BV Blog

Interview with Lydia Roberts Coco

Ballet Virginia Company member, Hayley Ann Vasco, sat down with Ballet Virginia’s resident choreographer, Lydia Roberts Coco to ask her some questions about the company’s next show, Visions of Hope. They chatted about what the audience can expect, her choreographic process, and advice she would give to a budding choreographer.

 

Ms. Lydia’s background includes being a company member with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, where she toured nationally and internationally, working with different choreographers and performing a variety of principal roles in many works. We are so grateful to have someone so experienced and creative teaching our students and choreographing for our professional company.

 

Here’s what Ms. Lydia had to say:

  1. Can you tell me a little about this upcoming show?

 

Visions of Hope is a production that will feature both classical and contemporary works performed by the company’s professional dancers and our junior company BV2.  The performances will focus on the journey of moving forward with compassion and gratitude while acknowledging the strife and conflicts of life.

 

  1. How did you pick which pieces to include?

 

I picked 6 different works to include in this production.  Each one has a different style, energy, and purpose.  I wanted to show the company’s diverse styles while also presenting dance through a humanistic approach that is relatable for the audience.

 

 

 

  1. Out of all the pieces you are setting which was your favorite to put together? Why?

 

I would have to say putting the Gospel piece entitled “A Seed of Faith” together is the closest to my heart. It speaks of the struggles we face in life and how holding on to faith can bring joy and triumphs. The men’s section called “We Need You Right Now” is about brotherhood and lifting each other up in times of need. This brotherhood I’m speaking of is all about loving and supporting one another regardless of skin color and differences. We need more of that during these trying times.

 

Sometimes dance can be a vessel to reach people in ways that words may not be able to. Dance is beautiful but even more beautiful when the relationship between dancer and audience is impactful. This piece was also fun to set because it takes me back to being in the Ailey company and dancing Revelations. Choreographed by Alvin Ailey, Revelations is a ballet that has been uplifting audiences across the world for 60 years now. Dancing Alvin’s works was a huge blessing and inspiration for me. So, to be able to sprinkle a bit of my experiences from the Ailey company through my work is a continuation of Alvin Ailey’s vision as well.

 

 

 

  1. How different is your process when you’re setting a work you’ve done before vs when you are starting from scratch?

 

It’s quite different because creating a new work for me is like starting to work on a brand-new huge puzzle. It takes patience, persistence, trial and errors until you finally get it finished. It’s a very satisfying and exciting feeling when I complete a piece. Some come easy to me and some are not so easy. The harder ones sometimes make me lose sleep!

 

Recreating a piece I’ve already done is quite interesting because sometimes I tweak and change it a bit. Sometimes I may change it because I hope to keep growing as a choreographer and improve with each subsequent performance. It also may change depending on the different dancers I work with each time. As a choreographer, you have to be willing to adapt with the dancer you have in front of you.  So after a bit of tweaking, the piece may look the same but have a slightly different flavor.  Same meat…different spices. Or same soup if you’re a vegetarian and meat sounds icky!

 

 

  1. When you are starting a new piece, do you find the music first + then create a story, or do you find the music to fit your idea?

 

It varies depending on a few things. There are times when I know I want to choreograph a piece with a specific meaning or intent and then it’s a long hard search for music that would be a good fit for that vision. Other times, I find a piece of music that I am drawn to and I immediately visualize the choreography or certain story I would like to portray to that music. Then there are certain pieces I choreograph that may not have a storyline at all and are just about movement… but even then, it still has to all come together with a fluid connection of steps to each other and the movement has to relate to the music. And of course, the dancers have to gel with the movement or it just doesn’t work.

 

 

  1. You have a unique style of movement! What shaped you or drew you to that style?

I’m flattered that you think I have a unique style of movement. It’s honestly a bit of a culmination of so many amazing choreographers I have been honored to work with, in addition to my own way of moving, all tied up in one. I like to keep my eyes open for some of the ways that dance is evolving so that I can continue to evolve as a choreographer, BUT while also staying true to my own style. I love modern and classical ballet, so I love to show both sides of that in a lot of my choreography.  I also like to dabble in a bit of Afro-Caribbean movement in some of my works.

 

 

  1. What is your favorite part of the choreographic or rehearsal process?

 

My favorite part of the choreographic process is when I see that the dancers are “starting to get it.” Sometimes at the beginning of the rehearsal period, I see blank faces looking back at me because they are concerned about their ability to move the way I’m asking them to. I have said on many occasions… “trust me and trust the process…I’m not going to send you out on stage looking crazy!”

 

It is so exciting when I see the dancers letting go of their inhibitions and getting comfortable with a different way of moving. When I see the end result on stage and the way everything comes together… AHHHH, it’s an amazing thing. It really fuels my soul!

 

 

  1. What advice would you give any students interested in choreography?

 

The advice I would give to students interested in choreography would be to not be afraid to think outside of the box – but not so much out of the box that the dance becomes something that the audience leaves the theater with a feeling of “what the heck did I just watch?’  I feel that dance should touch the audience in many different ways. When audience members leave feeling confused and empty, then perhaps you have tried to be too different in your approach to choreography. Alvin Ailey always said “dance was created by the people and should be given back to the people”…in other words, give them something they can feel and grasp. As a choreographer it’s ok to push the envelope in our works and make people feel things in a way that they haven’t felt before, but the key is to make them feel something!  Even if it’s disdain – Just don’t let them leave feeling empty and lost.

 

  1. Lastly, what’s the one thing in Visions of Hope that you are most excited for the audience to see or experience?

 

I want people to leave the theater feeling like they just experienced a wonderful interaction and relationship with the dancers. Dancers should be able to reach people through their movement, their energy, their expression, their commitment to the work and through their heartfelt love of dance. With the works that I have chosen for Visions of Hope, along with the dancers being vulnerable and committed to the works, I am hoping that the audience leaves feeling uplifted and joyous. I’m also hopeful it creates more compassion, humanity and togetherness. If I can touch one person this way then maybe I’ve done a good job.


You won’t want to miss this exciting production – There will be both live and virtual viewing options. Hope to see you there!

LIVE PERFORMANCES: Friday, May 14th at 7:30 PM & May 15th at 2 PM and 7:30 PM at Zeiders American Dream Theater in Virginia Beach

VIRTUAL PERFORMANCES: Viewing available from May 21st to June 7th

Check here for TICKETING OPTIONS

 

 

 

There’s more to Ballet Virginia than ballet

Experience and exposure in a variety of dance styles is important for creating versatile dancers and has become a necessity for aspiring professionals. In professional ballet companies today, new choreography often incorporates many styles of dance. Even for our younger dancers, experience in dance forms beside ballet will enhance their training and positively impact their dance experience.

The most important way to develop versatile dancers is to have teachers who are amazing at whatever genre they teach—and who also have a great respect for all dance forms and encourage their students to do the same. At Ballet Virginia, we are fortunate to have a faculty with years of professional experience and education in the genres that they teach.

We encourage all our students to explore other genres of dance. Signing up for an elective to enhance your dance training could be just the thing you need. New students are welcome and registration is ongoing. Many of our electives are open to students who are not enrolled in our ballet classes.

 

TAP

 

Ballet Virginia currently offers three levels of tap starting at age five. It is the first elective offered to augment our ballet-based training because tap is a very effective way to teach musicality in a fun and movement-based environment.

We also find that young children, especially boys, enjoy tap class. You get to move and make music with your feet. That’s a lot of action for a seven-year old! Besides the fun of tap, some students find they have a talent for tap dancing and it becomes a source of confidence-building.

Becoming proficient in tap demands minute precision and complex musicality. Justin Peck, a NYCB member and award-winning choreographer, has come to realize, that the musical exactitude of his ballet choreography is rooted in his early tap training. So, continuing on with tap classes will make you a better ballet dancer as well as a strong tapper.

This elective is open to students who are not enrolled in ballet classes at Ballet Virginia.

 

MODERN

Ballet Virginia adds Modern classes starting in Level 2 to all training programs through BVII with five levels of study. Our Modern program is Horton-based and is headed by Lydia Roberts Coco, a former Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre member.

By Level 2, dancers have developed enough technical proficiency in ballet to begin to deeply explore ways of moving that differ from the classical ballet genre. Modern, in particular, puts emphasis on complicated and intricate movement patterns which helps to develop coordination and agility. Taking modern class is critical to being a professional ballet dancer.

 

MUSICAL THEATER

Acting is an important artistic component of dance performance. This class focuses on the fundamentals of acting through learning light-

hearted scripts and songs. Ballet Virginia currently has two levels of Musical Theater classes, both at our Beach location.

This elective is open to students who are not enrolled in ballet classes at Ballet Virginia.

 

CHARACTER

 

In iconic classical ballets such as Swan Lake, Coppelia, Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty, there is always a wedding scene, party scene or village scene. These scenes feature highly stylized folk dancing from the times in which these ballets are set.

Character class explores this type of dancing and prepares the students for roles in these ballets. This type of dancing involves rhythmic steps and strong port de bra and epaulement which directly enhances a dancer’s ballet proficiency.

 

PILATES MAT

 

Pilates is a renowned and highly detailed exercise system. It is beneficial to dancers ages 10 and up or anyone who wants to be well-aligned and strong. Adding cross training in Pilates to your dance training can prevent injuries, build strength and increase body awareness.

Adults as well as Levels 4 and up in our academy are welcome to take this class. This elective is open to students who are not enrolled in ballet classes at Ballet Virginia.

 

CONTEMPORARY

 

This class gives students an outlet to be expressive in their movements while dancing to contemporary music, usually with lyrics. Having the opportunity to “let loose” and allow the music to inspire movement is encouraged.

In classical ballet, it is also important to let movement be inspired by the music. But, it is more difficult within the confines of ballet technique and classical music for dancers to find this artistry. Contemporary class gives them the freedom to discover it and take it back with them into ballet class.

This elective is open to students who are not enrolled in ballet classes at Ballet Virginia.

 

HIP HOP/TUMBLING

 

It’s good to just let loose and have some fun. The combination of Hip Hop and Tumbling are just what our Lower School students need sometimes. And, while they are having fun, they’re also gaining coordination, musicality and upper body strength.

As Hip Hop becomes even more mainstream, it is finding its way into all corners of dance world – even ballet companies! Plus, all dancers should be able to do basic tumbling moves like cartwheels, tuck rolls and backbends.

This elective is open to students who are not enrolled in ballet classes at Ballet Virginia.

 

BODY CONDITIONING

Starting in Level 3, all Ballet Virginia students take conditioning classes. Depending on the level, this includes Progressing Ballet Technique (PBT), Pilates and pointe conditioning. These half-hour classes help students to gain strength, muscle awareness, enhanced body mechanics and flexibility. Conditioning classes also help to reduce injuries and give the students specific exercises that they can work on outside of class.

 

 

SIGN UP FOR AN ELECTIVE TODAY

 

Call us at 446-1401 or visit our Elective page.

 

-written by Lisa McCarty with photos by Hayley-Ann Vasco

 

 

 

Summer Dance Prep

Auditioning for Summer Intensives in 2021

 

Although summer may seem a long way off, many ballet schools have already begun their summer intensive auditions (even some as early as the middle of December). With companies unable to travel for many in-person audition tours, and just doing the auditioning virtually, most summer intensive auditions will have all been done by the beginning of February. Plus, with some schools accepting fewer students this summer in order to keep with COVID guidelines, you’ll want to register early as most of these virtual auditions are first-come first served. So, if you have any interest in attending one or think you might decide you want to in a few months, it’s time to start planning and getting prepared now

Another option is to train with Ballet Virginia over the summer. After a successful summer intensive last year, we are planning for Summer 2021 with another four-weeks of full-day training. Summer 2021’s Intensive will run from July 5th to July 30th. 

Keep in mind that Ballet Virginia’s Directors recommend that dancers be at least 13 and currently in an Upper School level before considering going away for summer training. 

 

Ballet Virginia Summer Intensvie
Ballet Virginia Summer Intensive

Why go to a summer intensive?

Summer intensive programs are a valuable part of a dancer’s training and are a necessary stepping stone on the path to becoming a professional for a variety of reasons:

When students don’t take class over the summer, their technique suffers. For our upper school levels, taking class over the summer is required either at another school or here at home. Progress made over the year cannot be not maintained without dancing over the summer. Students who don’t attend a summer program or at least take regular classes will spend the first few months back, regaining the flexibility, strength and muscles they once had instead of progressing forward.

Going away can be an eye-opening experience to the other amazing talent that’s out there and push students to work harder during the school year. It can also be a place to meet lifelong friends and work with choreographers, directors and teachers that might end up changing the course of your career in the future. The dance world is small, all connections and relationships can be valuable!

Going to a summer intensive offers exposure to different techniques and instructors that students wouldn’t normally have access to at home. Going to one of these programs can help students decide what they like as a dancer, what styles, types of movement, repertoire or what type of environment they could see themselves working in and for which companies. 

A summer intensive that is attached to a professional company could potentially give a dancer a leg up when they audition for a traineeship or spot with that particular company down the line. But most importantly, a dancer should use this time in their career to figure out who they are as an artist and what they might want to do in the future.

 

Company Dancer Leah Upchurch at the Kansas City Ballet Summer Intensive

How to choose which summer intensive to audition for:

Decide on your goals for the summer

Why do you want to go to a summer intensive in the first place? Do you want to learn a new style? Become more versatile in contemporary or modern? Get lots of personalized corrections? Focus on the training first. Extras like activities and city excursions might be more important to a younger student who is mostly prioritizing solid summer training than they would be for an older dancer looking for a year-round position. 

Do your research

How many hours will you be dancing each day? And for how many days per week? Some schools say 9-5 but have multiple hour or two hour breaks where you aren’t dancing. Other schools teach two ballet technique classes per day. If one or the other doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you’d want to know that before committing to 6-8 weeks. 

  • Is a performance opportunity important to you? What kind of repertoire would you be learning? Is it different than you would get here at home?
  • What is the city like? What classes besides ballet are offered? Who will be teaching? Where have those teachers danced or taught before? Do they offer scholarships? Are they merit-based, financial, or both?
  • How big are the classes? Some places won’t specify so you may have to do some snooping on their website or social media for pictures. Although many schools will be limiting class size this year due to COVID, the amount of students in class is important to gauge how much personal attention you might get. Teachers at larger programs that have more than 25 students per class might not be able to pay attention to everyone in one class. That isn’t to say that big programs are a bad thing, but if you are a dancer who usually sticks to the back of the room, you’ll have to be very self disciplined to take everyone else’s corrections as your own. 

Prioritize what’s important

You can improve anywhere with the right mindset. But some places will be better for you than others. While one school might be the perfect fit for your friend, a completely different company might be better fit for you. And this can also change from summer to summer. 

How old are you/ how serious are you about your training? If you are 12 or 13 years old, it might not make a huge difference where you go and staying at Ballet Virginia might be your best option. You should just focus on a place where you can get consistently good technique. Older dancers might want to start thinking about where they could get a year-round, second company, studio company, or trainee position if that is the goal.

You want to find the training that’s best for you. Ask yourself why you really want to go there. Is it because you just know someone else from your school who went there and has a connection to a company? Or is it because you truly are excited for their program, the classes they offer, and the environment you’ll be in? You also shouldn’t choose a program just because your friends are going there too. Odds are that you’ll end up in a different level than them anyways! Keep your focus on the program’s curriculum and faculty because you’ll be able to make good friends at any intensive. Is it a big company you just want to add to your resume? A large company isn’t the best fit for every dancer. Go back and refer to what your summer goals are!

 

Can you spot Company Dancers Colin Jacob and Jackson Kettell? They’ve both spent summers at Ballet West.

 How to audition:

Any other year, and this would be an easy question to answer because you would just pick the closest location on your desired school’s national audition tour. However, of course this year is  different and requires a little more planning. 

There is no easy answer because most ballet schools are approaching them differently. So you’ll have to go to each school’s website (or use our handy list below) to see exactly what their process is. They are usually very specific with their instructions and following them is key. 

  • Some schools are doing auditions by video, where you record yourself in the studio doing some exercises at the barre and some center work. If you want to do this at Ballet Virginia, you’ll need to check for studio time availability and reserve it beforehand.
  • Most others are doing live virtual Zoom auditions that take place at a certain time. Most of these classes take place on Saturdays or Sundays in January, although a few are taking place during the week. For these, you have to register ahead of time and most registrations are closing on the Wednesday or Thursday prior. 
  • Lastly, there are a few companies doing in person auditions. This can be a great option if they aren’t too far and if you and your family feel safe. Fourteen major ballet companies have even joined together to create a place for dancers to audition for multiple schools at once. These schools are holding in person auditions at their studios and representatives from all the schools will be observing via Zoom. Check out more information about the National Summer Intensive Audition Tour here.

 

 

Company Dancer Hayley-Ann Vasco in Houston at her first summer intensive.

Things to consider before your virtual auditions

Make sure that you are following all the instructions provided. They are there so that it is easy for the auditioners to see you well. Many schools are giving a dress code with the exception that if you’re dancing against a dark background, a light colored leotard may be allowed. It’s also a good idea to have the best light possible while dancing. That means that the light should be shining on you and not from behind you, so that you aren’t just a shadowy silhouette. And of course, make sure your entire body is in frame. 

You are not being judged on the space you are dancing in. Many students don’t have access to a real studio, but as long as you have a 6 foot by 6 foot square and a sturdy piece of furniture as a barre you will be good to go. Teachers also understand that the lag on Zoom may affect musicality, so don’t stress about that too much (although having a good internet connection is crucial). And with virtual auditions, keep in mind that the class may be recorded for playback so the directors and teachers have a chance to go back and focus on each student individually if needed. 

Headshots and audition photos may be even more crucial this year. Photos are a great tool for directors to look back on to remember those who stood out in class. Plus they might not remember if you fell out of one turn during class especially if they can quickly look at your first arabesque and see your beautiful lines, extension, and poise. Headshots are important because schools want to see your personality shine through in your dancing and they need to connect your name to your face and movement quality. So if the school asks for photos during registration, have them already prepared and ready to send. You’ve dedicated so much time and energy in honing your technique and working on your artistry. It’s important to match that effort by investing in the quality of your audition photos – you want to present your best self when making your first impression. 

 

See this post for more tips for a successful audition photoshoot

 

Plan your virtual auditions carefully. Don’t schedule more than two auditions back to back or on the same day- you’ll be exhausted. Auditions are usually more tiring than taking a regular technique class because your body is pushing harder and your brain is working overtime to pick up the combinations and retain corrections. Maybe even consider scheduling the auditions for your favorite programs first and then work around those when planning the rest.

Lastly, although schools are judging based on strong technique, they understand that this year is different. Some students have had to be practicing in their homes this whole year, so we at Ballet Virginia are very lucky in that regard. Just do your best in the space you have. The School of Pennsylvania Ballet’s director, James Payne summed it up best,

“When they take the audition, it’s important that they show who they are and not try to be who they think the person at the front of the room wants them to be. We really want to have an honest assessment of where they are. I don’t want them to have their best class that day, I don’t want them to have their worst class. I want to see their regular class.” – Pointe Magazine 

 

Summer Intensive 2020 at Ballet Virginia

Here is a list of some of the schools that our students have been accepted to and/or attended for you and your dancer to look at their audition information:

American Ballet Theatre https://www.abt.org/training/dancer-training/summer-programs/audition-info/#live-audition

Atlanta Ballet  https://centre.atlantaballet.com/summer-programs/audition-tour

Ballet Austin https://balletaustin.org/academy/summer-intensive/#1587356086892-597aeb8b-194a 

Boston Ballet https://www.bostonballet.org/Home/Education/Resources/For-Parents-Students/Summer-Dance-Program-Auditions

BalletMet https://www.balletmet.org/academy/summer/summer-intensive/

Cincinnati Ballet https://cballet.org/academy/summer-program-auditions

Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet https://cpyb.org/5-week-summer-ballet-program/apply-today/

Colorado Ballet https://www.coloradoballet.org/academy/summer-intensive

Houston Ballet https://www.houstonballet.org/about/academy1/summer-intensive-program/sip-audition-tour2/

Joffrey Ballet Chicago http://joffrey.org/auditiontour

Kansas City Ballet https://kcballet.org/kansas-city-ballet-summer-intensive-program/si-audition-info/

Alonzo King LINES Ballet https://linesballet.org/education/summer-program/audition/

Miami City Ballet https://www.miamicityballet.org/school/summer-programs/summer-intensive

Milwaukee Ballet https://www.milwaukeeballet.org/summer-intensive/auditions/

Nashville Ballet https://www.nashvilleballet.com/audition-for-nbsi

Charlotte Ballet https://charlotteballet.org/national-auditions/

Oklahoma City Ballet https://www.okcballet.org/school/summer-intensive/

Orlando Ballet https://orlandoballet.org/education-training/senior-summer-intensive/

Pacific Northwest Ballet https://www.pnb.org/pnb-school/classes/summer-course/

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre https://www.pbt.org/pbt-school/admissions/national-auditions/

San Francisco Ballet https://www.sfballet.org/school-education/summer/summer-session/auditions/

School of American Ballet https://sab.org/summer-auditions-admission/

Texas Ballet Theatre https://texasballettheater.org/summer-intensive/

Tulsa Ballet https://tulsaballet.org/classes/summer-programs/

Washington Ballet https://www.washingtonballet.org/summer-programs/

Ballet West https://balletwestacademy.org/summer-intensive/

 

If you have any other questions, reach out to your teacher. They can give advice specifically for you. 

 

Ballet Virginia’s Summer Programs Information

Perfect for dancers who would rather stay home or for families who don’t feel comfortable sending their dancer away this year.

Summer Classes in the Afternoons & Evenings: June 21 to July 31  

This program offers training during weekday evenings and Saturdays, much like the academy year at both our Norfolk and Virginia Beach locations. Summer is also a great time for new students to experience what Ballet Virginia has to offer. Open to all levels. Attend the entire session or a minimum of three weeks.

Summer FLEX: June 21 to July 31

This program offers additional training to Levels 5 and up (or by invitation) for dancers interested in pre-professional training. Summer FLEX meets Monday through Friday from 1 PM to 4 PM. Classes in ballet, pointe, variations, modern and more will be offered. This program is to be taken in tandem with the student’s summer session classes. Attend the entire session or a minimum of three weeks.

Summer Intensive: August 16 to 20

Ballet Virginia summer intensive classes include Ballet Technique, Variations and Repertory, Modern, Character, Jazz, Broadway Repertory, Progressing Ballet Technique and Pilates. Last year’s guest teachers included Jacquelyn Long, currently a soloist with Houston Ballet and Aaron Robinson, currently a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet.

Final Performance

Ballet Virginia’s Summer Intensive will culminate with a performance of classical and contemporary repertoire in our Rehearsal Hall Theatre.

 Learn More about Ballet Virginia’s Summer Programs

-written by Hayley Ann Vasco