Like a well-oiled machine, Ballet Spartanburg‘s new professional dance company performs as a unit, in sync and in step. Jumping into one another’s arms and leaping hand in hand, they move and collaborate with all the fluidity of art in motion.
Floating almost silently across the dance floor, they listen to the director’s instructions and then execute them with precision and straight-faced determination.
Founded in 1966, Ballet Spartanburg has spent many years dreaming, hoping, and planning, and now as a result, Spartanburg has a professional dance company — individuals who actually make their living by dancing together.
Within this troupe of professional dancers are six young men and women from all over the Western hemisphere. Seed funding to launch the company was made by a generous donor in 2010, and when board members realized they were spending annual operating resources on outside guest artists for major productions, they came to the realization this same money could be spent to support a professional resident company.
Earlier this year, applications came in from Russia, Italy, Spain and other international locations. Auditions were held in June and July, then in September, Ballet Spartanburg’s new professional dance company of well-trained performers was born.
The six new arrivals are Leslie Fuentes of Mexico, Nichola Montt of Massachusetts, Daynier Rivero of Cuba, Kristina Roper of Canada, Analay Saiz of Cuba and Will Scott of Georgia.
McCree O’Kelley, an assistant professor of dance at Converse College, is serving temporarily as a guest artist as well.
All of the dancers have remarkable resumes.
Young as the new hires may be — they range in age from 22 to 25 years old — these enthusiastic dancers already have achieved high accolades in their careers. Take Saiz, for instance, who after graduating from the National School of Arts in Havana, joined the National Ballet of Cuba.
Like Saiz, Rivero and Fuentes have worked professionally with the prestigious Ballet de Monterrey in Mexico.
Montt attended the intensive summer program Dance New York International in Paris, while her newfound roommate Roper performed on the high seas aboard Princess Cruises with Royal City Youth Ballet.
University of Alabama graduate Scott has worked under such names as Cornelius Carter, Clay Taliaferro and Qianping Guo. You don’t have to know what a “cou-de-pied sur le” is to understand how impressive these new additions to Spartanburg are.
Almost as marvelous as the dancers themselves are is how they work together. With half of the dancers speaking English as a second language, “there’s at least somewhat of a language barrier,” Scott said. Nevertheless, the diversity has driven the group even harder. Coming from various areas beyond their native borders, these professionals have come together to speak the international language of dance. But body language aside, it’s Ballet Spartanburg’s Artistic Director Carlos Agudelo who frequently serves as translator-in-chief.
The group has been together for only a couple of months, but with rigorous training comes intensive bonding. A few dancers carpool to the Dance Center studios at Chapman Cultural Center. Some are roommates. Two even recently tied the knot. But training five days a week, they all essentially live together on the dance floor. Step into rehearsals, and you’d never know they had only met just months ago. “We’re very hardworking and focused individuals,” Roper said. “Everyone wants to be here. Everyone is putting everything they have into it.”
According to Agudelo, this new professional dance company means great things. It provides opportunity for the dancers to more organically express themselves. It means dance students right here in Spartanburg can see others making a living of their passion. It turns top-notch international talent into local residents. It allows Ballet Spartanburg to not only bring the community to the Center but the Center to the community in outreach programs. And it fosters further collaboration, growing another world-class sense of pride in the heart of Spartanburg. “I when I first arrived here 22 years ago, I had many goals for Ballet Spartanburg: to make the transition from a presenting organization to a performing organization: to acquire our own sets and costumes, in particular for ‘The Nutcracker,’ to present a diversity of high quality productions, to enhance our outreach programs in order to provide life affirming dance activities for all members of our community and to create a ballet company. Achieving this last goal is truly exciting for us, although I am aware that fueling this engine of artistic progress will require a lot of financial support,” said Agudelo, “but this is a wonderful beginning.”
Spartanburg’s dance lovers will get their first glimpse of the new troupe when they take to the stage at Twichell Auditorium for the annual production of “The Nutcracker” December 13-15. “I predict it will be the best yet,” Agudelo said. “In the past, I have always had to bring in outside soloists from other companies to fill leading roles. This year, we have our own professionals. These will be dancers who Spartanburg can get to know during this show and for many more to come. This is truly one of my dreams come true.”