Its indeed a bold move to start a new ballet company in this economy in which funding for the arts has been, for the most part, slashed to pieces. Thats why its so amazing and wonderful that Straz Centers Patel Conservatory is now home to a brand new ballet company Next Generation Ballet (NGB).
I spoke with Wendy Leigh, the Patel Conservatory's vice president of education, and with Peter Stark, chair of the dance department. Both were beaming with pride over their new creation.
CL: What was your impetus for starting a ballet company?
WL: The ballet has been expanding by leaps and bounds since we started the partnership several years ago with Orlando Ballet School with Peter Stark at the helm. With his coming over full-time as chair of the dance department, he brought with him great initiatives and vision that he wanted to put into action. One of them was to have an apprentice company to enable the advanced level students to train here. He really wanted them to have professional level experience.
This is modeled after the New World Symphony in Miami Beach that is composed of young performers producing a high quality product. Next Generation Ballet will be a youth company, but all of Ballet is a youth company. Peter started his career at 17 and the up-and-coming dancers go right from high school into a company.
Its going to be a launching point and its allowing us to raise the bar, production-wise in a state-of-the-art facility. It gives our students the carrot dangling at the end of the string: 'This could be me one day.' For them to be able to be rehearsing and performing on the same stage as professional dancers is so inspirational, its very different from taking a class in a traditional dance studio where you may be getting very fine training, but youre not going to be exposed to the brilliance that were able to bring to this facility.
CL: What is the audition process for the company?
PS: We have three separate tiers. We have our Guest Artists who are international stars, comparable to the process for Opera Tampa, our sister organization here. Then we have the Apprentice dancers who have been recruited from around America and eventually the world. Ive hand selected most of the apprentices. Then we have Trainee slots for which we are primarily auditioning local students, but we did have many students from out of the area, in fact we have four families who have moved here in order to allow their students to participate.
In the 2010-2011 season, NGB will feature eight apprentice dancers, 12 trainee dancers and the finest students from the Patel Conservatory Youth Ballets 250-member student body. Guest artists from New York City Ballet and Boston Ballet will also perform with NGB.
Our inaugural performance will be The Nutcracker in December. Other shows planned include A Midsummer Nights Dream.
CL: Do you have any public outreach planned for this project?
WL: We do that on an ongoing basis. We have partnerships with certain organizations: title one schools, arts-focused schools, Boys and Girls Clubs. We go to Wimauma to give classes to migrant workers. The list is endless. We are starting our third year of doing ongoing curriculum of ballet at Metropolitan Ministries partnership schools. The homeless kids in the title one schools get the same high quality of ballet training that our students have here, in their classroom for a PE credit. Some who have shown some promise have come over and participated in classes here. Theyve performed in The Little Mermaid and in our Junior Intensive. That program will only continue to expand. Also, we gave out 200-400 tickets to those youths to our Orlando Nutcracker performance, and we expect that to continue this year.
CL: Do the students in the program attend a regular school?
PS: Im of the belief that more is more. Every major ballet school, dance is emphasized. The children start dancing at 10:00 a.m. then theres a break for academics, and they have more dancing later in the day. We have a partnership with Tampa Prep and with Home School Education. The students do need to adjust their academic schedules around their balletic schedules, and they are able to do that in this program.
CL: When will the Next Generation Ballet class program start?
WL: The program starts on Monday. There will be a second audition on September 11th. Classes begin on Monday, but we do have ongoing enrollment. I believe that we have the finest program in the nation, and its such a treasure to have it here in Tampa.
CL: Even though there have been some good ballet companies in Tampa in the past, we have never had one of this magnitude. I truly I cant wait to see one of the performances. Let the magic begin!
For more information call 813.222.1002 or visit www.patelconservatory.org.