San Francisco Ballet’s Student Midterm Showcase 2019

While Nutcrackers across America are debuting, and leading principals take the stage as the Sugar Plum Fairy, dozens of young hopeful students showcased their budding talent at the San Francisco Ballet School’s Midterm Showcase. San Francisco Ballet School is arguably one, if not the best, classical ballet school in the United States. With their dazzling alumni that fill the ranks of numerous companies across the world, this past Wednesday (December 4), the school once again showcased their power, presence, and dedication to their students.

Held on level four of the San Francisco Ballet Building, eager parents, proud teachers and younger students huddled together to watch the show. You are going to have to excuse this review as they didn’t provide programs or names, and I didn’t want to type on my phone while Patrick was giving his talk prior to the show. So, I am going to try to do it justice, but I want to preface something before I go into the dancing:

My partner, Latino, and I Asian, were probably two of maybe 9 people of color in the room. It was quite sad, and while he has attended numerous performances with me, he was shocked that everyone was so white. I explained to him that ballet is trying to change, and those who are ethnic are probably foreigners so their parents couldn’t come. Meanwhile, the white privilege in the room was at an all-time high and the snarky comments from parents about the politics of the school and ongoings were at an all-time high. He who doesn’t know anything about ballet couldn’t help himself but laughing, saying that it is worse than watching Dance Moms. But let’s not distract from why we flew in… to watch the next generation of hopeful dancers take flight. 

Instagram @SFBALLETSCHOOL: San Francisco Ballet School Trainees // ©️ Chris Hardy

The evening opened with a trainee piece featuring seven of the trainees. It was sort of a comedy tutu ballet. It involved a romantic pas de deux, a pas de trois of boys being boys with a girl who was starving for attention, and a very bravura pas de deux that included Prix Candidate Yu Wakizuka who served some impressive jumps, turns and everything bravura. He definitely was the most entertaining to watch, technically. Meanwhile, from the pas de trois, Gregory Myles was beyond charming. And from the pas de deux, the super tall Anicet Marandel, a Paris Opera Ballet School graduate was tall and nice looking, while the girl he partnered was clean. Overall, the theme was cheesy, and was set to a very Character/Hungarian sounding piece of music. I probably should know the music piece, but I don’t. 

The next piece was the Grand Pas De Deux (Pas de Dix) from the third act of Raymonda for the Level 8 students. This piece was clean and refined, the pas de deux skills shown by these students were refined and wonderful. Unfortunately, the lead couple really didn’t do anything for me or my partner. He leaned over and asked, “How did they pick her for the lead?” And truthfully, I didn’t know because the standout of that piece was Juliana Bellissimo, I even hunted her down to find her name. This wonderful dancer, formerly of the Paris Opera Ballet School, stepped out like a million dollars. Her long and scoopy legs had me at her tendu, her face and elegance were breathtaking. In this piece, there was a super tall Filipino boy, like SUUPER tall with amazing feet who was wonderful as well.

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The next piece was level 7 girls, in La Bayadere’s ACT II Waltz from Kingdom of the Shades. This piece was blossoming in talent and refinement and had numerously beautiful dancers to watch. It shows how much talent SFBS is cultivating. Then the boys from Level 7 (Giselle Peasant Pas De Deux Variation) and 8 (Raymonda Variation) did their pieces, which were super strong and impressive because watching that many young men dancing at that level were impressive. Their skills were great, and they are definitely refining their artistry and technique. It was quite impressive. Plus it was nice to see A Ballet Education/The Ballet Clinic’s Harrison Pickering dancing. He has improved so much! Harold Mendez, another Lausanne finalist excelled. The girls also did a variation from shades (third shade). Whoever did the staging for these variations deserves a huge shoutout because they were so well done and broken up. The fact that they turned a variation in a corps piece and made it look like an actual piece was impressive. Level 7 girls had a wonderful go about their Christmas Spectacular en pointe as well showcasing numerous Lausanne finalists including Basia Rhoden.

From Level 7 and 8 female pieces, the big standouts were two Asian females. The first is level 7’s Matoi Kawamoto, if the name sounds familiar, she was a part of the top 12 Pre-Comp NYC Finals from 2016. If you don’t remember that year, the top 12 was filled with Madison Penney, Kaylee Quinn, Isabella Kulmer, Avery Gay, Mao Yakushiji, and Reina Stamm. She was the shortest girl in the level but was so impressive. The second girl who is going to be a superstar in ballet was Lausanne finalist JiHyun Choi from Korea. With technique out the wazoo and an alien creature body, she was breathtakingly brilliant. Her body lines reminded me of YuanYuan while Miss Choi’s artistry and depth reminded me of Misa Kuranaga. 

I will say, I was happy to see a variety of body types and a variety of ethnicities in level 7 and 8. All of the girls were wonderful and strong, all are progressing and working hard. Some of the girls could be stretched, and they all could turn out in a la seconde more, but other than that. There wasn’t really much to complain about.

The evening concluded with the trainees performing a piece created for them by Dana Geneshaft. This piece was eloquently done and provided a large array of human emotions. The piece included six trainees. Three girls and three boys. Greg from the first piece was a repeat standout and very charming in this piece as well. Alexis Martinez also excelled in his main role. Of the three females, Olivia Brothers stood out as charming and authentic. Her dancing set her apart from the other two female soloists. Again, sorry with the names, or maybe better not to mention names, but the first female soloist in blue was rather boring and her performance fell flat. The purple female soloist was this wonderfully proportioned girl of color, but she lacked any interest, and also lacked turnout. My partner didn’t care about the turnout but found her to be a little flat as well. Meanwhile, Olivia, the soloist in Burgundy really excelled in both technique and artistry. 

As the evening concluded I could only ask myself some strange questions. With the amount of talent in the school, the company is over the next few years is going to drastically change and shift with these wonderfully powerful students on the up and coming. But they all can’t join the company, so that is scary, and I started to wonder, “Where will all these dancers go? Some of these girls who are 16 and 17 look company ready… how are they not trainees? How were the blue girl soloist and the pas de trois girl from the first piece trainees compared to these girls? Some of the level 7 and 8 boys were technically out-dancing the boys from the trainee program, so how does that work? It made me just wonder what the politics of the school were, and how it functioned… Like any school, there is always going to be drama… but how does one decide the fate and futures of such talented dancers.” 

This led me to be so inspired the rest of the night: Such wonderful young dancers being nurtured by such a great faculty, minus one. And how lucky they are to have been chosen to be at such an elite institution. 

Check out SFB’s Nutcracker where many of these students will be dancing with the company in the corps!

If you would like A Ballet Education to review your show, shoot us an e-mail or a press release here.

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Top 5 Ballet Boys/Mens Programs (US)

As featured in Issue 6: It is funny that people still think there is a lack of male dancers in the US industry right now. In my opinion, there is a huge surplus of them, but they are flocking to five schools for sure. Sure, back in the day there were a few boys here and there, but now there are budding programs all over the US for these young men. They even have their own summer intensive. Now in Europe, that is a different story because male dancers are coming out left and right. Instagram proves that time and time again.

top ballet schools for boys

So… where are all the boys heading to and why? 

  1. San Francisco Ballet School, Patrick Armand (San Francisco) / THE SFB school has always attracted some of the best boys in the world to come train. Not only are the creating insane technicians, but they also are able to help the young men find their inner artistry. The young men that graduate SFB are usually all very noble looking (that bravura dancer), clean, and strong. (Click here to learn more)
  2. Boston Ballet School Men’s Division, Peter Stark (Boston) /  While the School at Boston has flourished over the years, and with their new studio opening this year, Boston Ballet School has attracted numerous boys into their summer course, where they are recruited for the year. Their boys are usually on the leaner side and known for their pretty lines, good feet, and ease. (Click here to learn more)
  3. School of American Ballet, Kay Mazzo (NYC) The School of American Ballet turns out one type of boy, and that is the long-limbed Balanchine boy. This program is not for everyone, in fact, unless it is your dream to dance at NYCB, this is not the school for you. Again, it really only creates one type of boy, and that is a Balanchine boy. So, unless you are going to a strictly Balanchine/Contemporary Company… this isn’t the school for you. (Click here to learn more)
  4. Houston Ballet Academy, Claudio Muñoz, James Gotesky, boys Program (Houston) HBA has always been a school that a lot of young men head out to. But recently, with the help of social media, HBA has been showcasing their insane technicians and ferocious turners. The HBA creates some of the strongest men out there. (Click Here to Learn More)
  5. The Rock School, Bo and Stephanie Spassoff (Philadelphia) The Rock School is not shy when it comes to showcasing their boys and young men. A school that has been long affiliated with the YAGP, the Rock School turns out some of the best turners and jumpers out there. (Click here to learn more)

So, what does this even mean? It means that the caliber of male dancers right now is incredible. You have to jump and turn, have perfect turnout, be a great actor, and partner. The list goes on and on. But, the silver lining here, is that the quality of male dancers out there right now is beyond exceptional. Don’t get it wrong either, there are tons of schools out there offering great male programs. These programs are A Ballet Education’s top picks here in the US. If you aren’t at one of these schools, don’t freak out you can still have a career from another school.  If you want a chance to go to one of these schools, don’t forget to audition for their summer courses/intensives and then ask/apply to stay for the year.

Keep up the good training!
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These schools are my picks based on several factors included ratio of students to teachers, ratio of male to female students, scholarships awarded, size of the school, graduate placement, perceived value, cost of education, and company contracts. And before everyone gets crazy, I made it clear that 1. It was only US and 2. It is my opinion.

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The Big Ten (international schools)

If this was college football, well it isn’t. Haha. This is bigger than college football, this is ballet. Like football there are ten schools that everyone wants to get into. The only thing bigger than the school you get into, is the company you might dance for as an end result. In comparison, these are the Ivies of the ballet world, and you do have to have top marks to get in. Who are we kidding, you have to have everything to get in… Like the Ivy League list… there are three schools that will always compete for number one in the world. International, and probably the most historical, they are the prestigious Paris Opera Ballet School, the Vaganova School, and the Royal Ballet School. It is hard to say which one of these schools is actually the best, because they are completely different styles, and create very different dancers. 1. Paris Opera Ballet School or to be accurate, Ecole de l’Opera National de Paris, is actually the oldest. The school itself is impossible to get into, and because they are state subsidized like most companies, they can be extremely picky on who they take. Not only is the training ridiculous, but it is based on a points system, and only top marks move on. Now, the bigger question… Why don’t we see a lot of French dancers in the US? The answer is simple, they were made to dance for Paris Opera, and if they don’t get in, they usually don’t want to dance for another company…. Or if they do, it is usually a cutting edge ballet company with a contemporary flare. Paris Opera Dancers can be spotted a mile away for their impeccable control of turn out, their specific style of arms (very relaxed), and their calm attack to ballet.

paris opera ballet boys

2. The Vaganova School… The fact that a style is named after them, or pedagogy, it should say something. Like Paris Opera everything is based on the rigorous challenge of first getting in. At the entrance exams not only is the child looked at, but radiographs of their bones, and their parents’ bodies are taken into consideration. This is to guess height, hip width, etc. The school itself is notarious via youtube for broadcasting their graduating class exams, in which students perform the most ridiculous barre and center combinations you will ever see. Regardless, go Russia. This can be seen because it seems that in Russia, everyone has beyond 180 turn out, ridiculous extensions, the soft arabesque arm and most importantly they have the most glorious necklines.

vaganova school boys arabesque

3. The Royal Ballet School, conveniently and beautifully located at Covent Garden. (Well truth be told all of the schools mentioned above are housed at the most glamorous places in the city.) Royal Ballet also has their particular style and thought process behind ballet, don’t confuse this with RAD (Royal Academy of Dance). The Royal Ballet school is known to recruit students from the YAGP, VARNA, IBC, the Prix de Lusanne and so forth. Usually, if a dancer enters the school from a big competition win, they end up in the company. One of the prizes at the Prix de Lusanne happens to be a company spot at Royal Ballet. Royal ballet is known for softer and subtle arms, romantic like arabesque placement, and meatier legs compared to the the two prior. royal ballet school graduating class

Now… are has an American School taken place number 4? Nope, I think not.

4. The Rest of the Russian Schools, take place number 4. This includes Bolshoi State Academy and St. Petersberg academy. Russia has definitely turned out powerhouses and they are proud of it. We should be thankful to them, and be more grateful that they don’t all come over to the US and audition for jobs, because then everyone would be unemployed. Hahah.

5. CPYB, if you don’t know what that stands for it is because they aren’t attached to a company. It stands for the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Headed and founded by Marcia Del Weary, CPYB seems to have the most active principals from a school in the US. The training is impeccable, and anyone can go. If you have a young son or daughter, send them there for a summer. They don’t audition. They accept everyone and turn everyone into a powerhouse dancer. Look at a lot of current American Ballerina’s bios… They are probably from CPYB…

6. School of American Ballet, or the notorious SAB. Founded by Balanchine, and the school of New York City Ballet, this might be argued as one of the hardest schools to get into. And they are known for one thing, the Balanchine Aesthetic. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the school, like Vaganova, Royal and Paris Opera, there is a very specific style. How can you spot an Balanchine or SAB dancer? Their hands (the claw), their crazy turn out, the way they take their bow (they break to 3/4 pointe and turn in), and their aggressive attack on musicality. Most of the dancers from School of American Ballet will find a job in another Balanchine like company.

7. NBS, Canada’s National Ballet School, the feeder school to National Ballet of Canada. Housed at the newly remodeled Celia Franca Center, NBS is known for creating extremely artistic and articulate dancers. What is really nice about this school is their Post-Secondary education program. This program is for dancers who have already graduated from school but need that one or two years of refinement, strengthening, and preparation for company life. In the US we call it second companies, but in reality a second company is a free corps. This is an actual program for dancers to utilize.

8. The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, also known as JKO. It is a newer school compared to the rest. In fact it was founded in 2004. It is the school to American Ballet Theatre and headed by Franco De Vita. This school is ridiculously known for their bravura dancers. Like most American schools now, the emphasis on turns and jumps are stressed here. The JKO school partnered with ABT’s Misty Copeland have started Project Plie, a program to help young minorities get the training they need to succeed in the dance world.

9. San Francisco Ballet School, so it was a toss up between the following schools because each are incredible: San Francisco Ballet School, Pacific Northwest Ballet School, and Boston Ballet School. Each one is extremely unique and satisfying for any young dancer. It is also convenient that they are spread across the US. You might be thinking, well if you are going to group those schools you should also at Houston Ballet Academy, Miami City Ballet School, and maybe even Orlando Ballet School…. Wrong. You probably are thinking they are on the same level because their companies are on that same middle field. You are quite wrong. Their schools are incredibly different, and San Francisco, Boston and PNB are known for creating extraordinary dancers. Their dancers all are usually very classically based, with a touch of Balanchine in moderation. These schools push their kids extremely hard, and if they don’t join the company the actively seek work for them at other companies. ????????

10. Again, I have to lump these schools into a group because I like to call them the flashy schools. The Rock School for Dance Education and the Joffrey Ballet School. Both of these schools are very public and active in seeking students through the media. In addition, they strive for competitive edges in the ballet world. The Rock School probably has the most competitors at the YAGP, and usually they finish well. Joffrey actively seeks multi-faceted, and genre-versatile dancers into their school. So, there it is…. my Top Ten (ish) ballet schools in the world. I was going to include Denmark’s because of the Bournonville style, but realistically, the school doesn’t produce as many dancers as the others. I judge a school by the dancers they produce, the technique that they teach, and how many of their students go on to get jobs. That is the important thing here…