The 12 shows of Nutcracker

Downtown Ventura, CA
I returned home from my final Nutcracker gig in Los Angeles at about 7 AM Saturday morning. I spent nearly 6 weeks away from home, performed in countless shows, had a handful of great and horrible experiences, and flew on a final red eye flight that I was not too pleased about. Yesterday, I walked safely into my apartment, all in one piece. As I sat in the aisle seat of my plane next to a seatmate that couldn't find a comfortable sleep position for nearly 5 hours, I began to evaluate my Nutcracker-ing and determined a few things. Professional gigs trump school gigs. There's no place like home, or the home studio where a dancer was raised. I will never go back to West Virginia. Always get your housing situation written into a contract. If you aren't comfortable in your accommodations say something. Also, always require approval prior to having flights/accommodations booked. Lastly, be clear about your availability and requirements for shows. School's typically don't understand (or think of) that a dancer doesn't need two dress rehearsals, to be present at the theatre 2 hours prior to a performance, or access to healthy and affordable food options. To sum up my last 6 weeks, I wrote a short little list of my 12 shows of Nutcracker while trying to woo myself to sleep on that damn red eye flight. Enjoy and Happy New Year!!!!

12 - Shows of Nutcracker - 3 in each city (Rochester, NY; Huntington, WV; Immaculata, PA, Ventura, CA)
Flying into Los Angeles

11 -The average time that I woke up every morning for rehearsals or shows

10 - Different beds I slept in (3 friends, 2 hotels, 2 family members, 1 host family, 1 motel, my own)

9 - The earliest school performance I have ever had to perform in

8 - Flights around the country (if you count my flight out of WV that I boarded, but was cancelled on the tarmac due to a failed engine, this could have been #9)

7 - The number of times I was asked "How long is a dancer's career?"

Frightening WV McDonald's - 40 piece nuggets
6 - The amount of fast food receipts I accrued at airports and in West Virginia

5 - Different partners (this would have been 4 had #1 not happened)

4 - Different versions of the the grand pas de deux over 4 weekends (My brain almost exploded)

3 - Mishaps that were avoided by big smiles and great professionalism - On my opening with Rochester City Ballet, the orchestra fumbled the first 16 counts of the pas de deux. My partner and I gave the orchestra no choice, but to catch up to us. It sounded like they were going to stop and start over. I also had the back of my costume explode open at the beginning of the pas de deux, which couldn't be fixed until the end of my variation. Lastly, the stage in West Virginia was so slippery that I couldn't perform any of the dancing on releve or walk faster than a slow trod to avoid falling.
Cigarette burns on motel comforter

2 - Times that I had to reject accommodations after the agreed host families didn't follow through (also of note: using a motel is not an appropriate way to treat a guest artist, especially when there are reviews online speaking of prostitution and drug trade)

1 - Emergency performance of the Snow pas de deux where I learned the choreography an hour prior to the show (due to a performance that was moved because of snowy weather and a guest artist that had another show at the new performance time)

Bonus:  Carson Kressley from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Dancing with the Stars came to a performance at Chester Valley Dance Academy's show. 
Me and Carson after the show


In the spirit of the holidays - 2013 edition

I am in the middle of Nutcracker craziness and am having trouble finding time to do my normal everyday activities between rehearsals, shows, and traveling. With that said, I am currently sitting in a laundromat and still want to share some joy with my viewers. During this time last year, I made a festive list of my favorite moments while freelancing throughout the year. I am going to continue this time-honored tradition by presenting my 13 favorite moments of the year 2013 for all of my readers to enjoy.

Elizel & me rehearsing Seiwert's Monuments(Photo: Marco Gutierrez)
1. As I have said in the past, the most valuable experiences in my career, aside from a few specific moments, have been making connections with people. At the beginning of the year, I had the chance to dance with Elizel Long, former Rambert Dance Company member, for three months in Alaska. While we knew each other from the season prior, we had relatively no interaction due to visa problems that sent her home to South Africa after the first few days of the season. This year was quite different. At first, we were tentatively nice to each other, but within weeks we had become regular dance partners and great friends. It is not often that you bond with somebody as strongly and quickly as we did, but it was a magical three months that we got to spend and dance together. Book ending the year, I got to revisit Jessie Tretter, an old friend and partner from last year. I returned to Rochester City Ballet to dance as the Cavalier in the company's The Nutcracker. Having the comfort of our previous friendship and getting to build on a new comfort we had in our partnering made this experience wonderful. Although it had been a year since we had seen each other and danced together, it felt as if we had spent the entire year developing our partnership. While these were the two strongest connections I made, there were many others that made this season memorable.

2. I have really gotten a chance to delve into my teaching this year. My partner and I have dreams of, one day, starting our own ballet academy. While I have taught master classes and substituted when I am available, this was the first year that I had the opportunity to work with students regularly for a period of time. While dancing with Alaska Dance Theatre, I taught regularly in the school. It was so fulfilling to see the explosion of growth these students had under my direction. After that, I took a job teaching regular open classes in Koresh Dance Company's school. I, even, stepped out of my comfort zone and started teaching contemporary classes.

3. Host familes - This year I had the opportunity to revisit two host families from last year. I spent 7 weeks with my Anchorage family and 3 weeks with my Providence family. There is nothing better than getting to revisit these connections and building on what was left before. Not only that, it is so much easier entering into a familiar home. There is less need for tip-toeing and adjustment. They both treated me great and I look fondly on these repeated experiences.

4. Auditioning for the Broadway workshop of Christopher Wheeldon's American in Paris and Starz's upcoming TV show, Flesh and Bone, have the potential to be life-changing experiences for me. I have always wanted to try out for Broadway productions, but I didn't know where to begin. When a friend called to tell me I should audition for the American in Paris workshop, I jumped at it. This chance opportunity forced me to dive into an unknown world and stretched my breadth as an artist. Although I wasn't selected in the end, I felt honored to receive a call back for something that I had never done before. A few weeks after this audition, that same friend (thank you Allison Walsh) had suggested a casting company contact me to audition for the upcoming television show, Flesh and Bone, on Starz. Again, I didn't get the part, but these two auditions have inspired me to start preparing for what may be a new career transition for me. We'll have to see what 2014 brings us!

5. I spend a lot of my time writing for this blog about my personal experiences and the knowledge that I have gained throughout my time freelancing. Aside from having this blog reach over 30,000 views in it's short 1 1/2 years of life, I have had my blogs posted in other online publications, received commissions to write articles for both Dance/USA and the American Guild of Musical Artists, and been asked to contribute to an article that will be published in the January edition of Dance Magazine.

6. Turning 30 was kind of a big deal for me. It was such a big deal that I wrote a blog about it. As I stated in that post, I set a goal to dance until I was at least 30 years old. Well, I'm very proud to say that I reached that goal and have exceeded it. Cheers to dancing well into my thirties!

7. Whenever I take class in New York City, I take from Nancy Bielski at Steps on Broadway. I've mentioned in previous blogs how she takes great care of me when I'm in her class. While spending two weeks working on a workshop that could potentially go to Broadway, I took Nancy's class each day to stay in shape and warm up for my day. In one of those classes, Nancy exclaimed that I had beautiful feet while giving me a correction. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but for me it was huge. Spending 7 years dancing in Pacific Northwest Ballet, the company of feet and legs, I always felt like I had the worst feet in the company. I've spent the last few years working on the way that I use my feet, and being away from the speed of Balanchine classes (although I do miss them) has given me time to focus on the articulation of the foot a bit more. Hearing this from somebody that I really respect meant a great much to me. I will take that compliment, put it in my pocket, and carry it with me wherever I dance.

8. One thing that most ballet dancers despise is improv-ing. We like to be told what to do. The moment that most of us are told to make things up as we go, we freak out. After a few years experiencing more improv than I did dancing in a big ballet company, I feel like I really got a hang of it this year. Starting with taking the former artistic director of Alaska Dance Theatre's Gaga-esque warmups, which were based in improv, I started receiving compliments for my work. Upon my return home, I auditioned for the renowned, improv-based production of Sleep No More. A majority of the 30 minute audition was improv. Although I didn't get a call back, the director of the audition pulled me aside afterwards and told me that he was really impressed with me and enjoyed watching me. Lastly, in the audition for the workshop that I was a part of in #7 of this post, we had to do a long improv section. My experience and performance helped me land the gig.

Working w/Fidel Orrillo in Rochester (Photo: Josephine Cardin)
9. Getting the opportunity to return to Rochester City Ballet for Nutcracker a few weeks ago was really special for me. I got to revisit my partnership with my Sugar Plum from last year. Old friendships grew stronger and new friendships were forged. I loved getting the chance to again work with the company's fabulous ballet master, Fidel Orrillo. Fellow ballet mistress, Beth Bartholomew, and artistic director, Jamey Leverett were also greatly helpful and kind. Performing with a live orchestra, sharing the stage with great dancers, and feeling like I was a part of a community made this a very special experience for me.

10. During my time dancing with Barak Ballet, we took our warmup classes at the Westside School of Ballet. While the classes were great, it was the wild cast of characters that really made this a memorable experience. First and foremost, Patricia Neary. This lady is a former Balanchine Ballerina, Balanchine repetiteur, and former director of Geneva Ballet, Zurich Ballet, and La Scala. Patricia takes class nearly every morning. She stands at barre with a heater to warm her 71 year old bones. Once center comes, she puts on her pointe shoes and continues to execute combinations with flair and style. Beyond a few drop-ins from ballet companies, former So You Think You Can Dance finalists, and younger students, the cast of characters continues. There was an Asian lady who is getting up there and still wearing her pointe shoes. She performs each combination in every other group, even if there are well over 10 tries across the floor. There was another woman who won't come down off of releve...ever. She told me she has to wear heels because she is short. There are people that arrive late in flip flop high heels. Dancers who perform wild pirouettes at barre in between combinations while using the piano as their barre. Foundation dripping off of a face that was nowhere close to the color of it's applier. More plastic surgery than you could ever imagine (it is Los Angeles). And my lovely host mother. Throw in about 17 of us professional dancers for the creation of a new ballet company and you have a wild zoo of characters. Ill be revisiting this zoo next week when I perform with the Ventura County Ballet Company.

11. A milestone in my year took place over a few days in October. Patricia Neary, Nader Hamed, and a well-known dance critic (and good friend) told me that it is time for me to rejoin the world of company life, all within days of each other. The universe couldn't have screamed any louder. And the validation that I have not only been able to maintain my technique, but continue to improve mostly on my own, means more to me than imaginable.

12. Watching the students of the Draper Center for Dance Education perform in Rochester City Ballet's run of The Nutcracker. I don't know what is in the water at this school, but the students are wildly impressive. Not only do they have beautiful bodies, steely technique, and personality that shines. They are so well trained and rehearsed that they move as one. The synchronization of the students of this school could kick the asses of nearly every company's corps de ballet in the country.

In the studio creating with Amy Seiwert
13. Lucky number 13. Perhaps, my favorite experience while freelancing over the past year was having a work created on us by Amy Seiwert for a program with Alaska Dance Theatre. Before this experience, I had danced one of her works when I first left Pacific Northwest Ballet. Although I had danced her choreography, I never actually got to work with her. Not only was her process interesting and her choreography challengingly stellar, she was so kind to us as dancers. As I have grown into an experienced dancer, nothing is more important than being respected in a studio, whether in a stressful situation or not. Ms. Seiwert only had 2 weeks to meet us, show us her style, create a 20 minute, piece, and clean it. At no point did she ever place the stress of this time crunch upon us dancers. Amy lived up to and exceeded all of my wishes and expectations in working with her.

What was your favorite moment of the 2013 dance season, personal or as an audience member?


Is it ever appropriate to burn a bridge?

A beautiful bridge I found while freelancing in Rochester, NY
Growing up in a small local school, I gained a different perspective than what I may have gotten had I been part of a large institution. Being the only male at my studio over the age of 10 meant that I got a lot more push and direct advice than most dancers get during their training. While I received multitudes of direction throughout the years I spent honing my passion for dance at the Chester Valley Dance Academy, the most repetitious guidance I received was from the director of the studio. "Barry, you must never burn a bridge. The dance world is small and you never know who knows who."

This advice is greatly true, and I fully agree with it. Yet, I disagree, as well. Before I get to my point, let me put myself on the line. Hello. My name is Barry Kerollis and I may be one of the more controversial dancers you have ever met. This statement will take some explaining. While I have always relied on the above advice, I haven't necessarily followed it, albeit unintentionally. Avoiding burning bridges is a priority and fear of mine. Yet, I have done it more than many other dancers. Each time it has happened, it was never my intention. Perhaps, a misunderstanding, hunger for maximum achievement, or out of self preservation. I want to share my honest story openly to explore this subject objectively and help others understand and learn from my experiences. And, is it even possible to never burn one bridge in this dance world?

Perhaps, the first time I ever burnt a bridge, I was a mere 18 years old. I was on the verge of graduating from the Kirov Academy of Ballet. I was kind of an underdog. Upon entering the school, I was technically behind everybody and my body lacked the beautiful classical line of every other male in the school. It came as a surprise when the director of Colorado Ballet came to watch class and offered me a full company, corps de ballet, position for the upcoming season. At the same time, I had finally made it into my dream school, the School of American Ballet, for their summer intensive. Gaining acceptance into SAB is actually what inspired me to focus on ballet at the age of 15. Three years later, it finally happened and I was set on getting the full experience.

As soon as I received my letter of acceptance, I called SAB and mentioned that I had been offered a contract with Colorado Ballet. I told the school that I had dreamed about spending the year there and would turn down the offer to become a professional to have that chance. They told me that acceptance into the summer program didn't guarantee a spot in the year-round program. They suggested I not risk losing my job offer and to sign the contract to ensure that I had something to do the following season. So, I signed my contract, sent it in, and started searching for an apartment in what I thought to be my new home, Denver.

At the end of June, I moved into my summer home in the dorms at Lincoln Center. After the first few days of the program, Jock Soto pulled me into a conference room with Michael Breeden, current Miami City Ballet dancer, and Peter Boal. They told us how much they enjoyed seeing us in class and offered both of us to stay for the year to study with them. These talks usually didn't happen for a few weeks, so the two of us were extremely excited to get "the talk" so soon. For me, I was filled with mixed feelings. Excitement that I had finally achieved a dream and goal of mine, mixed with fear and confusion that I had to choose between my dream of training at SAB or starting my career as a professional. I spent a few days mulling over this decision and determined that I couldn't turn away from what inspired me to focus on ballet in the first place. I called up the director of Colorado Ballet and, as apologetically as I could, broke my contract for the upcoming season. The director told me that he understood my decision, but was very disappointed
Puss & Boots w/ Cassia Phillips - SAB workshop 2003
that I was breaking a promise that I had put in writing. I still feel awful that it had to happen this way, but I couldn't live with the regret that I would have if I had missed this opportunity. In the end, I believe it was one of the best career decisions that I have made. Not only did I get a great school to add to my training experience, but I learned a completely different style of ballet and made new connections that wouldn't have been available to me in a classical company that was more isolated than many other companies.

The second time I burnt a bridge was less complicated than my first. After a very productive year training at the School of American Ballet and doing 14 auditions for companies, I had been offered a handful of contracts. The offer that most piqued my interest was to join Pennsylvania Ballet's 2nd company, as it was the best company I had been offered to dance with and close to home. I emailed the director of the 2nd company and stated that I accepted their offer and asked that they send a contract to me. The day that my contract arrived, I received a call from Stanton Welch offering me an apprenticeship with Houston Ballet. Not only was this a more substantial company, but the position they offered was with the company and not a smaller training arm of a company. I promptly called Pennsylvania Ballet and told them that I was going to accept the offer with Houston Ballet because I had not yet signed the contract to dance with their 2nd company. The response was not the understanding that I expected. I expected there to be disappointment when I called, but I didn't expect to be told that they weren't pleased that I had made the decision and fully expected me to follow through with my word. Being a naive teenager, I thought they would understand why I would take a higher position with a better company. Alas, they didn't. While they didn't completely put me off in the years to come, after auditioning again for the company years later, they eventually stopped allowing me to take company class. Essentially, the term many of us have heard, I am blacklisted.

A few years ago, I had the unfortunate experience where I didn't realize a bridge was being burnt until it had already burnt, collapsed, and fallen into a deep lake of despair. I had experienced an injury with the company that I was dancing with in Philly. They had kept information secret from me that prevented me from getting assistance to recover from this injury. After working through a freelancing opportunity in pain with assistance from that company to get therapy, I returned for the next program still in pain. I made the mistake of remaining quiet and trying to dance through it. I knew I couldn't afford to take care of it and I had already put myself out there asking for assistance. I was put off and learned to stay quiet. At the same time, a less experienced choreographer was creating a piece on us to be performed at a major dance venue in New York City.

Throughout the process, I was having difficulty with my dance partner, my pain, and the complexities of her style of choreographing that was newer to me than the other dancers in the company. Instead of supporting me through the process, the choreographer switched back and forth between ignoring me and making less than respectful comments towards me. I did my best to deal with the stress silently, as dancers are often taught and expected to do. But after a week of this situation, the pressure came to a helm. The choreographer yelled at me, claiming that I was marking a step that I had not been. The conversation went like this. Choreographer: "What is your problem? Me: "I don't understand what you are asking me." Choreographer: "You are really starting to piss me off." Me: "I really don't understand what you are talking about." Choreographer: "Why are you marking?" At this point, I lost my cool and started fighting back. The pressure of trying to be respectful and trying to respect myself became too much and I defended myself loudly in front of everybody else. After a long private conversation following the outburst, we returned to the studio with the agreement that the choreographer would be a bit more clear in her process. My efforts to ease the situation didn't work. To prove to her that I wasn't marking, I danced beyond my threshold of pain and made my injury far worse. This sped up the process of burning one bridge that eventually burnt many.

That day will always be a big day in my life. I broke dance law. I lost my cool, I lost my submission, and I created a sour relationship with a choreographer, teacher, and repetiteur of works by the very choreographer who inspired me to consider switching my focus to ballet. Not only that, the choreographer and the director of the company were close friends. Throughout all of this, I also came to realize that I really couldn't continue to dance through my injury. It was much worse than it had been prior to this argument and I feared that if I continued to dance, I would have to pull out of the program closer to the performance dates and that I could possibly incur permanent damage. I decided to take myself out of the program, which eventually led to the company unfairly, and I believe illegally, firing me. There were many complications that came out of the burning of this one bridge. But was it right for me to defend myself as a person, not a dancer? Was I valid in defending myself, effectively burning this bridge?

Dancing my own work in the Philly Fringe exploring the situation that led to me losing my job - Gated Lies (Photo: Bill Hebert)
Posing the above question brings up many more questions. When is it appropriate to burn a bridge? If you burn a bridge, how badly will it affect you? And, most importantly, in such a short, competitive career, is it impossible not to burn a bridge or two along the way? I'm still trying to figure all of these things out. When I burnt my bridge with Colorado Ballet, I felt that the company was isolated enough to avoid too much damage to my reputation. In the end, the director was fired from the company and my options grew exponentially from my decision. When I burnt my bridge with Pennsylvania Ballet, I had the chance to dance with 2 of the greatest companies in the country for 8 years. But, at the same time, I am back in Philadelphia without a company to call home, and there is no chance they would consider me to dance with their company as long as their director remains at the helm. In the last situation, I burnt a bridge protecting and defending my integrity and body as a dancer and person. But, in the end, I injured myself further (though revealing that they had been hiding workers compensation from me, which allowed me to get better), lost a potential avenue to working on choreography that inspires me, lost my job, lost some friends who didn't want to be seen associating with me, and lost a handful of opportunities to dance in Philadelphia (since the company directors are so closely tied to a handful of dance organizations in the city).

So with all of this information, I ask if it is ever appropriate to burn a bridge? And returning to the original question: Is it possible to never burn one bridge in this dance world? I feel that it is impossible to give a proper answer. If you burn a bridge for a dream opportunity, is it worth it? If you burn a bridge to protect yourself from somebody that is treating you poorly, should you defend yourself? These are more questions of character than they are definitively yes or no answers. Are we dancers or are we human? When is it right to defend yourself as a human in a dance studio? If you are offered the opportunity of a lifetime, do you let it pass you up to honor a contract that can be filled by another dancer that will value the opportunity more?

What it comes down to is that these decisions are not about a right or wrong answer. Instead, the act of burning a bridge is very personal. And it is unfortunate, that in certain circumstances, one may not be aware that they are burning a bridge until after the moment happens. I will leave my readers with this. While these unfortunate happenings are to be handled at the discretion of each individual dancer, one should not fear burning a bridge if an action is damaging to oneself physically or emotionally. We can only hope that instead of burning a bridge, it can be left damaged and open to repair. For we are only human. Tread lightly.