American Ballet Theatre school opens at Segerstrom Center next month

Students dance during the Young Dancer Summer Workshops on Thursday, July 9. The American Ballet Theatre William J. Gillespie School at Segerstrom Center for the Arts will open the dance school officially in September.
(SCOTT SMELTZER / Daily Pilot)
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<i>This post has been corrected, as noted below</i>

The barre has been set high for budding ballerinas in Orange County.

New York-based American Ballet Theatre, one the nation’s leading classical dance companies, has partnered with the Segerstrom Center for the Arts for its first formal expansion.

The American Ballet Theatre William J. Gillespie School, which is geared toward children ages 3 to 14, opens Sept. 14 on Segerstrom’s Costa Mesa campus.

“They are getting such a detailed education of dance, and it’s important for any dancer to learn a variety of styles,” said the school’s principal, Alaine Haubert. “This is a very unique partnership with Segerstrom, and the children will have exciting opportunities.”


Classes got a head start during a two-week workshop for young dancers at the beginning pointe level in June and July.

“All right, everyone, first position,” said the school’s principal, Alaine Haubert, during one of the sessions. “Follow your hands, and stay on the rhythm. This is better. Now you’re all dancing together.”

Haubert, who studied with George Balanchine and became a principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet, is part of the staff providing the professional training students will receive at the ABT Gillespie School.

To further enrich each dancer’s ballet studies, children will have the opportunity to audition in ABT performances at the center, including the Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra performance of “Raymonda” from Sept. 24 through 27.

The annual, 36-week program, which includes nine class levels, will take place in the center’s dance studios. The setting has previously been used for rehearsals by leading international ballet companies that made tour stops in Costa Mesa.

The curriculum — ballet principles, nutrition, coordination and other aspects of the genre — will resemble that of ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York.

The center is named for after Orange County philanthropist William J. Gillespie, who has been an ABT board member since 1999 and has donated funds to the Segerstrom Center.

Segerstrom Executive Vice President Judy Morr said having the New York-based ballet company plant roots in Orange County will provide an arts education for generations of future dancers.

“It’s so exciting to have a school here because our students can perform with all these major dance companies, if needed,” Morr said. “It’s like being able to watch your favorite team, and you’re able to study the performance and learn from them.”

All classes will be taught by teachers certified in ABT’s national training curriculum. Among the staff is Lorin Johnson, who has conducted master classes and lectures in the United States, and Vladimir Kolesnikov, who works as an assistant choreographer to ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie.

Tuition starts at $1,150. Interested applicants may explore scholarships — five have been given so far — for the following year. Funding will be awarded to candidates ages 3 to 10 who have demonstrated a commitment and financial need.

Dance classes are not just for children. The school will offer open adult classes for advanced intermediate-level dancers beginning Sept. 14.

Beyond the ballet training, students will also be offered opportunities that include master classes, backstage tours, artist receptions and special ticket offers for center performances.

Morr said having the ballet curriculum will help build a foundation in technique while encouraging students to reach their highest potential in a creative environment.

“The kids will have an extraordinary opportunity, not just in receiving a fine dance curriculum education but also a chance to see all the visiting companies that come through this center,” Morr said. “I think it will be inspiring, and what more can you do for a young dancer than encourage their aspirations?”

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[For the record, Aug. 28, 2:23 p.m.: An earlier version of this post gave an incorrect beginning date of Sept. 25 for the “Raymonda” performance. “Raymonda” will run from Sept. 24 through 27.]