World renowned dancer, teacher and choreographer James Sutton, of New York, made an important stop at the Class Act Dance & Performing Arts Studio in Paso Robles last month. He arrived for the Paso Robles Chamber Ballet Company’s adjudication, where local dancers and choreographers were given the chance to audition their talent.
Templeton High School sophomore Koby Wescom and three other local choreographers presented original choreographed pieces and PRCBC dancers performed at their best for an opportunity to dance in the next Regional Dance of America (RDA) festival on Jan. 25.
For a small town dance company, this was a very big deal. To put it in sports terms: It would like Mike Ditka coming to Paso to assess the skills of the Paso Robles Bearcat football team.
“He was very inspiring,” said Cheryle Armstrong, Artistic Director at Class Act, adding that the adjudication went very well. The Paso Robles Chamber Ballet Company is Class Act Performing Arts Studio’s pre-professional dance company.
Armstrong explained that her company is one of a choice number of dance studios across the nation that maintains a position with Regional Dance of America — an organization that upholds the “highest standards of training” — a distinction the company has achieved for nine years and counting. Within the next two months, the studio will find out if they will remain accredited by Regional Dance of America after receiving the results of their audition.
As this year’s adjudicator, Sutton will choose one of the audition pieces to be performed in the annual Regional Dance of America/Pacific festival in Spokane, Wash. The festival, which takes place from April 10 to 13, will feature some of Class Act’s “honors” dancers from the pacific region of the United States. The one or two honors dancers from each company will be also be chosen to take a class from Sutton.
Sutton travels to five different states for the adjudication — from Oregon to Washington.
“The training is so much better out here,” Sutton said. “The western region is very strong.”
Regarding the quality of dancers he has been seeing, he said, “It’s exceptional.” Sutton is currently the Associate Arts Professor at New York University and has appeared as principal dancer with the Houston Ballet, Chicago Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and others. Formerly the associate director of the Kathryn Posin Modern Dance Company, he formed his own company in New York in 1983 and since has choreographed various theatre genres — from the New York Theatre Ballet, where he currently is ballet master, to the Dallas Opera. He has instructed dancers all over the world, including working as company teacher for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and teacher at the Juilliard School in New York City.
“I look to get an overview of all the pieces because I’m putting together a comprehensive concert,” Sutton said.
When he picks his favorite piece from each dance company he keeps an eye out for emerging choreographers.
“I just look for pieces that show off the dancers, that are well-crafted, and that challenge them, because I know this is a really well-run student company – so it’s educational as well as artistic,” he said. “You want to know that it’s shaping them and challenging them, but at the same time, working with wherever they are at any given moment. They can shine in the work, but also progress to the next level.”
Upon his visit, dancers bustled around, preparing for such a dance master as Sutton. Nerves ran pretty high, according to some of the young dancers in PRCBC. One dancer said adjudication time is one of the most stressful times of the year.
“I think if you go into show business you kind of like being scared to death,” Sutton said. “Because it’s constant, you know? You kind of channel that energy. If you’re not nervous, then it doesn’t really matter. You really have to be nervous! My line that I always say is: ‘You will have butterflies, but you just learn to get your butterflies in formation.’”
For the adjudication, the Paso Robles Chamber Ballet Company performed four dances for Sutton, including “Kintsugi,” choreographed by Amanda Bravo, “Over the Rainbow,” choreographed by Natalie Willis, “Let Freedom Ring,” Choreographed by Kristen McLaughlin and an emerging piece, “Forever She Reigns,” choreographed by Koby Wescom, a Chamber Ballet and Jazz company member.
Koby Wescom, who performed as the “prince” in last season’s “The Nutcracker” at the Templeton Performing Arts Center, had met Sutton before, when he was chosen as an “honors” dancer for an RDA class last year.
Wescom said Sutton was an “amazing teacher.” Wescom would like to work with as many companies as Sutton has one day.
“I would love to travel around and see other companies,” Wescom said, noting that he’s aiming his dreams for the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, where he danced last year in the school’s summer intensive program.
This year Wescom was presenting his choreographed piece based on the “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels he read (stories that were made into the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”)
Wescom described how his chosen dancers were to dance the excerpt from the book when character Cersei Lannister took her famous “walk of atonement.”
“She lost two of her children, her husband and her father, and is kind of a lone ranger,” explained Wescom. His dance piece would end when Cersei Lannister (dancer Katie Moffatt) destroys all her enemies. “It was lots of fun to do,” Wescom said. As an emerging choreographer, Wescom did not actually dance in his piece per the rules of the adjudication, but he was able to choose his cast.
“The girls in my company are amazing to work with… This company we just work really well as a group, so it was nice to have the piece come together,” he said, also raving about the other choreographers who presented in the adjudication.
In addition to Moffatt as Cersei Lannister, Gabriella Trevison danced as the leader of the “Faith” cult from the story. Emaly Bousman, Andie Boardman, Jenevieve Crossett, Katie Kowall, McKenna Hartman and Payton Beasley danced as “Faith” members in the dramatic piece.
Cheryle Armstrong said Wescom’s choreography presented very well. She said he was able to receive direct feedback from the prestigious ballet teacher.
Armstrong will keep the public posted on the results, including whom of Armstrong’s dancers were chosen as “honors” dancers for the upcoming festival.
Armstrong said Sutton commented that he was very impressed with the group’s overall talent and diversity and did notice a couple dancers who stood out with an outstanding sense of “musicality.”
You may contact Reporter Beth Giuffre at [email protected]
for questions and/or feedback.
Photo courtesy of Kathy Gritzfeld
Paso Robles Chamber Ballet Company members Katie Moffatt, McKenna Hartman, Koby Wescom, Payton Beasley, Gabriella Trevison, Katie Kowall, Emaly Bousman, Andie Boardman, Jenevieve Crossett
Photo courtesy of Cheryle Armstrong
Paso Robles Chamber Ballet Company (PRCBC), Class Act’s pre-professional ballet company has been a member of The Regional Dance America (RDA)/Pacific Region for the past nine years. The Regional Dance of America is a national organization that upholds the highest standards of training. Every year the company is adjudicated to ensure they are meeting the high standard that this organization requires. Pictured: The PRCBC poses for a photo with Jim Sutton, RDA adjudicator and ballet master for the New York Theatre Ballet.