New Moves Opens Thursday!

Dancers Enrico Hipolito and Elysa Hotchkiss rehearse Emily Mistretta's "Prism Break" | Photography by Elizabeth Stehling
Dancers Enrico Hipolito and Elysa Hotchkiss rehearse Emily Mistretta’s “Prism Break” | Photography by Elizabeth Stehling

Kansas City Ballet performs their annual New Moves program at the Todd Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity this week (March 28-31, 2019).

The show features brand new choreography by Gary Abbott (Associate Professor of Modern Dance from UMKC), Haley Kostas (local dancer, choreographer, and dance educator), Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye (Northwest Arkansas Ballet Theatre Artistic Director), Price Suddarth (Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist), and current company dancers Courtney Nitting, Emily Mistretta and James Kirby Rogers.

We sat down with company members Emily Mistretta and Courtney Nitting to find out more about their choreographic process.

EMILY MISTRETTA

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY ABOUT CREATING NEW WORK?

Last year was my first time trying to create a piece.  It was a little daunting at first. I probably enjoy it the most when it all comes together and starts to look like something.  For me it’s ambiguous for a long time and then at one point it clicks and I can start to see it form. That is a very exciting feeling.

WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART ABOUT CHOREOGRAPHING?

The hardest part is deciding where I want it to go.  I can see movement and a trajectory in front of me, but the options are literally endless.  Sometimes you want something specific and other times you’re open to see where the momentum of the piece or any given movement will take you, its hard to be calm and let things unfold instead of trying to take control. It’s a balance between what you envision and what wants to happen organically. My process is me by myself in the studio improving and seeing what comes out.  From there I kind of string together steps or a sequence and then it sparks my mind for what else is about to happen.

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION?

My inspiration usually comes from the music.  The music dictates the way that I want to move at any given moment and I try to take my cues from that.  Sometimes there is a certain theme or feeling I want to evoke and I’ll try to keep that in the back of my mind as I’m moving.

LAST YEAR YOUR LEAD FEMALE DANCER WAS INJURED ON OPENING NIGHT. YOU HAD TO STEP IN TO PERFORM IN YOUR OWN WORK FOR THE REMAINING PERFORMANCES. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?

It was really fun to perform in my own piece! I want my work to feel good and to be fun to do. Being a dancer, still sometimes it’s odd to be on the other side. You have this impulse to want to dance even if it’s in the work you’re creating.  So, yes, it was super fun. Though I think it helped that I had never planned on dancing it, I think it’s even trickier to choreograph yourself into a piece.  Of course, just because I choreographed it did not mean I knew the steps whatsoever.  Especially when a dancer takes it and makes it their own, it’s not really what it was initially anymore. So, I had to learn it and figure it out and improve myself back into it.  It gives you an insight into what you’re making someone else do and then you apologize for making them do the step that way because now you know how it feels.

 

COURTNEY NITTING

WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH CHOREOGRAPHING?

It started when I was a student at SAB. They have a program called Student Choreographic Workshop and I thought, “Why not try it?” I love all aspects of dance. I love being creative. So I thought I might as well try choreographing since I have been given the opportunity. I did that for two years and actually had small reviews written on them and they were liked. I thought maybe this is something I can keep in my back pocket. Then last year at Pennsylvania Ballet, they do a program called ‘Shut up and Dance’. It’s a performance that raises money for Manna (a food service for people with serious illnesses who need nourishment to heal). My piece opened the show and went over really well. So when coming to Kansas City Ballet and learning about New Moves, I thought I’d give it another go.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY ABOUT CREATING NEW WORK?

I enjoy being in the studio with the dancers and seeing it come together. Sometimes the steps or movements you create in your head don’t work. But when it does, it’s like a magic moment. Seeing what you had pictured in your head or written on a piece of paper come to life is extremely gratifying.

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION?

I get my inspiration from the music. I always try and continuously listen to my music to the point where I know every sound and note and see what it tells me to create. I like to think of the quote by George Balanchine “see the music, hear the dance.” This is what I hope people get when they watch my piece.

WHEN YOU DECIDED TO CHOREOGRAPH YOU WERE A BRAND NEW MEMBER OF THE COMPANY. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO THROW YOUR HAT INTO THE RING?

Deciding to choreograph for New Moves as a brand new company member I knew was a risk. No one knows me, I don’t know the dancers, and it’s extra work and pressure. However I like to think that I face risk situations like this head on. For me it’s important to not only come into a new company and show myself as a dancer, but all the other interests I have. I don’t want to be a one trick pony; I want to show that I have much more to offer.


New Moves opens this Thursday, March 28 and runs through Sunday, March 31. A few tickets are still available here or by calling the Ballet Box Office at 816.931.8993.

Teacher Profile: Lynley Von Engeln

Lynley Von Engeln grew up attending Pennsylvania Ballet’s Nutcracker. She enrolled at age 10 at a local dance school in Pennsylvania. Though she took classes in just about every genre, it was the elegance and expression of ballet that really drew her in.

She found she loved the balance of freedom and discipline the art form requires. “I was always very shy growing up (and still am at times),” she says. “But ballet gave me a way to express myself that always felt very safe.”

WHY KC?

While attending a performing arts high school, Lynley had a chance encounter with an instructor from UMKC’s Conservatory for Music and Dance. It’s why she later enrolled there. Her start with Kansas City Ballet School came from a post graduate internship. She has since moved up the ranks from intern to instructor and Children’s Program and School Coordinator.

A LOVE OF TEACHING

As a teacher, Lynley enjoys the constant learning cycle from student to teacher and teacher to student. “Even at the young age of 2, I am constantly learning new things from my students which helps me to grow as a teacher and a person,” she says. “I love getting to know each student and finding ways to spark their creativity.”

She admits she loves teaching little ones: “There is something so innocent and brave about that age, when they are unaware of the eyes of the world and any restrictions that might hold them back. They are SO creative and have no inhibitions in terms of movement or expression. I find it really inspiring and renewing to watch and teach young students. However, there are aspects of each level that I teach that I cherish.”

Growing up, dance was such an important part of Lynley’s life. It taught her discipline, expression, confidence, and so much more. For all of her students, she hopes to pass on the same experience and knowledge that she was given.

Lynley says, “Even if I had not gone into the arts as a profession, I feel as though studying dance made me a better, well-rounded person.”


Kansas City Ballet School 2019 Summer Programs are enrolling now for ages 2-18. Find out more about classes for kids and adults.

Student Profile: Talia Lebowitz

Talia Lebowitz (center) during Kansas City Ballet School's 2018 Summer Intensive program | Photography by Elizabeth Stehling
Talia Lebowitz (center) during Kansas City Ballet School’s 2018 Summer Intensive program | Photography by Elizabeth Stehling

Talia Lebowitz started ballet at age 5. She remembers always wanting to take ballet classes. Once she started, she instantly loved everything about it.

“I love how ballet is very structured but there’s freedom in the movements,” Talia says.

Talia grew up in Agoura Hills, Calif., not far from Malibu. She had attended ballet summer intensive programs at American Ballet Theatre (ABT), Ellison Ballet, and Joffrey Ballet School—all in NY. But UMKC Conservatory professor and Kansas City Ballet School (KCBS) faculty member, David Justin, came to her home studio at California Dance Theatre to teach a master class. He said the class could double as an audition for the Summer Intensive program at KCBS. She signed up and later received an acceptance letter that extended her a full scholarship.

COMING TO KC

That opportunity brought her to Kansas City Ballet School’s summer intensive program for the first time. While she was here, she enjoyed the teachers, the building, the studios and the ballet technique so much. When she was invited to join the KCBS Daytime Program in the fall of 2018, she jeté-ed at the chance.

At just 16, she had just completed her homeschooling program along with her older brother. So last fall, her parents packed up both of their children for their new adventures. Her brother enrolled in University of California, Santa Barbara, and Talia headed to KC. She now lives on her own with four other girls who are students at KCBS.

“I’d had a taste of being on my own at previous summer intensives in New York, so I wasn’t scared,” she says.

Talia Lebowitz dancing in "Waltz of the Flowers" in "The Nutcracker" | Photography by Elizabeth Stehling
Talia Lebowitz dancing in “Waltz of the Flowers” in “The Nutcracker” | Photography by Elizabeth Stehling

WINNING ROLES

After joining the Daytime Program, Talia auditioned for The Nutcracker. She was cast in three roles: an angel, traditionally danced by advanced students, and also a member of the corps for the snow scene and “Waltz of the Flowers”. The latter two were roles usually danced by members of the professional company. She danced these roles over the course of 25 shows—sometimes performing all three in a single performance.

“It was amazing! I was really nervous, but it was such a good experience,” Talia says. “Getting to dance with the company was so cool… a dream come true.”

YOUTH AMERICA GRAND PRIX

In February 2019, Talia competed in Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) Semi-final competitions that took place at The Folly Theater here in KC. Out of more than 100 entries, she received 2nd place in the Senior Classical competition. She performed two works: Grand Pas Classique and Raymonda Variations. Quite a feat!

KANSAS CITY YOUTH BALLET

She is also a member of KCB School’s performance ensemble Kansas City Youth Ballet (KCYB). Talia will perform the Spartacus Pas de Deux as part of their April 4-6 program at the Bolender Center. She will also dance a variation during Esmeralda, which is title work.

THE FUTURE

Talia feels she’s definitely gotten stronger since she started dancing at Kansas City Ballet School. Her dream is to be a professional dancer in a ballet company someday. She’s already accepted a spot as a Trainee here in KC for the 2019-2020 season.

2018-19 Trainee Profile: Georgia Fuller

2018-2019 KC Ballet Trainee and Second Company Member Georgia Fuller. Photography by Savanna Daniels.

When she’s not writing poetry or busy buying fun socks, Georgia Fuller is honing her skills as a Trainee and member of Kansas City Ballet’s Second Company. Originally from Cincinnati, this is her second season as a Trainee.

Q: WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT BALLET?

A: I love the expression and the hard work required for ballet. It is the only art form that requires you to do crazy things with your body, but look completely effortless on top. You have two jobs in Ballet—to not only be technically correct, but to also share real emotion with the audience. I love that about dance, having a connection with those who are watching you.

KCB Trainee Georgia Fuller dancing in the Snow Scene in "The Nutcracker" | Photography by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios
KCB Trainee Georgia Fuller dancing in the Snow Scene in “The Nutcracker” | Photography by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios

Q: WHAT QUESTION ARE YOU MOST ASKED ABOUT YOUR JOB?

A: A lot of people are curious about what we actually do as professional dancers—I think there’s definitely a misconception about the art form as a whole. I usually explain to people that while what I’m doing is somewhat unconventional, it’s still similar to any other 9 to 5 job. You work hard, put in the effort, and everything is taken seriously.

Q: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SNACK, STRETCH AND DANCE BAG ITEM? 

A: My favorite snack is almonds or veggies and hummus. My favorite stretch would definitely be anything to stretch out my deep six muscles because they are always sore! And my favorite dance bag item would be my tennis ball because I’m always needing it to roll out any knots or tight muscles.

Q: HOW DO YOU STAY FIT AND HEALTHY OUTSIDE OF THE STUDIO?

A: I take Pilates reformer lessons at least once a week, and I go to the gym frequently. I love exercising, so I make sure to include a lot of cardio and weight training into my routine

Q: WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED?

A: My dad once told me that in dance, there’s always someone better than you, and someone worse than you. It reminds me to keep pushing myself to grow more each day, but to always appreciate and acknowledge the progress that I’ve already made.

 

Top Photo by Savanna Daniels.

2018-2019 Dancer Profile: Gavin Abercrombie

Acton, Ca., native, Gavin Abercrombiejoined Kansas City Ballet in 2016 as a member of KCB II. In 2018 he was invited to become an apprentice for the company

Dancer Gavin Abercrombie in The Nutcracker | Photography by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios
Dancer Gavin Abercrombie in The Nutcracker | Photography by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios

Q: TELL US WHY YOU BECAME A DANCER?

A: My twin brother and I were always moving, so my mother enrolled us into a hip hop class. That Christmas my family went to see The Nutcracker and that made me want to sign up for my first ballet class. I was 8 years old. I’ve been doing it ever since.

Q: WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A PROFESSIONAL DANCER?

A: It’s an amazing experience. To be surrounded by so many people who share the same passion, and to be with an organization that allows us to be a part of so many different creative processes is truly something I’ll never take for granted.

Q: WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO WHEN YOU ARE NOT DANCING?

A: I love to hike. I grew up in a very outdoorsy family and would go hiking and camping very regularly. I love that hiking still has that very raw physical element to it, but I’m most in love in with the places that hiking allows me to to see and enjoy.

Q: WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE RECEIVED?

A: The best advice I’ve ever received was to be a bold presence in the studio and not be afraid to take chances. Coming out of the school and into a company is a scary change and it’s easy to hide yourself in the back. But if you have confidence in yourself and take some risks, you’ll find that it usually ends up opening amazing opportunities for you.

Top Photo by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios

Youth Ballet Alumni Choreograph New Works

Cameron Miller leads rehearsal with KCYB Dancers. | Photography by Andrea Wilson
Cameron Miller leads rehearsal with KCYB Dancers. | Photography by Andrea Wilson

Since 2009 Kansas City Youth Ballet (KCYB) has been the performing ensemble for Kansas City Ballet School (KCBS). For the first time ever, they will perform choreography created by former KCYB members— Maggie Andriani and Cameron Miller.

Cameron Miller (center) in the Spring 2013 KCYB show promotions | Photography by Brett Pruitt and East Market Studios
Cameron Miller (center) in the Spring 2013 KCYB show promotions | Photography by Brett Pruitt and East Market Studios

Both Andriani and Miller went on to major in dance at universities after graduating from their respective high schools, KCBS and KCYB. Andriani attended Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, Opera and Ballet Theater, and Miller went to The UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance. Andriani is now a member of Quixotic Cirque Nouveau and has toured with the group across the U.S. and internationally. Miller is a dancer with American Midwest Ballet (formerly Ballet Nebraska).

KCYB Experiences

Andriani remembers her experiences with KCYB and working with different choreographers fondly. She says it was constantly changing and always challenging. Working on classical variations, partnering and contemporary works allowed these younger dancers a safe space to make mistakes and learn from them on and off the stage.

“Taking ballet class is one thing but KCYB was that bridge between student and professional,” Miller says. “It was our chance to perform bigger name ballets.”

Maggie Andriani as Odette in Swan Lake for KCYB's Spring 2014 performances. | Photo by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.
Maggie Andriani as Odette in Swan Lake for KCYB’s Spring 2014 performances. | Photo by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.

When she watches old DVDs from the performances, Andriani admits her dancing is far from perfect. “But I could see myself growing as a dancer every year. My favorite memory was dancing the white swan pas from Swan Lake with Cameron, rehearsed by Hyuk Ku Kwon. Kwon taught me so much about the importance of the tiniest movements making a big impact. Cameron and I were definitely challenged with the stamina and when we finally got to perform it for our last senior show it was really emotional in a happy way,” she says.

The Opportunity

“I was happy when Kim [KCYB Director Kimberly Cowen] reached out to me because choreographing is something I started to become interested in during college, when we had a choreographic class,” Andriani says. “At Quixotic, sometimes we have choreographers come in to set pieces, but much of the time the other dancers and I collaborate to create our own pieces. So slowly I’ve been getting more experience. It’s something I’d like to continue doing, and I’m glad to have the opportunity at my former studio!”

When Cowen asked Miller about choreographing, it was after she’d attended his senior capstone performance at The Conservatory where he’d choreographed one of his own pieces.

Miller now teaches at competition dance schools in the evenings where he is building up his choreography chops.

“I have a degree in performance and choreography. That’s my end game—becoming a choreographer,” he says. “Creative, innovative, growing my own voice. I love the process. It’s fulfilling to have a piece of you out there at the end. It’s your baby.”

He is grateful for this opportunity and excited to see where he’ll go from here.

Cameron Miller | David K. Pugh Photography
Cameron Miller | David K. Pugh Photography

CAMERON Miller’s Work

Miller believes one voice can change the world. It’s an important message with younger generations. It’s one he admits he struggles with at times. “I hone in on that theme a lot with them,” he says.

He describes this work as taking place in a post-apocalyptic setting, grounded down to Earth where one thing motivates the next—a sort of structured improv. “It’s what I would have wanted to try at their age,” he says. His contemporary sock ballet is set on 17 dancers (14 women and 3 men) with 15 corps dancers and one featured couple.

The music is a subtle contemporary piano piece. “There’s a sorrow, a sadness and it’s full of emotion,” Miller says. “The undertone of strength and passion… I’ve been wanting to use it for a while now. “

“I hope that the students learn there’s a world outside of classical ballet. Don’t get me wrong. I love ballet. It’s wonderful. But I want them to know more styles because dancers need them, too, in many companies,” Miller says. “I also want them to know becoming a choreographer is an option someday.”

Maggie Andriani
Maggie Andriani

MAGGIE Andriani’s Work

Andriani’s biggest inspiration lately has been strong feminine voices, such as the recent rise in diverse women elected into office, and all of the strong women of the #metoo movement, including dancers in certain companies. So, she was really excited she’d be choreographing for 10 girls. The music she chose is from a very old, rarely performed Vivaldi opera called “Nisi Dominus”. “I liked the strong, singular female vocalist. She sounds haunting but also very powerful,” she says.

Her goal is for her choreography to show that femininity can be powerful and capable, but still beautiful. And she hopes the girls can start to realize the inner beauty in every single dancer. She believes unique beauty is the defining nature of their artistry, and they should own it! Andriani wants them to realize the power in their voice as dancers, because she feels like that voice has always been somewhat suppressed. She hopes to work in more collaborative, inclusive spaces.

“We’re almost done with the piece, so I’m eager to finish and spend the remaining rehearsals on details and movement quality. The girls have been really great in working with me on trying new things that I know are somewhat out of their comfort zone. We’re all learning a lot together,” Andriani says.

KCYB Performances April 5-7, 2019

The program features multiple ballets including Esmeralda, Spartacus pas de deux and brand new works by Maggie Andriani and Cameron Miller. Tickets go on sale March 1 here.