Sunday, February 25, 2018
Stage

Next Generation Ballet dancers can't sleep on starring roles

The ballerinas in Next Generation Ballet's performance of Sleeping Beauty in Ferguson Hall at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts devote their lives to dance.

Only 15, they are already turning their dreams into reality, though it's no easy feat.

"If you want to be serious, you have to give up things in your life other kids our age have, but it's what we love to do," said Hannah Stanford, a 15-year-old who lives in South Tampa.

Hannah, along with Lithia's Chandler Hammond, 15, and Florrie Gellar, 15, of Savannah, Ga., will each play Aurora, on separate nights.

"Aurora is a quintessential role, just like Juliet (in Romeo and Juliet)," said director Peter Stark. "It's a benchmark role for a ballerina and takes someone with a lot of stamina."

When they aren't playing Aurora, the girls will be in the core, which is just as important, because it's where most of the dancers will be when they move on from Next Generation Ballet.

Lithia's Katarina Smith, 15, will also be in the show as part of the core and as the Finger Fairy.

"It's really fun," Smith said of being in the production. "It's good to learn the story of Sleeping Beauty, because it's classic."

This will be Stark's first time putting together Sleeping Beauty. Since the original ballet is four hours long, he and the team cut it in half. They also added a light, narrated version that's only one hour.

"It will be good for kids ages 5 to 10 who have trouble sitting for very long," Stark said. "It will also be good for those times when you're at the ballet and you're like 'what the heck is going on?' This will walk you through the pantomimed sections and hopefully help us develop new dance lovers."

Stark started at the Straz Center as a consultant in 2006 when the dance program was being developed. In 2010 he was recruited full time.

"In 2010, the dance budget was $300,000 and now, four years later, it is $1.7 million," Stark said of the program's journey.

It's the talent and dedication of their dancers that brought them to this point. It's also the teachers, like Stark, who hold their students to the highest standards.

"We are training dancers that are placing in the best organizations in the world."

It's also evident in their success at this year's Youth Grand Prix competition where Florrie won first place Classical Jr. Women, Chandler and Florrie placed in the Classical Top 12 Jr. Women and the Contemporary Top 12 Jr. Women. Hannah won second place Classical Sr. Women and placed in the Classical Top 12 Sr. Women.

Modest Florrie was surprised to even make it to the final round, let alone first place.

"We were watching the men's classical category and my mom was checking her Facebook and was like are you number 84? I said yeah, and she's like you just made the final round," Florrie shrieked.

Stark also won the Outstanding Teacher Award.

"He really pushes us to the fullest of our potential. He brings it out in us," Chandler said of why he deserved the title.

Dance takes up eight hours of their day, while the other time is spent completing assignments for Florida Virtual School, an online high school.

"It's challenging, but if you love it and have the passion, it's worth it," Katarina said.

Not only do the girls dance and do school work together, they also hang out outside of dance.

"It's a good group this year, there's not a lot of drama," Chandler said of the Next Generation Ballet team that had problems with jealousy in past years.

There's no jealousy when it comes to playing Aurora, especially since all three girls bring something different to the role.

"Hannah brings sensitivity. You will feel for her character. Chandler has a more angular attack with her incredibly long legs. She is like four-fifths legs and one-fifth body, and so elegant. Florrie is the most athletic and will bring vivaciousness to the character," Stark said.

The girls are well on their professional paths, already. Florrie was accepted to the North Carolina School of the Arts, Chandler to the School of American Ballet and Hannah will attend the Royal Ballet School in London, all on full scholarships.

"This will be the last time for Tampa to see these girls before they launch into something bigger."

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