From the moment Artistic Director Iain Webb joined the Sarasota Ballet six years ago, part of his agenda was to bolster and improve the educational arm of the company in an effort to create a breeding ground for future dancers.
A giant step toward that goal took place last August with the creation of the Margaret Barbieri Conservatory of Dance — named for Webb's wife, a former principal with the Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet and the company's assistant artistic director — an eight-year training program for ballet students with serious professional aspirations.
Judging by a first comprehensive public showing Monday night by the conservatory's 14 current students, Webb is well on his way to creating generations of home-grown talent that will serve the company well for years to come. The dancers, who range in age from 12 to 18, were joined by the company's nine trainees, who are part of a separate two-year program that allows them to train, rehearse and sometimes perform with members of the main company.
In a well-balanced program of traditional classical variations and contemporary works choreographed by staff, company dancers and the trainees themselves, the students evidenced the results of detailed and disciplined technical training, as well as an effort toward fostering individual artistic expression.
There were too many commendable performances to note here, but among the up-and-coming talents were Olivia Ratner, 11, partnered by Eddie Duffy in a tiny tots version of the pas de deux from "Satanella"; Ashlynn Rutherford, leading a quartet of young toreros in the Mercedes role from "Don Quixote"; and Allison Forsythe, Nikki Jennings, Rachel Silverman and Caitlin Gish, partnered by trainees Yamil Maldonado and Isaac Jones and company dancers Sam O'Brien and David Hochberg in an intriguing contemporary premiere by Riccardo Graziano called "Feira de Castro."
Raw talent is one thing — and there was plenty of it on display — but nurturing it is critical in these early stages. So credit is especially due to the staff, which includes the conservatory's principal teachers/coaches, Isabel and Javier Dubrocq; Sherri Kitchens, principal teacher for the trainees; Pavel Fomin, the company's ballet master; Dex Honea, educational director for the Sarasota Ballet School and, of course, Barbieri, who oversees the entire operation and sets the critical high standard.
Students of the conservatory participate in a daytime training program while simultaneously completing at least three hours daily of academics online or through home schooling. A wide-ranging and comprehensive curriculum includes instruction in ballet technique, pointe, pas de deux, contemporary, character, Pilates, music, injury prevention and nutrition.
Webb and Barbieri are currently working to create a program that will allow older students to use their training and studies toward a college degree.
Aspiring professionals are eligible to audition for the company's trainee program at the age of 16, but must continue working toward a high school degree if they have not already obtained one. Trainees are afforded opportunities to perform with the company and also with the company's outreach program, Dance — Next Generation, throughout the year.
Students of the Margaret Barbieri Conservatory of Dance: Eddie Duffy, Frankie Duffy, Allison Forsyth, Caitlin Gish, Carter Gish, Nikki Jennings, Courtney Joseph, Darren Liu, Yamil Maldonado, Juliet Noble, Olivia Ratner, Rachel Silverman, Sasha Silverman, Ashlynn Rutherford and Anna Zimmerman.
Sarasota Ballet Trainees: Nadine Barton, Bridgid Duffin, Clio Flikkema, Rachel Goldberg, Isaac Jones, Lisa Jonston, Alexandra Lake, Beth Ward and Victoria Bew.