The Ellison Balletâ€”Professional Training Program
Edward Ellison, former soloist with the San Francisco Ballet and a guest with numerous international companies, established the Ellison Ballet—Professional Training Program in 2005. The year-long program allows for 10 to 15 students, ages 15 to 19. His unique teaching style incorporates the Vaganova technique, with etiquette, dance-history education and professionalism also playing large roles in the students’ education. DS got the scoop from this phenomenal teacher who is helping Emily—and all the Ellison Ballet students—reach their highest potential.
DS: What do you look for in a potential student?
Edward Ellison: Along with a natural sense of movement and expressiveness, I look for students who have a fire inside them, a love and passion for dance, and a hunger to learn. The willingness to go the extra mile to achieve excellence is a very desirable trait, as is an innate ability to physically express one’s self. Technique can be taught, but a true dancer is born. It’s a question of nurturing artistic talent, and not creating ballet machines.
DS: Why do you begin class with révérence?
EE: Beginning class with révérence is a beautiful ritual. It’s our way of honoring the art, the space in which it is practiced, the teacher, accompanist and fellow students, as well as preparing the body and mind to work.
DS: What’s the most important thing a serious ballet student needs to remember?
EE: The study of ballet is the study of a language. The goal is to develop the ability to freely express one’s self through the language of the body, which can only be done when one has learned the rules, and a mastery of its vocabulary has been achieved. No matter how accomplished you become, always know there is so much more to learn.
DS: What are the general requirements for admission?
EE: 1) A good sound classical base. 2) A strong, supple and open physique. 3) Intelligent and open mind. 3) Excellent self-discipline and willingness to immerse one’s self in the study of ballet. 4) Dedication to pursuing a professional ballet career.
DS: What is the purpose of the students memorizing the week’s class bit by bit? How do you help them do this?
EE: Repetition is a very important aspect when developing a strong and consistent technique. On Monday, my students learn the base of that week’s lesson, which they are expected to have memorized by the next day. On each day following, we repeat and build upon those elements learned. I have my students take notes during their break, and encourage them to work together to memorize each exercise and combination. The following weeks’ lessons take those very elements even further, introducing new vocabulary and enchaînement. It’s important for teachers to understand that students don’t need to do every step in the book in a given year. They should, however, develop a rather high level of proficiency within the vocabulary studied before moving on to further technical complexities.
DS: Why do you have the students learn about music/composers/choreographers? How do you assist them in this task?
EE: Unfortunately, I come across so many students who have not only learned technique improperly, but whose education hasn’t included much or anything on dance history, famous dancers and choreographers of the past, music, composers, etc. Ideally this should be done in separate classes, but logistically that isn’t always possible for some schools. I have two wonderful pianists, Andrew Lahti and Mami Hariyama, who purposely play repertoire from the great ballets, some operas and other realms of classical music, and the students are regularly asked to name the piece, composer, choreographer, etc. They are also given music CDs to study, which they can then research at the library or online, followed by a quiz about its history.
DS: Please explain the concept behind the curtsy greeting that I (and all other guests) receive.
EE: A curtsy or bow is simply a way of welcoming our guests in dance language, and a show of respect.
DS: What is your favorite variation to teach?
EE: I don’t have one favorite. The Petipa repertoire is most dear to me though.
DS: What special gifts do you think Emily Kadow has, other than her natural ability due to her body?
EE: Emily certainly has impressive physical gifts, but she also has a very special stage presence. When she enters the stage, something magical happens; she brings out an aspect of herself that wasn’t previously seen in the studio. Her unique beauty radiantly fills the auditorium.
DS: Where do you see Emily in 3 years?
EE: Well, I hesitate to make predictions, as I’m a bit superstitious… so, I’ll just say that the possibilities for Emily are endless. I believe she is capable of having an extraordinary career, as long as she remains humble and continues striving to learn and develop her artistic abilities and knowledge of the art. Her gem-like talent is quite rare, and I’ll continue to do everything I can to nurture her gifts and help her reach her fullest potential.
DS: Where would you like to see the school in 3 years?
EE: I’m amazed at the success Ellison Ballet has had in only three years of existence. I’ll continue developing the successful path that has been set, attracting a very high caliber of talent, and providing world-class training in a small class setting. We are a not-for-profit school, so fundraising is of great importance. I want to acquire our own space in NYC, where we’ll have unlimited studio availability. I also want to add more levels, classes, faculty, and increase our ability to offer student scholarships.
DS: Why do you send your students to competitions? What do you think they get out of it?
EE: I believe competitions such as YAGP can be an absolutely wonderful experience, as long as they are approached in an artistic and educational way. Too often I see the scales tipped toward technique at the expense of artistry, musicality, and classical style. A balance should be emphasized between art and technique. The intense coaching process can be of great value, and can quickly escalate the student’s abilities. For those who achieve success at competitions, it can lead to excellent exposure and further opportunities, such has been the case with Emily. Several students I’ve coached over the years have received company contracts as a result of their success at international competition.