July 22, 2015

Two Ballet “Summer Intensives” Take Place Right Here in Princeton


Each summer, serious ballet students across the country take advantage of their time off from academics to shift their training schedules into high gear. Instead of a few classes a week, they take a few classes a day — six days a week.

Summer Intensives, as they are known, are the students’ chance to ramp up technique and try different dance styles. Princeton is home to two such programs, both of which attract aspiring dancers locally and from across the world. At Princeton Ballet School (PB) in the Shopping Center and Princeton Dance and Theater Studio at Forrestal Village, students spend a good chunk of their summer vacations at the barre with an impressive roster of teachers, some of whom are ballet stars of the past.

“I see massive improvements in students after an intensive,” says Risa Kaplowitz, founder/director of Princeton Dance and Theater Studio, where this summer’s faculty included former American Ballet Theatre principal dancers Susan Jaffe and Cynthia Gregory, former Pennsylvania Ballet artistic director Roy Kaiser, and former Paris Opera Ballet and San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Karin Averty. Sarah Hay, who danced with the Dresden Semperoper Ballett in Germany and is the leading actress on the Starz network series Flesh and Bone, led a master class.

Ms. Hay is also on the impressive roster of teachers at Princeton Ballet School, which is affiliated with American Repertory Ballet (ARB) and has been offering summer programs for more than three decades. Ms. Hay is one of three alumni of the school to give master classes this summer. The others are Unity Phelan, now with the New York City Ballet; and Michael Mindlin, who is in the Broadway show Aladdin. Renee Brown, new to the program this year, taught Afro-Brazilian samba. Students at the PB program take regular classes with ARB’s artistic director Douglas Martin and resident choreographer Mary Barton, as well as Maria Youskevitch, Kathleen Moore, Kirk Peterson, and Trinette Singleton — all notable dancers of the past.

Mary Pat Robertson, the school’s director, said the summer program has “a very intellectual, thoughtful approach to technique.” Once a week, she gives a class in body mechanics, designed to show the students how to look at structural issues. “They can use this time to step back from regular classes and integrate everything they’re being taught,” she said. “We encourage them to reflect on what they’re getting here, to understand how technique works. I want them to be teenagers but also be very mature learners, simultaneously.”

Princeton Dance and Theatre School has 32 students at its Summer Intensive. The dancers live in dormitories at The Lawrenceville School. Princeton Ballet School’s program has 100 aspiring dancers, 60 of whom live in dormitories at Princeton University or with local families. The remainder are locally based. Both programs select participants through auditions.

The two schools take advantage of Princeton’s proximity to New York. Princeton Dance and Theater students went to Lincoln Center to see American Ballet Theatre’s production of Cinderella, and Princeton Ballet School is taking its dancers to see the dance-focused Broadway musical An American in Paris.

They also get their own performance opportunities. This Friday, June 24 at 1 p.m., Princeton Dance and Theater students will perform excerpts from the classical ballet Coppelia and other works at the Kirby Arts Center on the Lawrenceville School campus. Tickets, available at the door, are $10. Princeton Ballet School’s Summer Intensive students will appear at McCarter Theatre’s Berlind Theatre on Friday, July 31, 6:30 p.m. in original works by Ms. Barton, Janell Byrne, and others, as well as staged excerpts. Limited tickets will be available through the website arballet.org.

“The intensives are so important because the students are getting information they might not be getting elsewhere,” Ms. Kaplowitz said. “Every teacher is different and has an individual approach. During the school year, the students are balancing so much. This is a time when they can do six classes a day, six days a week. You have to put in the time to get the benefits, and this is where you can do just that.”