is a precious gift for any dance company, and all the more
so during a recession, so it is with no small sense of accomplishment
that the Ajkun Ballet Theatre is marking its 10th summer residency
at the Egg.
result of all those long days of hot, hard work for 20 gifted
young dancers from around the world will be this Saturday’s
(Aug. 14) performance of Swan Lake at the Egg. Chiara
Ajkun, who co-founded the company with her husband and principal
dancer, Leonard, is the choreographer.
Each summer, the Ajkuns select 20 dancers from about 2,000
applicants for their three weeks at the Egg, to work with
the permanent dancers in the company. The Ajkun Ballet Theatre
is based in New York City the rest of the year, but the Albany
residency allows aspiring stars a rare opportunity to train
with high-level professionals in both ballet and modern dance.
The residents come mostly from private ballet schools or smaller
companies. Ajkun residents have gone on to impressive careers
in dance, ranging from company directorships to full-time
positions with major groups such as the American Ballet Theatre
and the New York City Ballet.
overall idea is we want these kids to understand what they
are signing up for,” said Chiara Ajkun, who turned to choreography
after a catastrophic leg injury ended her promising ballet
career at 18. “So spending the summer with a professional
company, putting on a professional performance in real time,
is a good experience.”
It’s also an intense experience. The dancers live at the University
Heights Suites, a student housing complex near Albany Medical
Center. Rehearsals and classes at the Egg’s Kitty Carlisle
Hart Theatre last until early evening. On their way home,
they can often be seen in the Delaware Avenue Price Chopper
in their warm-up garb and with heavy gear bags over their
shoulders. The Albany community has been very welcoming, Leonard
and Chiara Ajkun said. Price Chopper greets the residents
with a bag of basic grocery items, in recognition of the fact
that they have traveled a long distance on a tight budget
to get here, and CDTA offers the dancers special three-week
Despite the whirlwind pace, the experience is both instructive
and exhilarating, said two of this year’s residents: Alynn
Piccirillo, 20, a native of Poughkeepsie whose family now
lives in Albany; and Australian Hayley Collins, 18, who was
with a local ballet in Sydney when she auditioned for the
think this is the first time a lot of us have had time to
make contact with professionals,” Collins said.
Piccirillo joked that it took the residency for her to spend
some time close to home, because her ballet training has taken
her to so many different cities. She is the summer program’s
only day student.
a really good opportunity because I’ve met so many people
from around the world,” she said.
The Ajkun Ballet Theatre also uses its time at the Egg to
collaborate with local talent. This year, the Albany-based
dancer and choreographer Tsehaya Smith, founder and executive
director of ArtsPartners/Tsehaya and Company, is working with
the Ajkun as a choreographer and teacher; she is also coordinating
an intern program for area youth that gives them experience
in backstage production. Dancer and choreographer Ellen Sinopoli,
whose company is in residence at the Egg, is also working
with the Ajkun this summer. The result: a tightly packed schedule
for the residents, but one that gives them a realistic taste
of what they face.
think it’s record time to do this,” Leonard Ajkun said of
the quick turnaround from their arrival in Albany to the one-night
performance. In the current realities of the art world, however,
shorter is better, he explained. In this economic climate,
the era of months-long preparation for a production is long
gone, no matter how efficiently a company manages its finances.
we want to exist and pay our rent, we have to be quick and
productive,” said the Albanian-born Ajkun, who credits his
early instruction by Bolshoi-trained teachers for his ability
to still dance, injury free, at 42.
Quick and productive, yes, but still able to cast a spell
at an open rehearsal this week that drew an audience of mostly
children. Audible “oooohs” could be heard as the dancers came
on stage in full costume.
Among those watching was Albany resident Tanya Zayhowski-Rigney,
with her daughters Zoe, 10, and Ava, 7. Zayhowski-Rigney also
trained as a ballerina, and performed in small companies in
New York City 15 years ago. She wanted to show her daughters
what she used to do, but she found herself lost in memories.
brings you back . . . the dedication,” she said as she watched
the eager young residents on stage. “I know what it takes
to get to this point.”
The Ajkun Ballet Theatre performance of Swan Lake
is Saturday (Aug. 14) at 7:30 PM at the Egg. Tickets are $17-$29,
and can be purchased online at theegg.org;
at the box office; or by calling 473-1845.