Thursday, January 30, 2014

Free lecture with Carolina Chocolate Drops

The Patel Conservatory is proud to offer two unique opportunities with visiting concert guest artists this weekend.

Carolina Chocolate Drops Lecture/Demonstration
Sat., Feb. 1, 2014
12 to 1 p.m.

Conservatory students and families are invited to attend a lecture and demonstration from the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
This popular Grammy award-winning ensemble from Durham, North Carolina mixes the best of string-band, jug-band, R & B, early jazz, and roots music into a jubilee performance that wouldn’t be complete without a little shoutin’, flat-foot dancing and jug playing.
The group performs Sat., Feb. 1, at 7:30 p.m. in Ferguson Hall.

This event is free, however RSVP is requested. Please call 813.222.1002.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

NGB students among elite dancers accepted to Prix de Lausanne

Congratulations to Next Generation Ballet (NGB) New Artists Tanner Bleck and Olivia Gusti, who will compete in the world’s most prestigious dance competition, the Prix de Lausanne.

Approximately 60 dancers are selected from hundreds of entries worldwide.

Tanner Bleck
Gusti and Bleck were two of only 10 from the United States to be accepted into the competition, which will be Jan. 26 through Feb. 1, 2014 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Bleck, 15, is one of only three American males accepted into the Prix de Lausanne.

The six-day event offers dancers scholarships to world renowned ballet schools.

Bleck moved to Tampa from Kentucky last year to train with NGB. He started ballet at age seven at Bluegrass Youth Ballet in Lexington, KY, and continued at Bluegrass School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Tanner has received scholarships and attended summer intensive programs at the Boston Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, Jose CarreƱo Dance Festival and Next Generation Ballet. He recently placed second in the Classical Senior Men category and in the top 12 in the Contemporary Senior Men at the Youth America Grand Prix semi-finals in Tampa.

St. Petersburg native Gusti, 15, has been with the Patel Conservatory’s dance program for several years. She began dancing at age 6 with Ballet Pensacola before moving to the Tampa area and training at Florida West Ballet under the instruction of Povel Fomin. With NGB, she’s danced feature roles including Godmother in Cinderella and Dew Drop in The Nutcracker. She has also performed with the Moscow Ballet in St. Petersburg. Most recently, she won the Grand Prix award at the YAGP semi-finals in Tampa.

Former NGB dancers Hannah Bettes and William Dugan are now training abroad through opportunities at the Prix de Lausanne.

Best of luck to Bleck and Gusti as they embark on their journey!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Theater faculty Ami Sallee tackles another Homer classic

On the heels of directing a modern day version of Homer’s The Odyssey at the Patel Conservatory, theater faculty Ami Sallee recently took on another Homer classic, An Iliad.

Sallee directed Gorilla Theatre’s An Iliad, which runs through Feb. 2, 2014.  The show runs one more weekend (January 17-19) at The Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin, one of our community partners, and returns to Tampa January 23rd at the Springs Theater.

Known throughout the Tampa Bay theater community, Sallee teaches several theater classes at the conservatory, including the Beginning Adult Acting and Techniques of Acting.

A three-time Creative Loafing “Best of the Bay” winner, she is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to theater, from acting to directing and everything in between.

Enjoy a behind-the-scenes perspective in this conversation with Sallee...

Ami Sallee, right, with Brendan Ragan, talks about
Gorilla Theatre's An Iliad on WMNF radio.
How did you come to direct both of Homer’s epic poems in one season?
I had chosen May Zimmerman’s The Odyssey for the conservatory’s fall season early last year. In October, the president of the Gorilla Theatre’s board came to see our production and we talked about the potential of directing An Iliad for their first play of the 2014 season. It was purely coincidence but like to call this my “Homeric Year.” Epic things are happening this year.

What are the similarities and differences between the two productions?
The Odyssey and An Iliad both have a close place in my heart. I treated both processes with a great sense of respect for the dramaturgy. An homage to the story teller, each were an opportunity to think outside of the box in terms of movement and staging.
But they were vastly different in terms of casting and rehearsal dynamics. The Odyssey was a full ensemble piece, whereas An Iliad is a one-man show.
The Odyssey went up in only eight weeks, with just 11 rehearsals, but I had an amazing 8-person design team of dedicated artists to pull such a beautiful production together. With An Iliad, we had 11 rehearsals and the design team was just me! Thankfully, I had Nicole Smith (stage manager for The Little Mermaid Jr. at The Conservatory this summer) by my side through it all.  Add Brendan, our 1-man, and we are a mighty trio. 

In addition to directing An Iliad, you were also the lighting, sound costume and scenic designer? What was that like?
Due to a miscommunication of schedules, we lost our lighting and scenic team about halfway through a VERY short process. We reached out to a handful of designers, but so close to the holidays, we didn’t have any luck with that. On the 3rd day of rehearsal, I decided that I could design the lights, too. No problem. I do it all the time at the Straz Center’s Shimberg and TECO Theaters. By the 5th day of rehearsal, I had also assumed the scenic design. The vision was so clear in my head that it just seemed pointless to bring on someone else.

I wanted to fully transform the atmosphere of the audience so that stage was just an extension of the pub in which the poet finds himself. I wanted the lighting and scenic elements to stretch beyond the simple into the “full experience”.  I got in my van and hit up every local theater’s scenic storage spaces and have borrowed the entire stock of chairs for the set from Tampa Bay, including from my own house. I have nothing to sit on at the moment. Thankfully I’m hardly ever home this month.

It was an absolutely exhausting experience, but, if I do say so myself, I am proud of my designs – individually and as a collective, serving the story.

What else do you want to share about the show?
Brendan Ragan, recent Asolo Repertory MFA grad is the star of the show, playing The Poet and a handful of Greeks, Trojans and gods. I was blessed to be working with an actor who brings equal, if not double, what I brought into every rehearsal. It’s breathtaking, refreshing. Working with someone so physically aware and emotionally astute, who gives so generously of his abilities to serve the story, it inspires you to do the same. I really hope that all of my students can see Brendan perform so they can give themselves the gift of seeing the outcome of working with a consummate professional.  If you do come, stay after the performance.  Brendan and I would love to answer any questions or hear what you have to say.

You recently transitioned out being the chair of the Patel Conservatory’s theater department. Can you tell us why?
When I assumed the position of theater chair two and a half years ago it was with the knowledge that I would eventually pass on the hat to a new chair who would take us to the next academic level.

This is from the announcement we sent out, “It has been an honor to have been able to lead the department through significant years of growth. The theater department has transformed from a series of unconnected classes to an accredited program with vertical curriculum, and a certification program for students on a pre-professional track.”

This is 100% true.  I was good at the job, at building the structure that the department so desperately needed, but there was also a nagging need to get out from behind the desk. When a full-time faculty position become available, to make a Homeric reference, it seemed the right time to step aside and begin the search for our next leader.

I am ecstatic to be back in the classroom and in the director’s chair, and back on stage this spring in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and working on my own one-woman show. All of these opportunities feed me as an artist, as well as fulfilling The Patel Conservatory’s goal of employing working professional artists on our faculty.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

NGB wins Outstanding School at Tampa YAGP semi-final

Congratulations to all of our dancers who competed in the recent semi-final Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) competition in Tampa.

Olivia Gusti, Grand Prix winner at the
YAGP Tampa semi-final competition.
Photo by SOHO Images.
The Patel Conservatory is proud to announce that Next Generation Ballet (NGB) was named “Outstanding School” and NGB trainee Olivia Gusti was named “Grand Prix winner” at the competition, which took place Jan. 3 - 5 at the Straz Center.

“We are so proud of our students and instructors and appreciate this recognition from YAGP,” said Wendy Leigh, Straz Center vice president of education.

NGB beat out 48 other schools for the Outstanding School title. And Gusti competed against hundreds of other dancers to win YAGP’s highest honor. Approximately 350 dancers came from all over Florida and six other states for the two-day competition.

Gusti, 15, was also recently selected for the prestigious Prix de Lausanne competition in Switzerland.

YAGP is the largest student ballet competition in the world and screens more than 5,000 dance students internationally in regional competitions. Gusti and other top dancers will go on to compete in the finals in New York City on April 9 for the chance to win scholarships and job offers from professional dance companies.

NGB students who also placed in the competition:
  • First place Classical Jr. Men: Jordan Martinez
  • First place Classical Jr. Women: Florrie Geller
  • Top 12 Classical Jr. Women: Geller, Courtney Gunsteens, Chandler Hammond, Janaya Zimmerman
  • Top 6 Classical Jr. Men: Liam Boswell, Neal Burks, Martinez
  • Third place Contemporary Jr. Women: Geller 
  • Comtemporary Top 12 Jr. Women: Geller, Hammond, Zimmerman
  • First place Contemporary Jr. Men: Liam Boswell
  • Second place Contemporary Jr. Men: Martinez
  • Contemporary Top 6 Jr. Men: Boswell, Martinez 
  • Second place Classical Sr. Female: Stanford
  • Second place Classical Sr. Male: Tanner Bleck
  • Second place Pas de Deux – Claire Ashcraft and Ethan Fuller
  • Third place Classical Sr. Men: Fuller
  • Classical Top 12 Sr. Men: Bleck, Jarod Curley, Fuller, John Hewitt, Christopher Kunzelmann, Corbin Panturad
  • Classical Top 12 Sr. Women: Lexa Armstrong, Brittany Broussard, Gusti, Hannah Stanford
  • Contemporary Top 12 Sr. Women: Claire Ashcraft, Gusti, Alexandria Marx
  • Second place Contemporary Dance Sr. Men: Fuller
  • Contemporary Top 12 Sr. Men: Bleck, Curley, Fuller, Hewitt, Kunzelmann 
Congratulations to the following daners who qualified to participate in the YAGP finals in New York City in April:

Olivia Gusti
Jordan Martinez
Florrie Geller
Courtney Gunsteens
Chandler Hammond
Janaya Zimmerman
Tanner Bleck
Ethan Fuller
Hannah Stanford

Friday, January 3, 2014

Welcome YAGP competitors

Welcome to all the dancers who will be competing at the Straz Center this weekend!

Next Generation Ballet dancer Olivia Gusti. Photo by VAM.
More than 300 dancers from over 45 dance studios around the state and beyond will compete this weekend in the Tampa semi-final of the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP), the world’s largest student ballet competition, which will be held at the Straz Center through Sunday. More than 30 of our Next Generation Ballet dancers will be competing.

It’s an event-filled weekend that includes an extraordinary dance performance Saturday evening, Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow.

In Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow, top students from the competition will perform along with international ballet stars from some of the most renowned dance companies in the world.

YAGP brings this unique gala performance, which sells out annually in New York City, to Tampa for the third consecutive year.

The show features St. Petersburg natives Daniel Ulbricht (principal dancer, New York City Ballet) and Alison Miller (soloist, Houston Ballet) as well as Winter Park native Emily Kadow (YAGP alumna and San Francisco Ballet corps de ballet dancer).

Other featured dancers include Beckanne Sisk (star of the CW hit reality show Breaking Pointe and YAGP alumna), Veronika Part (principal dancer American Ballet Theatre) and Ashley Bouder (principal dancer New York City Ballet, among others.

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to see the best of the best on one stage this Sat., Jan 4, 2014 at 8 p.m. at the Straz Center.

Following the competition, students will have the opportunity to take master classes throughout the day on Sunday. And, on Sunday evening, Jan. 5, the Straz Center’s Next Generation Ballet (NGB) will host auditions for our summer intensive at the Patel Conservatory.

For more information about NGB, please call 813.222.1002 or visit

Best of luck to all competitors!