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Where to go: SEATTLE.


It is 9:30 A.M. on a hot August day in the Phelps Center, Pacific Northwest Ballet's state-of-the-art building in downtown Seattle, a city with one of the loveliest natural settings in the United States. The steps leading up to the double doors are crowded with people going in and out, some of them carrying boxes slated for shipment to Scotland, where the company will perform a week later.

Inside, the corridors are packed with visiting parents and students in practice clothes--on the last day of the summer intensive, parents are welcome in classes. Some students are observing company rehearsal; others are in class in the company's school, which was founded in 1974 and is one of the foremost in America.

In one of the four airy studios set aside for the school, seventeen young men in black tights and white T-shirts, some tall and leggy, some compact and muscular, are taking their final technique class with Bruce Wells. The former New York City Ballet soloist, who also danced as a principal with Connecticut Ballet and Boston Ballet, is mopping up--nudging, gently reminding, prodding, demanding the best the students can give. He's low-key, kind, and definite about what he wants.

"That's a very decent penchee," he tells one compact kid. "What motivates the releve?" he asks another. "Breath? That's right."

In school director Francia Russell's comfortable office after class, the sound of piano music accompanying a women's technique class wafts up from a studio below. Corey Jones, a June graduate of Florida's Harid Conservatory, back for his third year of the intensive, and first-timer Jason Linsley, a tall redhead from Roseville, California, talk about their Seattle experiences.

For Corey, who will go to Edinburgh with the company, Seattle itself is an improvement over Boca Raton, especially this year, since he is old enough to live in his own apartment. Russell has commented that this dancer never wants to leave at the end of the summer. "There's a lot of atmosphere here, more people to interact with. The city is bigger," Corey says. Nevertheless, he doesn't have much time for its amenities.

Classes take place all day, Monday through Friday, and while the Saturday morning classes aren't required, they are recommended. A typical day for Corey, and for Jason, who lived last summer in the , University of Washington sorority house that is the summer program's dormitory, starts at 8:30 with an early breakfast and a warm-up at school. The day ends between 5:00 and 7:00 P.M.

They don't mind. In the course of a day, they, along with the other 200 or so students in the summer program, nearly three-quarters of whom come from outside of Seattle, take a variety of classes. All instruction is focused on producing well-rounded, versatile dancers who know how to care for their bodies and have practical knowledge of their art. It goes without saying that most classes are in ballet technique, which is taught from a curriculum carefully developed by Russell and her staff.

There are also special seminars offered by a podiatrist, a physical therapist, and a nutritionist. PNB principal Patricia Barker shows female students how to take care of their pointe shoes, and also teaches variations based on the company's repertory. Classes in Spanish, modern, and jazz techniques are given by teachers who bring out the best in their charges, and who put these forms into the context of classical ballet.

"You can't be Odette forever. You gotta be Carmen now and then," admonishes Sara de Luis, herself a fantastic performer of Spanish and flamenco dance. She talks about the specific kind of energy the forms require.

For both Corey and Jason, modern technique--taught by Sonia Dawkins, a former member of the National Dance Company of Jamaica who has also danced with a number of independent choreographers--presented the challenge of the new.

"I really didn't like it much at first," Jason says, "but Miss Dawkins gave me a compliment on Thursday of the third week and then I started doing better and improved 100 percent in every class. A teacher can make or break your whole class."

"She motivates you, really motivates you to work," Corey adds, "and she gives you a total mixture--Graham, Limon, even some Taylor--but she talks at the top of her lungs!"

Soft-spoken like Wells or shouting like Dawkins, there are many teaching styles represented in this school. Neither boy could think of any negatives; for both the experience has been so positive that they are entering PNB's year-round school.

Martha Ullman West is a dance writer and critic working in the Pacific Northwest.
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Author:West, Martha Ullman
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 1, 1999
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