For the full-time high school students of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, the school day differs from the typical morning to afternoon academics and evening extra-curriculars. With a full-day medley of studio and school work, PBT School’s high school students have learned to apply a ballet dancer’s poise to balancing both academic and artistic training.
Here, PBT School graduating seniors Ellie Morris, Carolyn Meder and Will Robichaud reflect on dancing through high school and integrating ballet into their post-graduate plans.
Congratulations to the 15 seniors who graduated from PBT School this year and took their final bows as high school students at the 2013 Spring Performance and Pre-Professional Showcases at the end of May!
Ellie Morris – Apprentice, National Ballet of Canada
For graduating senior Ellie Morris, 17, high school will transition directly to full-time dancing –plus an international move – to join the National Ballet of Canada in Toronto.
It all stemmed from a pivotal performance experience this year at Switzerland’s prestigious Prix de Lausanne international ballet competition where she received an invitation to the company’s Apprentice Program.
“The Prix de Lausanne was a huge maturing and connecting experience for me,” said Morris, of her five-day competition experience in Switzerland, where she performed for and networked with a panel of international dance leaders.
As an apprentice, Morris will have a variety of performance experiences with both the company and its “You Dance” program, which brings ballet to area students.
Morris, who was enrolled in cyber school, has danced with PBT School since age 8. From her years with PBT School, Morris points to a combination of challenging repertoire, teacher involvement and opportunities to mature as key preparation for her next career move. She thinks her first year as an apprentice will continue the learning process.
“I just want to take in as much as I can. It’s an amazing company, so I think just learning from the higher ranks…I think I’ll learn a lot more of how to pick up all different choreography,” she said. “I think independence too – in ballet and outside – living on my own and also being able to know what my body needs and take charge of what I need to do in class myself there’s not always going to be a teacher there.”
At this stage in her dance progression, Morris said the transition from student to professional feels natural. Since she made the decision around age 10 to pursue ballet seriously, she’s gradually been moving toward this career choice for years.
“I didn’t have a ‘eureka’ moment…Really, I just always did it, and it was always such a part of me…I just feel like it’s what I’m meant to do.”
Carolyn Meder – Student, University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music
Similar to Morris, Carolyn Meder, 18, can’t remember a time when ballet didn’t factor in to her future career plans. From starting her first classes at age 5, to making the decision to focus on ballet throughout high school, Meder is now heading to the University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Ballet.
“I think growing up here (at PBT) really gave me that (career ambition), because you’re around such a professional environment that I saw what it was like,” Meder said.
While continuing her studies at Oakland Catholic High School, Meder fit ballet into every day school day as part of PBT School’s Pre-Professional Division. Now, she’ll be blending the best of both worlds at the University of Cincinnati.
“For me, I wanted that college experience. I think it became more realistic to me throughout high school that it really was important to continue to get an education and to find backup plans,” Meder said, adding that she’s also found crossover benefits throughout the years. “You have to learn how to spend your time wisely…I think I learned how to interact in a more professional way because I’ve had experience working with the company and Mr. Orr and School Directors Marjorie Grundvig and Dennis Marshall.”
From annual roles in The Nutcracker to the professionalism of PBT’s training program, PBT School helped to shape her growth and ambition in ballet.
“Each year you look up to the girls who are older than you, and I’d look at the high school girls and be in awe of what they can do…I think having the next generation above me really pushed me to want to achieve that next level… at PBT you can see the end result, and it’s an achievable goal because you know that PBT can get you there and you’ve seen people who can do it.”
Will Robichaud – First-Year Student, PBT School Graduate Program
Falling somewhere in the middle of Morris and Meder, Will Robichaud, 18, does see college somewhere in his future, but for now is looking forward to focusing 100% on ballet as a first-year PBT School Graduate student next year.
“I considered college quite heavily….it was definitely a challenge throughout the year to decide whether to do ballet or go on with conventional school,” said Robichaud, who graduated with his high school class last weekend in Greenville South Carolina through a combination of summer classes and remote schoolwork in Pittsburgh.
“I guess I figured that I can always go back to school, but I only have a finite amount of time to dance,” he said. “I don’t think I’d be able to stop dancing completely whether I went to college or not. I think would have to take classes in order to keep it as part of my life and not have something missing.”
Robichaud started ballet classes at age 6 in his hometown of Greenville South Carolina, and decided to pursue full-time study in Pittsburgh for his senior year of high school. With the support of PBT School faculty and frequent performance opportunities, he has seen his technique and artistry grow over the course of the year.
“I certainly gained a lot of performance experience, and I’ve learned how a company works and I’ve been able to see a company in action and follow them for a whole year, so I think that’s been extremely beneficial as well as the general instruction from the teachers here,” Robichaud said.
Next year, Robichaud looks forward to immersing himself in his continuing training, though ballet could continue benefit his academics down the road as well.
“I think I’m most looking forward to actually having the opportunity to focus on dance above school,” he said. “I’m really excited about being able to focus on ballet and devote all of my time and effort to that.”