While leading a rehearsal of Balanchine’s Serenade, Stacey Calvert can’t help but join in, marking at the front of the studio with a grin on her face. It’s a Friday morning at the University of South Carolina—where Calvert taught and staged works for 17 years—and the dancers are preparing for the annual spring performance, Ballet Stars of New York, during which the students are joined by several New York City Ballet dancers who perform soloist and principal roles each year. Calvert had helped organize the event since 2005, bringing to Columbia, South Carolina, such dancers as Lauren Lovette, Jared Angle and Sara Mearns, who grew up in the area and trained at Calvert’s mom’s studio. As a George Balanchine Trust répétiteur, Calvert clearly is a master at the choreography, and as a former NYCB soloist herself—she retired in 2000 after a 17-year career—the steps are firmly embedded in her muscle memory.
When Calvert first arrived in New York City to study at School of American Ballet, it was a major time in the company’s history: “Mr. B was grooming Peter Martins to take over and was in the studio all the time working with us during our rehearsals for Martins’ ballet, The Magic Flute. My second year, I did Les Sylphides with Freddie Franklin and Mr. B was there, always watching.” Calvert was hired into the company the same year as Balanchine’s death.
When she returned to her roots in South Carolina and began teaching at USC, the dance department was relatively small—but her direct link to Balanchine and Robbins helped to quickly grow the program. During the summers, she often traveled to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where her daughter Ayla trained full-time at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, and Calvert took Marcia Dale Weary’s teaching-training courses and staged several ballets for their dancers.
Calvert’s teaching style is, naturally, an amalgamation of her own training and career. “I teach the dynamics and the musicality of Balanchine technique, and Wilhelm Burmann, whom I took company class with at NYCB, is my main influence as a teacher,” Calvert says. “Yet watching Marcia, Darla Hoover and Alan Hineline all teach at CPYB rocked my world. Marcia’s syllabus—how it teaches the fundamentals from the ground up—has really inspired me. I didn’t know those breakdowns growing up, but if you’re trained that way, everything just falls into place.”
This fall Calvert moved back to Manhattan full-time, where she is now teaching weekly at Ballet Academy East. And in October, she headed west to stage several Balanchine works for Utah Metropolitan Ballet, a trip she has made three times before. “Over the years I kept thinking about moving back to New York, but there was always one more class I wanted to see graduate,” she says. “It was a hard decision, but I’m looking forward to seeing what new doors open here.”
Here, Calvert and USC dance major Gillian Berry demonstrate a piqué turn, breaking down the proper weight placement through opposition to create smooth transitions and maximize the area traveled. Visit dance-teacher.com to see Calvert and Berry use the same concepts to break down a piqué arabesque.
Dance Teacher November/December 2019 Technique