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Amazing feat of dancers

Two young men are chosen to go to a famed ballet school.

Published June 4, 2006

Tonight Calvin Royal will take the stage at the Dollinger Center for the Arts and dance the part of the prince from Sleeping Beauty. He'll perform to Nat King Cole's That Ain't Right, as part of an all-boys blues suite of solos, and dance in an ensemble set to the music of American composer Philip Glass.

Most likely it will be Royal's final performance as a student member of the St. Petersburg Ballet Company, which he has performed with for the past year and a half.

"It's sad but I'm excited to do this performance, and although it may be my last, it will be a good one,'' Royal said.

Royal, 17, was one of two local dancers offered full tuition scholarships to attend the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre in New York City for the 2006-07 school year. Austin Finley, 15, of St. Petersburg was also invited to attend the advanced division of the prestigious pre-professional ballet training program.

"I'm really excited to go there because it's one of the best schools out there and they only accept a few kids from the entire world, so that was pretty cool,'' Finley said.

To have two dancers chosen from the same company is a unique feat, said Suzanne Pomerantzeff, artistic director of the Academy of Ballet Arts, where both boys train.

"It just blows me away as a teacher. Only 15 total are chosen worldwide. For us to have two coming from St. Pete, two from the same studio is amazing," she said.

The scholarships will cover the $5,000 tuition, but the teens and their families will be responsible for finding housing - a challenging task in a city of more than 8-million residents. Pomerantzeff said the students will also need to pay for food and daily expenses, and will need a chaperone to look after them. She's hopeful that the community will pitch in to help.

"We're just trying to make sure we can support them from our community as far as their living expenses go," Pomerantzeff said.

Royal said he and his mom have done some research on lodging in Manhattan.

"We've found a few places, but it's really costly. We're trying to come up with as many ways as possible to pay for that, because its very expensive.'' Royal said.

Royal said he's willing to get a part-time job, if he can find the time between his academic classes and ballet training.

That willingness to give everything he's got is part of what makes Royal special, said Marsha Wilson, a teacher and choreographer at the Academy of Ballet Arts. "It's a joy to work with him. He's very receptive to corrections and comments given. He's very intense when he's involved in his dancing, so it's truly a pleasure. And to see the improvements he's made...he's not danced for a very long time, but he continually works and pushes himself to make himself better and better and better. It's going to be hard for me to see him leave,'' she said.

Royal said he feels ready for the challenges that lie ahead. "The training that they've provided me with at the academy - just the classes and rigorous rehearsals we have - they've prepared me to become not only a technician, but an artist as well. I just really appreciate it. It's been very rewarding,'' he said.

Royal and Finley will spend several weeks this summer training at ballet schools from coast to coast. Royal will attend LINES Ballet School's pre-professional program in San Francisco and the Juilliard School Summer Dance Intensive in New York City. Finley will spend his second summer at the School of American Ballet in New York City. After a few weeks home, the two will head back to Manhattan, home to some of the world's premier ballet schools and companies.

Though she'll be sad to see them go, Pomerantzeff said she's excited for Royal and Finley and the opportunities that await them. "Your job is to love them, train them well, and set them free,'' she said.

IF YOU GO: The St. Petersburg Ballet Company's spring concert will be at 3 p.m. today at the Dollinger Center for the Arts at The Canterbury School of Florida's Knowlton Campus, 901 58th Ave. NE, St. Petersburg.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and ages 12 and younger. For more information, or to make a contribution to assist Calvin Royal and Austin Finley, call the Academy of Ballet Arts at 327-4401.


[Last modified June 4, 2006, 10:13:42]

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