Summer Intensive: Ballet students study with top dancers

Published 9:39 am Saturday, June 10, 2017

Forty-four students and five guest dancers have spent the past week studying with acclaimed dancers Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner at the Andalusia Ballet’s Summer Intensive.

McKerrow and Gardner are a husband-and-wife team who spent most of their stage careers with American Ballet Theatre in New York City. McKerrow joined ABT under the direction of Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1982, and became a principal dancer in 1987.

Gardner joined ABT in 1978, and was promoted to soloist in 1984.

In 1991, he joined Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project, dancing with the company for five years in the United States, Europe, Asia, South America and Australia. He returned to ABT in 1996.

The pair now travel and work as teachers and coaches. McKerrow said they learned about Andalusia Ballet through their colleague Wes Champion, with whom they danced in New York.

“I knew Wes taught here, and he liked Meryane so much,” she said of Andalusia Ballet founder Meryane Martin Murphy. “We are always on the lookout for people who are of like minds, who are doing things for the right reason. It’s like getting at the heart of what we do.

“Surprisingly, that isn’t always the case. A lot of times, in the bigger schools, it because about getting as many students as possible,” she said. “Smaller schools can stick to their own values.”

McKerrow also taught here three summers ago.

“I found (in Murphy) a like mind, someone who really cares about children and students,” she said. “It’s not only teaching people how to dance, but also giving them wonderful skills to be good people. This time, we both could come and teach.”

Murphy also invited five professional male dancers to participate in Summer Intensive, and added a pas de deux class to help Andalusia Ballet dancers become accustomed to dancing with a partner. While Andalusia Ballet actually hired the professional male dancers to be here, an added advantage for them was the opportunity to study with Gardner and McKerrow, Murphy said.

“I loved what Meryane did with that,” McKerrow said. “It’s always difficult to have males to partner young dancers.”

Murphy said, “Having guest professionals lifts the level of the intensive and provides an opportunity to do advanced partnering.”

Summer intensives are important, McKerrow said, because students have an opportunity to learn from a different perspective.

“We’re like that substitute teacher who comes in and says what the main teacher has been saying all year,” she said. “It can click sometimes when it’s presented, or heard differently.”

Murphy said it also gives young dancers an opportunity to challenge themselves with hard work, and to bond as a group as they support and encourage each other.

McKerrow and her husband spend much of their lives travelling, but have a home address in northeastern Vermont.

“It’s a very balancing place when we do get there,” she said. “We clear our minds and relax in a way that with all of the crazy travel, we need.”

In addition to daily classes, Summer Intensive included social outings. Tim and Katherine Dantz hosted an outing for the older students at their house on Gantt Lake Tuesday evening. Huey and Alicia Morgan hosted the guest dancers at their home on Wednesday; and Chrissie and Kevin Duffy hosted a pool party for the group Thursday evening at the home of George and Sister Barnes.

Murphy said dancers also have enjoyed spend-the-night parties, and have spent time soaking their feet in Epson salts and buckets of ice water together.

–Michele Gerlach