Ballet School Students that the teachers there quit often, making the teaching a bit inconsistent.
The only other choice was City Ballet. Given that a friend of Julian’s and fellow ABT Summer Intensive student had gone to city for 6 months to get his technique cleaned up in order to get accepted into JKO School, and had achieved this goal, we thought this a good option. We heard good things from another ABT Summer Intensive attendee, also a boy. They both raved about working with Yuri Zhukov as well, and Julian wanted to train with a strong male ballet teacher. Zhukov is a phenomenal ballet dancer and a choreographer with a contemporary company of his own. With so few boys typically in the program, we were told the boys basically get private or semi-private lessons with Zhukov on a regular, if not daily, basis. Additionally, they sometimes get to work with Yuri Possokhov, another phenomenal male classical ballet dancer and choreographer. Plus, the school has a strong YAGP program, something that interested Julian. It also offered more hours of ballet class–plus contemporary (yay!) because Zhukov has his own contemporary company–than the other area schools.
Julian auditioned and liked it. He found the class very difficult and the level of dancers high. He watched two YAGP pax partners rehears and was impressed as well–especially since they included the coda in their performance….the same pax he and his partner had rehearsed minus the coda last year. He liked the fact that he would have male ballet teachers.
Julian was given a 100 percent scholarship for the pre-professional level. Whoo hoo! Now that’s a school that appreciates it’s boys. We have not been given that anywhere else–just 50 percent at Ballet San Jose. (I did say that JKO School offers that to some boys.) That makes it possible for us to afford the YAGP training, which will not be cheap. The contemporary choreography alone with Zhukov is very expensive, and the hourly rate for coaching is high for all the teachers as well. This work will help Julian’s technique tremendously, though. We have been told he will work primarily with Zhukov and possible also with Possokhov–which would be phenomenal. We’ll see if that pans out.
At the moment, Julian is the only boy in the program. A little surprising…but not really. Another boy is auditioning the first week of classes.
By the way, City Ballet does a Nutcracker and has a spring performance with contemporary as well as classical works. Julian is sorry not to do the choreography track at TDC. I am going to mention this to someone at City and see if Zhukov, who will be working with him closely anyway, would allow him to do some choreography at some point.
That’s why and how we got to our choice.
So, new school year, new focus, new dance program. And Julian seems ready and eager to hunker down and continue working hard like he did in New York. I actually think that’s why he chose this program–so he’d continue being pushed. More on that soon…and several blog posts from dancer and choreographer Joey Dowling!