River City Ballet Senior Company members are making waves. Front row, left to right: Larissa Ybarra, Madeline Finchum, Ella Martin-Gachot, Lea Paulin, Analicia Rodriguez, Rachel Swift. Back row, left to right: Kristyn Osburn, Mallory Swinney, Orlando Moreno, Carly Villarreal, Ana Rodriguez, Abram Garcia, Alexis Edwards, Samantha Huebner, Alejandro Balboa. Not pictured: Joanie Anderson, Katherine Hendrix, Caitlin Kelly, Jonathan Rejino, James Vasquez. All photos courtesy of Laura Wooten, The Smile House.
By HAP MANSFIELD
You may may appreciate that San Marcos is a hotbed for developing music talents, thanks, in no small part to the Cheatham Street Warehouse and other great venues. You probably also know that, after years of being known as somewhat of a “party school,” the academic star of Texas State is rising fast in the educational firmament and is racking up plaudits, awards and highly motivated students. What you may not know is that San Marcos is also becoming a noted area for ballet.
Yep, in a place full of boot scootin’, river tubin’ and Western Swing, ballet flourishes and, more than that, attracts talented local dancers hoping for for careers in the difficult art.
The major reason for this is the Pointe Dance Studio, right in the heart of downtown at 101 East Hopkins Street, and the innovative teaching and expert guidance of the Pointe’s Ballet Master, Keith Duncan. The Texas-born Duncan is also the artistic director of the San Marcos-based River City Ballet (RCB). After a dancing career that included a scholarship with the San Francisco Ballet, work as a soloist for both the Compania Nacional de Danza in Mexico City and Ballet Arizona and many years of choreography work and teaching throughout the United States, Duncan’s pre-professional programs have unearthed gold here in San Marcos with both The Pointe and RCB.
Senior RCB company member Carly Villareal said, “He has pushed me to do things I didn’t know I could do, making me a better dancer and giving me more faith in my own abilities.”
Another RCB senior member, Lea Paulin, echoes the praise.
“He’s taught me how to refine my technique, be more creative with my dancing, and practice awareness of how the corps dances together as one,” Paulin said.
A signal of how good they are may be seen in last December’s RCB presentation of The Nutcracker. Audience members completed surveys after the performance complaining that they wanted to see more student dancers and fewer professional dancers in the ballet. However, there were no professional dancers in the program. Every single dancer was a student in training.
Another hallmark of the dancers’ proficiency and Duncan’s guidance is how many of them were accepted to study with prestigious summer dance programs this year. The dancers auditioned with young talents from across the nation for spots in programs that ranged from the eminent Joffrey Ballet to the renowned American Ballet Theatre to the highly respected Austin Ballet. These auditions, which take place in cities throughout the nation, are rigorous and the competition is tough for the precious spots in their sought-after programs. Nine dancers from The Pointe or RCB made the cut for the difficult programs.
The dancers include Morgan Mitchell, who was accepted to the Joffrey Ballet Program, and Samantha Huebner, Rachel Swift and Carly Villareal, who were accepted to the summer program at the American Ballet Theatre. Ileana Garcia made the cut for Ballet Austin’s program, and Abram Garcia and Lea Paulin will study with the Chicago Ballet this summer. Joanie Anderson and Kristyn Osburn will study with Ballet Magnificat!
“We have an extraordinary group of dancers and scholars this year,” Duncan said. “I am proud of their admission into such prestigious ballet intensives this summer.”
But that’s only part of the story, as several dancers chose to stay here and train in The Pointe’s summer program, regardless of being accepted for other programs.
Ravelle Dundon, a student at The Pointe said, ““I auditioned and was accepted into Ballet Austin’s summer intensive but decided to stay in San Marcos and study with Mr. Duncan. He challenges me to go far beyond my limits. I learn something new from him at every class and rehearsal.”
Students who chose Duncan’s program include the above mentioned Dundon, Madeline Fichum, Paige Perusquia, and Isabelle Hodge.
Duncan’s intensive summer program is geared towards intermediate and advanced students who are looking for a rigorous pre-professional program that will nurture their talents. Caitlin Kelly, a ballerina with 17 years of experience, will direct the summer program. The studies include classical dance, as well as other styles such as modern, jazz and hip-hop.
While “everything is beautiful at the ballet” as the song in A Chorus Line says, the reality is that the work is arduous and long. Most members of RCB train a minimum of 15 hours each week and, despite this, a majority of the dancers are straight-A students who are often in gifted or talented academic programs in school.
“It is difficult to dance so many hours a week and keep up with school work,” says New Braunfels student and dancer Paige Perusquia, “but the discipline I have learned through dance has helped me to be more disciplined in school.”
Many of the dancers at The Pointe and RCB are hoping to make dance their careers. Abram Garcia, who received a scholarship to Chicago Ballet’s summer intensive, hopes to be a choreographer for Disney theme parks. Rachel Swift, who will attend American Ballet Theatre’s summer intensive, danced with Ballet San Antonio this spring in Coppelia and plans to become a professional dancer. Samantha Huebner, age 12, who will also study with the American Ballet Theatre, aspires to “become a professional ballerina and perform around the world.”
Most of the success of The Pointe and RCB stems from Keith Duncan’s overwhelming dedication to the art and his ability to bring out the best in each dancer.
Central Texas students who are interested in studying with Duncan may contact The Pointe Dance Studio at (512) 396-8736. The studio can also provide more information on auditioning for its summer program and River City Ballet.
River City Ballet junior company members from left to right: Natalie Merkord, Isabelle Meijin Hodge, Morgan Mitchell, Illeana Garcia, Paige Perusquia, Ravelle Dundon, Brittni Van Dine.
River City Ballet senior company members, in “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker. Front row, left to right: Alejandro Balboa, Samantha Huebner, Orlando Moreno. Back row,left to right: Madeline Finchum, Abram Garcia, Mallory Swinney.
River City Ballet senior company members, in “Chinese Dance” left to right: Ella Martin-Gachot, Lea Paulin, Carly Villarreal, Larissa Ybarra.
River City Ballet senior company members in “Arabian Dance” left to right: Abram Garcia and Katherine HendrixEmail | Print