Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Jewels Solheim-Roe
Project Releve 

Stepping Out: Dance School Graduation in the Age of Coronavirus and Quarantines

5 Westside Ballet's 2020 Grads Finish Their Quarantine Senior Year and Look Forward to College

 

Todd Lechtick

Piper St. Regis as demi-lead Angel, Nutcracker 2019.

The Five Westside Ballet graduating Seniors look forward to an uncertain Freshman year at Universities and accept they leave the legacy ballet school with no final performance or cast party to say goodbye to their peers, teachers, and ballet community of over a decade. Westside Ballet's annual Spring Performance has for decades provided a final performance opportunity and send off to countless graduating high school seniors. Due to the coronavirus health emergency, their final Spring Performance was cancelled for the first time in 47 years. This leaves five young artists grappling with the loss as they look forward to what their future holds.

Artistic Director and Westside Ballet alumna Martine Harley explains, "This year's Spring Performance had dancers that had trained since early childhood for coveted roles in some of classical ballet's most cherished works. They were more readily prepared for this repertoire than in previous seasons. Their strength and achievements in the first weeks of the rehearsal process is what makes this situation even more heartbreaking. As we congratulate our amazing graduating seniors, it is bittersweet to see them go without the triumph of a final Spring Performance which is their familiar rite of passage."

Graduating from Brentwood School, Rose Abarbanel (17) graduated Cum Laude and said she is excited to continue her studies this fall at Washington University in St. Louis. She plans to study biochemistry, women's studies, and dance. Leader of the school gender equity club, "Girl Impact," Rose danced at Westside Ballet since she was eight years old. "Graduating from high school during the global coronavirus pandemic has been unique, but my community has found ways to make it special and celebrated," said Rose. "While I am sad I will not be able to see my Westside community in person as I graduate, I know that they will continue to support me throughout my life."

Also from Brentwood School, Mirabelle Weinbach (18) was set to star, dancing in Tchaikovsky's renowned Pas de Deux. Weinbach will attend Princeton this Fall. On a video for the school's crisis relief appeal, Mirabelle spoke about her experience at Westside: "It's taught me how to be a good person. I've been inspired by the amazing teachers who have become mentors and have taught me respect, hard work, diligence and dedication."

Olivia Polite (17) danced at Westside Ballet for almost 11 years. Graduating from Palisades Charter High School, Olivia's future plans include attending University of California Santa Barbara and double-majoring in dance and psychology. "Completing my senior year during this global pandemic is a difficult experience," she explains. "It's really disappointing that this is happening but I've been trying to focus on staying safe and healthy. Despite all of the trouble we're going through right now, I have future plans that I'm excited about and cannot wait to experience. I've also spent some time working on new skills like painting, knitting, and baking sourdough bread."

Olivia 'walked' as a model for several designers in LA's Fashion Week in the 2018-2019 Spring Seasons for a prestigious fashion show fundraiser to benefit juvenile justice and community services programs.

"Things happen that you can't control and I try not to get too upset about them," stated Westside Ballet Stefan Goy (17) who is completing his final year as a Westside Ballet Senior from home, and also regretting no final performance. "Graduating now means I'll always have a story to tell about this time. It's almost a point of pride, and I feel that those of us going through it are bonded together in this unique experience."

A resident of Venice, Stefan joins the UC Santa Barbara dance department where he'll be training under Westside alumna Monique Meunière, and plans to double major in linguistics. Stefan was introduced to character and ballroom dancing in elementary school and began studying ballet at Westside at age 12. He attends summer Ukrainian dance workshops at the Roma Pryma Bohachevsky Dance Academy in New York, as well as summer intensives with Westside Ballet.

Piper St. Regis is 18-years-old and a graduating Senior at El Segundo High School. She was awarded early acceptance last December to Duke University. She has recently received several local scholarships and maintained a 4.0+ GPA for all four years of high school while taking AP and Honors classes. Piper: "I certainly never expected that most of my senior year would be spent at home, let alone not having a graduation ceremony. However these disappointing circumstances have made me all the more grateful for what I still have, like my health, my family, and my friends. I might not get the traditional graduation experience, but I am still excited for what the future holds. I am looking forward to starting college at Duke in the Fall and I will always be grateful for my time at Westside Ballet."

Anne Slattery

Stefan Goy enjoying studio dress rehearsal as a 'Victorian Party Parent,' for Nutcracker 2019.

Piper performed in Westside Ballet of Santa Monica's 47th season of 'The Nutcracker' the solo role of Lead Angel, a Mirliton, Side Spanish, and in the Snow corps de ballet. Piper explained why she decided to make such a long commute to the prestigious ballet school: "I trained at Westside Ballet six days per week. My mother and I realized when I was in middle school, there were not a lot of options for classical ballet training in the South Bay, so when I decided I wanted to focus on classical ballet solely, the choice was obvious to come to Westside. I really have grown and developed as a dancer – and truly found a home and community of like-minded, serious ballet students and faculty to support my training."

Allegra Clegg, founder Mounsey's daughter and the owner of the 53 year old school, also shared: "Dancers learn discipline, hard work and grace at Westside," she said. "They learn that nothing comes easy – you have to work hard for things and there are disappointments in life. Westside teaches these life lessons through the rigor of ballet." Perhaps ballet has also taught them how to carry on, despite a drastically changing world ahead.

 

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