For five weeks every summer, the university town of Princeton, New Jersey, becomes a destination for ballet students from around the world. As the official school of American Repertory Ballet, Princeton Ballet School’s summer intensive is designed for advanced students, ages 13 and up, to polish their technique and performance skills. And because students in the intensive are also considered for the school’s year-round trainee program—the direct feeder into ARB’s second company, ARB 2—the intensive is ideal for post–high-school students looking to launch their professional careers.
A Training Destination for Local and International Dancers Alike
As an educational institution certified to provide F-1 visas, Princeton Ballet School has the ability to accept international students from nearly anywhere in the world for its summer intensive, trainee program and ARB2. “Students come to us from across the local region, the U.S. and other countries, such as Japan, Italy and Brazil, creating a wonderful opportunity for dancers to learn from each other technically, artistically and culturally,” says Julie Diana Hench, ARB/PBS executive director who oversees the summer program in collaboration with Princeton Ballet School director Aydmara Cabrera and summer intensive coordinator Carol Bellis.
When current ARB company member Jonathan Montepara attended the summer intensive in 2019, it was his first experience training outside his native Italy. Being among other international students in the program made adjusting to dancing in another country much easier. “I knew I wasn’t the only student who spoke another language,” he says, “which helped me develop the strength to show up fully as who I am when I was dancing.”
Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone
Princeton Ballet School’s program is structured to help students get comfortable with stepping outside their comfort zones. Montepara, who was 19 when he attended the intensive, says, “I really wanted to get out of myself and do something different when I came here. I loved being able to shift between styles so quickly for the first time.” Aside from rigorous daily ballet training, Montepara was challenged with other styles, like musical theater, character dance and Graham technique.
Students are also exposed to a dynamic range of ballet technique and training styles, thanks to the PBS faculty, whose professional experience spans the globe. The roster of faculty includes former principal dancers from American Ballet Theatre, Ballet Naciónal de Cuba, Boston Ballet and Russian National Ballet.
Up-Close With Company Members
ARB company dancers, under the leadership of artistic director Ethan Stiefel and artistic associate Gillian Murphy, supplement the PBS faculty, teaching classes during the intensive and often taking classes alongside the students. Montepara remembers how inspiring it was to watch them while he was in the program. “You could tell the difference between the professional dancers and the students right away by their approach and refinement,” he says.
Intensive students are also given the opportunity to dialogue with company members and learn more about what professional life is like. Last year during an event led by ARB’s rehearsal director, Ian Hussey, “company dancers performed new choreography in the studio and spoke with students about being a professional, creating new work and the creative process,” says Hench. “We also offered a virtual ‘open house’ for new students in the trainee program, inviting them to meet current dancers, observe class or rehearsals and see excerpts from recent performances.”
Inside the Creative Process
The five-week intensive concludes with a performance of all-new work, which gives students an opportunity to experience a professional rehearsal process. Montepara recalls working with Cabrera on an original pas de deux set to Rachmaninoff for the final show. “She showed me what it was like to work closely with a choreographer and experience the process of having something created on you. It was really hard and intense, but at the same time it taught us to trust ourselves, our technique and what we had learned throughout the program.”
This summer, the performance will be held for a public audience in Princeton, on an outdoor stage with sprung Harlequin floors.
Students will also have the option to attend the intensive in person, following pandemic precautions, or participate online. Virtual students can be considered for Princeton Ballet School’s trainee program, as well.
In-person auditions for the intensive will continue in cities across the country through February 13. U.S. and international students can attend a virtual audition or submit an application video. More details and the pre-registration form can be found here. With questions, contact summer intensive coordinator Carol Bellis [email protected].