Tampa adds another local to the roster of talents rising to national fame: ballet dancer Dominika Afanasenkov, who is featured in a new docuseries on Disney Plus.
On Pointe follows students from the School of American Ballet in New York City as they train, audition and prepare for the New York City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.
The show was created by Hollywood heavyweights Brian Glazer and Ron Howard, along with Justin Wilkes and Sara Bernstein from Imagine Docuseries. It consists of six episodes and debuts Dec. 18.
Afanasenkov, 16, honed her talents at the Patel Conservatory and Next Generation Ballet, the resident school and ballet company of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
She was filmed taking classes there for the series when she returned home from the School of American Ballet on breaks. She’s featured on the poster for the series. Philip Neal, Next Generation Ballet’s artistic director, was interviewed for the show.
Neal also trained at the School of American Ballet, which is the official school of the New York City Ballet, with whom he danced for 23 years and was a principal dancer for 17 years. He calls the School of American Ballet, which was founded by George Balanchine, the “Harvard of ballet schools.”
Neal said that Afanasenkov grew up taking classes at the Patel Conservatory and that by age 12, there was no denying her talent.
“She’s delicate but has a steely reserve,” he said. “I was moving her up to lead parts when she was very young.”
Neal encouraged her to go to summer intensives at the School of American Ballet. He said that it’s very hard to get into — Afanasenkov not only did that but also got a scholarship.
He said Afanasenkov is very grounded.
“She saves the diva element for her dancing.”
Neal is certain Afanasenkov will end up in a major ballet company. He wants her to travel the world, as he did. Neal was mentored by Edward Villella, founder of the Miami City Ballet, and feels like he is taking the same role with Afanasenkov.
Alexandra de Roos is another Next Generation Ballet alumna studying at the School of American Ballet.
“I’m hoping to create a battalion of dancers that go onto SAB,“ Neal said. He tries to impart balance in the dancers, making sure they don’t peak too soon.
Since the summer, Neal has been planning Next Generation Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, which opened Dec. 11. The hourlong performances happen outside in four scenarios stationed on four stages at the Straz Center. All 28 performances are mostly sold out.
“Tampa should be very proud about the level of talent that we have at the Straz,” Neal said. “Tampa is a city on the move.”