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Volume 24, Number 10 — November 2017

Kingsport Ballet provides instruction and performances for 32 years

Emma Brown as Clara in Kingsport Ballet's
Emma Brown as Clara in Kingsport Ballet's "The Nutcracker" in 2014 (Photo by Earl Carter)

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | March 30, 2015

Kingsport Ballet has operated in downtown Kingsport, Tennessee for 32 years. Bertina Dew has been manager for 16 years and Valeria Sinyavskaya has been artistic director for 13 years. The organization provides instruction in all forms of dance, specializing in full-length ballets, such as "Swan Lake, "Giselle" and "The Sleeping Beauty." "Swan Lake" is performed April 10-12 at the Toy F. Reid Auditorium in the Eastman Employee Center.

Other performances remaining in the season include their fundraiser, "Ballet and Bubbly" at the Hibbert Davis Coffee Company in Kingsport, May 9. The event features original choreography, live music and a silent auction. The company offers a Dance Movement Spring Concert, May 3 and a Spring Concert Showcase, May 21. There will be a summer intensive camp June 8-27, with a showcase performance June 27.

A typical season features four productions, two of which are full-length ballets. The other two are showcases featuring dancers in the school. They also stage several smaller performances for a total of eight to 10 performance opportunities within a year. The ballets are chosen based on the composition of the company and available resources. The choreography for full-length classical ballets is set by Sinyavskaya following traditional, original choreography. "Any adaptations are made by the artistic director," Dew says. Teachers or guest artists choreograph contemporary pieces.

The company also offers a yearly summer intensive with guest artists joining their own instructors. Classes are provided to all levels of dancers. Advanced students receive instruction in pointe and variations, partnering, contemporary, jazz, yoga and nutrition.

During the summer intensive, several guest male teachers spend three weeks working with students on choreography, partnering and performance preparation. KB's numerous guest artists represent companies around the country and abroad. Guest artists are selected based on the requirements of the production and spend anywhere from several days to several months working with students.

"Bringing in approximately 15-25 guest artists each year affords tremendous benefit to our students and provides exceptional professional opportunities to our regional community," Dew says. "Typically, this enables advanced students to dance lead partnering roles often reserved for professionals."

Students can start in the lower school with preparatory ballet when they are 5 to 6 years old; dance movement classes are available for 3-4 year olds. Mommy and Me classes are offered for toddlers and moms. KB provides a full array of adult fitness classes, such as yoga, tai chi, Zumba, Pilates, adult ballet and barre toning.

When dancers enter intermediate and advanced classes, which include pointe work and company productions, they often take class four to six days each week plus rehearsals. Because the school uses the Vaganova syllabus through all levels of the school, students joining the company have had consistent instruction, which makes staging ballets requiring cohesive corps work very achievable, according to Dew.

The Vaganova method is a ballet technique and training system devised by the Russian dancer and teacher Agrippina Vaganova. It fuses elements of traditional French style from the romantic era with the athleticism and virtuosity of Italian technique. The training system is designed to involve the whole body in every movement, with equal attention paid to the upper body, legs and feet.

The school has an in-house physical therapist who educates students about injury prevention and provides instruction on cross-training, strengthening and minor injury correction. "We also offer private instruction to students who need help fine-tuning their technique in order to avoid injuries and facilitate the use of their bodies in a healthy and correct way during classes. We also offer nutrition instruction, which further arms students to be healthy and strong," Dew says.

Kingsport Ballet doesn't stay within the confines of its building. "We have two substantial outreach programs, Dance Co and Move 1 and 2," says Dew. "Dance Co is in its 12th year and provides dance instruction free of charge to at-risk youth year round. The program is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the East Tennessee Foundation, the City of Kingsport and the Tennessee Arts Commission's Funds for At Risk Youth. Move 1 and 2 is in its third year, and provides free, on-going fitness and nutrition instruction to underserved children. Both programs are through a partnership with local Boys and Girls Clubs. Through these programs we endeavor to change lives and equip young people to live richer, happier and healthier lives."

To see if their dance programs were having an effect, Dew says that they evaluated their graduates last year and "their overwhelmingly common response was to acknowledge that it is often after graduation that they fully understand the high quality of the training they receive here, the great performance opportunities and the lasting friendships. All of the dancers also reported gaining some of their most valued life lessons from growing up with ballet training at Kingsport Ballet: a strong worth ethic which directly impacted their varied futures, commitment and perseverance, personal responsibility, gaining knowledge about arts and culture, the importance of paying attention to detail, and working through something, no matter how difficult, until success is reached."

KB graduates have gone on to dance professionally as well as in college dance companies such as those at Butler University, Wake Forest, University of Utah, Fordham University and Alvin Ailey, among others. Their students are routinely accepted to summer intensives with Kirov Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, Alvin Ailey, Gelsey Kirkland Academy, Houston Ballet and others.

Several KB students have been recipients of college dance scholarships, two of those being the Presidential Scholarship for Distinguished Achievement in Dance at Wake Forest University. Graduates have been hired to teach dance at various schools around the country, and one student became a professional ballroom dancer. Many of their graduates have studied and done internships in France, England, Germany, Peru and China. "We find that almost all of our graduates are highly successful at their careers, no matter what they pursue," Dew says.

Although the organization has multiplied its operational budget almost six times and more than doubled its student base, as a nonprofit its biggest challenge is still fundraising. But Dew prefers to focus on the rewards.

"The rewards are many, but one of the greatest is watching children develop into well-rounded young adults, creative, expressive, well-adjusted and with a strong foundation in classical dance. They take with them a suitcase full of great performance experiences and instruction by some of the best teachers available. Another major reward has been watching the organization grow into a solid and well-respected company in the Southeast, which attracts students to relocate to study with us," she says.