The World Dances last spoke with Ballet in the City founder Jessica Wallis last fall about her mission “to show that ballet can be meaningful in some way, big or small, to every person.” Since then, and in partnership with Ballet West’s Allison DeBona, Ballet in the City has been making grand jetés forward in delivering artistry-focused ballet education with the artEmotion Summer Intensive. This month, The World Dances caught up with Jessica and Allison about Ballet in the City, the summer program, advice for students embarking on summer intensives, and more. (Photo credit: Alexis Ziemski @lenscapekid for @KeepBalletAlive)
Since we last spoke, what has been happening with Ballet in the City?
Ballet in the City has been hard at work! We presented a show at The Kennedy Center in March, and also presented the debut of “A Ballerina's Legacy” with Sonia Rodriguez, a principal with National Ballet of Canada. Sonia and I produced the show together, which was very fulfilling. Allison and I have also been planning next year's season with Ballet in the City, as we are planning to work closely with her, her fiancé Rex Tilton, and some other wonderful artists from Ballet West. Ballet in the City even has its own scholarship for dancers of color and Ballet West dancers Joshua Whitehead and Gabrielle Salvatto are its ambassadors this year. Allison is on the scholarship committee. The recipient receives a full scholarship to The artEmotion Summer Intensive.
Please tell us about your summer program. What is the general mission? How long has it been going? Who are the teachers?
The artEmotion Summer Intensive is a unique summer program—not like any other program available. We focus on artistry in tandem with technique. Even our very youngest students who are 8 years old are encouraged to explore epaulement, character, and to approach and execute steps like an artist. We want to show young dancers that they need to begin cultivating what sets them apart from everyone else.
We are in our second year. Last year we presented the two-week intensive in Cleveland. We have expanded to a 6-day program in Detroit. Returning this year are of course Allison (Ballet West first soloist) and myself (executive director of Ballet in the City), as well as Rex Tilton (Ballet West Principal), Gabriel Gaffney-Smith (dancer at Ballet Met), Inna Stabrova and Dmitriy Tuboltsev (co-directors of the Ohio Conservatory of Ballet), Erik "Cheeto" Zito (of Ballet in the City's Guys Dance Too program), and Marden Ramos (former dancer with Complexions and Ballet Nacional de Cuba). This year we welcomed Beckanne Sisk (Ballet West Principal), Katlyn Addison (Demi-Soloist with Ballet West), and Adrienne Canterna (founder of Bad Boys of Ballet). And this year, thanks to Adrienne Canterna, we have the entire cast of The Bad Boys of Ballet in residence for the full six days in Detroit!
How did the two of you come together to co-direct the program?
Allison and I have had a relationship since the very first episode of Breaking Pointe when I sent her a Tweet asking if she would come teach a master class in Cleveland and she jumped right on it. She was the first professional dancer I ever worked with. She and I connected on both personal and business levels. Allison and I are both go-getters and business-minded women with a passion for ballet, so it was a natural connection. After she came to teach for us a couple of times, I knew that she had a special gift for connecting with young dancers and a solid grasp on technique and artistry. She said she wanted to create a summer program, our business model allowed us the structure to move forward on it, so she and I being who we are met-up in Cleveland and then Pittsburgh and mapped out the dream that has become the reality of The artEmotion Summer Intensive!
Who is the ideal student for artEmotion Summer Intensive?
That's part of what makes The artEmotion Summer Intensive unique. This program is really for anyone who wants to become a better dancer and artist, and who loves dance. We even have an Adult Ballet program for 6 days in Detroit where adults come at night to dance and work on choreography to be performed at the in-studio performance with the young dancers. We embrace everyone into this program who has a love of dance and is willing to work hard.
What are the biggest challenges in directing a summer intensive? And the greatest rewards?
The biggest challenge is just to organize seven million details with an administrative staff of two (Allison and myself) and one incredible assistant, Lauren Sprowls, a dancer herself, and who is also teaching jazz for the program this year. We all are very driven women with multi-faceted careers. Trying to balance the year-round maintenance that the intensive takes is always daunting, but we do it because we love it and know our program is unique and important. The biggest rewards are the moments in class when you see a student respond to what you are helping them learn and you know they understand because they show you and do exactly what you ask. Even the youngest dancers are doing this because of our approach to dance instruction. It really validates our approach with this program! It is also rewarding when parents tell us what a good time their dancer is having and how much they love the program.
What advice would you offer students in selecting a summer program?
Burgeoning dancers of any age have to pick a program that they are going to get the most from--not just because of the 'name' of the school. Dancers need to think about the real reason they are choosing a summer program, not just because it's a big name school, or if they ultimately want to get into the company associated with the school. The artEmotion Summer Intensive works with a lot of dancers from Ballet West, but no one should choose our program just because they want to get into that company. What are they lacking in their dancing that a particular intensive can truly help them with? If young dancers are looking to grow as individual artists and looking for teachers who will really spend time with them and challenge them, then artEmotion is the program for them. We add that special, personal touch to everything we do.
Allison and I both have some exciting things coming up that we want people to stay tuned for, so they can follow us on Instagram and Twitter at @allidebona & @balletincity! Also, for more about The artEmotion Summer Intensive, follow @artemotionUSA.