Back to school for Pennsylvania Ballet

Roy Kaiser, School of Pennsylvania Ballet, Features

By Ellen Dunkel
The Inquirer
May 07, 2012
‘Don’t be nervous,” Pennsylvania Ballet artistic director Roy Kaiser told the 23 girls and two boys with their left hands on the barre, wearing solemn expressions and numbers pinned to their neat dance clothes. “Relax and work hard.”
The first of two groups of 12- to 14-year-olds followed principal dancer Arantxa Ochoa through an hour of pliés, tendus, jetés, and pirouettes last Sunday morning in the company’s East Falls studios.
“She’s my teacher’s wife!” one girl squealed on the way out of the audition, referring to Ochoa, a calm, gentle instructor with a striking presence. “That’s so cool!”
And that’s the point: The company — whose current and former members, including Ochoa’s spouse, Alexander Iziliaev, now teach all over the region — is about to reopen its own School of Pennsylvania Ballet after a 20-year hiatus as one of the rare troupes without its own training program.
Students will learn from dancers they’ve no doubt seen — or even danced with — on stage at the Academy of Music, and whom they ideally hope to follow into a career in a professional troupe. The children’s cast of Pennsylvania Ballet’s seasonal highlight The Nutcracker, now gleaned from academies around the region, eventually will be drawn entirely from the new school.
“Everyone in the city is excited, of course, no matter what school they currently attend,” said Vanessa Ryan, whose daughter, Sarah-Gabrielle, 14, was auditioning. “I think we’ve been waiting for this day since the first time Sarah set foot at the Academy of Music with Pennsylvania Ballet to do Nutcracker. She was only 10.”
About 170 ballet students, ages 8 to 18, came to audition last weekend from as far away as Connecticut. Many were intimately familiar with the company from their days as mice, soldiers, and angels in the company’s Nutcracker. At least three of the girls had danced the part of Marie, the lead girl’s role.
Stephanie Bandura, 13, from Philadelphia, was one of the more active Maries. She danced the part for two seasons and toured with the company in 2009 to the Kennedy Center in Washington. Even after she grew too tall to be on stage among the smaller children, the company called her back to film the part for the taping of the holiday show on the wall at the Comcast Center.
But she was still unsure about the new school. “I’ve gone to the Rock School [for Dance Education] since I was 3. I don’t want to leave it,” she said.
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