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Young ballerinas dance with New York City Ballet

Young ballerinas dance with New York City Ballet

Girls get rare opportunity to perform on big stage with professionals
Young ballerinas dance with New York City Ballet
New York City Ballet dancer Sara Mearns, kneeling, is joined by young ballerinas in "Mozartiana" Tuesday night at SPAC.
Photographer: peter r. barber

When the curtain goes up today at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, dancers like Clara Law may have a few butterflies in their stomachs, but she's hoping all the audience will see is their graceful steps. 

“The choreography is beautiful,” Law said. 

Law, a 12-year-old Charlton resident, is one of nearly 50 young ballerinas who will join the New York City Ballet during the company’s residency at SPAC. The majority of the young ballerinas will perform in “Coppélia,” while only a few students will perform with the company in “Mozartiana.” 

It’s a rare opportunity, especially because the NYCB only allows dancers from the School of American Ballet to join them on their home stage, and even then, they can’t always accept students from the school, said Dena Abergel, the children’s ballet master. 


However, things at SPAC are different. Abergel has been coming up to Saratoga Springs to audition and train local ballerinas for the last decade. Hundreds of young dancers, from all different stylistic backgrounds, auditioned back in March. She got a sense of their skill level and their learning style, which varied from dancer to dancer. 

It’s one of the challenges in teaching so much material within a matter of weeks. Some students come not knowing the french terms for the steps, others come not knowing how to take stage direction. When rehearsals began on June 30, there was a lot for the ballerinas to soak in. 

“The first few days are the hardest,” Abergel said. 

“Coppélia” is also a challenging ballet to learn, as it combines the French Romantic and Russian Classical styles. Abergel describes it as a very classical ballet, with choreography that relies on strong technique. The sequences are longer than most young dancers are used to. 

“They’re on stage for 14 minutes,” Abergel said, adding, “They need to have a long memory.”

At first, they rehearsed four hours a day, six days a week. However, as of last week, they were running through the dance so well that their rehearsal time was cut down.

“I think it’s amazing,” Law said. Its her third year being on stage with the NYCB at SPAC and she said she’s learned a lot from Abergel, not just in terms of the dance for “Coppélia” but in her own technique. 

Natalie Mann, an 11-year-old from Clifton Park, also said she’s learned from the intense dance rehearsals. She’s been dancing for the last seven years, both at Dance Works of Troy and at the School of the Arts Saratoga. While the auditions were intimidating, she’s found that rehearsals are fun and challenging. 

“You have to remember the choreography,” Mann said, adding, “Spacing is always tough.”

It’s all worth it though, especially for a chance to meet and dance with the NYCB.

“I love the New York City Ballet,” Mann said. She’s especially excited to meet dancers Megan Fairchild and Ashley Bouder. 

Other dancers, like Avery Walz of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are just excited to be on stage. 

“When I’m dancing, I just feel happy,” Walz said. She and her mom, Kate, have been staying in the area since rehearsals began. 

“This is an unbelievable opportunity,” Kate said. 

She’ll be dancing in “Mozartina,” which is a more intimate ballet, featuring only four ballerinas, including Amelia Blackwood of Wappinger Falls. She’s been dancing for most of her life and said that training for the role over the last month or so has been nothing short of great. 

Blackwood and Walz are on stage with the principal ballerinas for around eight minutes. 
They performed on opening night and they’ll also be performing at 2 p.m. today. 

Shortly before rehearsal last Friday, Walz said she was a bit nervous for the performance as were many others.

One ballerina, Hannah Barber, didn’t share their butterflies.  

At 10 years old, the Greenfield Center ballerina is one of the youngest in the group, but she's not nervous for the upcoming performance.  

According to her mom, Denise, she’s not one to shy away from the stage. 
“She can’t even walk without doing a dance,” Barber said. Hannah practices at home, even after rehearsals are done for the day, and she was let down when rehearsal time was cut; not only because of her love of dance but because it meant less time with the other ballerinas. 

“They all really clicked,” Barber said. 

It might explain why they were able to learn the dance so quickly and why they’re feeling so prepared for Thursday’s performance of “Coppélia.” The young ballerinas will also be a part of Friday’s and Saturday’s performance. For more info visit spac.org.  

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