Learning and Pliés Never Stop
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Teachers’ Seminar
18-21 April 2012
by Dean Speer
One of the most important, yet unstated, benefits of attending professional enrichment activities such as workshops and seminars is connecting with colleagues. Sure, the classes are undeniably valuable, providing technical information, insight, and inspiration. But to me, rekindling friendships and meeting new colleagues is zesty and provides a shot in the arm that energizes and sustains. Another benefit is having our work – and by extension, careers – validated. This comes not only from the attendees but also the presenters and those staffing and supporting the event.
21 teachers from around the U.S. gathered in the spacious, efficient, and very well-planned state-of-the-art ballet studios of Pacific Northwest Ballet for a four-day Teachers’ Seminar, 18-21 April 2012. Welcomed into the Jane Davis Board Room with fresh coffee, name tags, and packets, we began each morning with an 8 a.m. Pilates class, followed by a demonstration of PNB School’s syllabus for their first four levels. Later, we climbed into class to do and experience these very levels.
Artistic Director Peter Boal and Principal Dancer Carrie Imler gave a terrific presentation on teaching pirouettes, with some excellent demonstration by students, including two men and four women from their Professional Division. Also special were watching Mr. Boal give a technique class one day to the combined PD levels (there are two), Bruce Wells leading us through his process of creating story ballets for students, and a session with members of their Marketing team where the primary focus was how the use of social media, such as Facebook, can aid in promoting studios and informing clients. A session on nutrition and the psychological issues students sometimes face was most interesting.
Mr. Boal is really pushing and elevating the technical level – which was already quite high. Still relatively fresh from his long performing career with New York City Ballet, Boal is very able to demonstrate fully what he wants, not only in terms of steps but also entire sequences and timings. Valuable too is his storehouse of knowledge. Coming up with combinations and things to engage the students comes easily to him – at least that’s the appearance. I’m sure he probably plans classes like the rest of us but each exercise flows out of him quickly and either without, or with very little, pause. He comments and observations to the students are sagacious.
Marjorie Thompson gave a terrific pointe demonstration for upper division students – PD and Levels 7 and 8, which began with the four PD students performing an excerpt from Balanchine’s 1973 tribute to the retiring Melissa Hayden, “Cortège Hongrois.” Filled with fast, character dance flavored motifs, it was most impressive and brightly danced by the students. Thompson then walked us through quite a number of exercises that both build and challenge these high level students.
The colleague with whom I attended, Kim Dinsmoor, from Dance! West Seattle was experiencing her first teachers' seminar and it was fun and satisfying to hear more than once how something we learned or experienced was worth the price of admission.
Bonuses included a tour of the facility, meeting staff along the way; touring throughout the bowels of the next door opera house; and enjoying the Company’s performance of Boal’s staging of the later version of “Apollo” and of Kent Stowell’s “Carmina Burana.”
All too soon, this triennial event was over and we said ‘good-bye’ and thank you as we headed back to our respective studios, renewed and refreshed.