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Second Companies: Boston Ballet II and meeting tomorrow’s dancers

Peter Stark. Photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy of Boston Ballet.
Peter Stark. Photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy of Boston Ballet.

Dance Informa continues its series on second companies with a spotlight on Boston Ballet II.

Boston Ballet II (BBII) is a company that prides itself in giving up-and-coming dancers a first-hand experience of performing in a professional company while continuing to hone their craft. Because there is not an official apprentice company, second company members fall under Boston Ballet’s main company, which creates an inclusive environment that differs from other second companies. Under the direction of Boston Ballet Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen and BBII Associate Director Peter Stark, BBII is the platform for young professional dancers to jumpstart their performance careers. Here, Dance Informa speaks with Stark about the audition and various qualities that would make a dancer the perfect candidate for BBII.

Boston Ballet II Associate Director Peter Stark. Photo by Igor Burlak, courtesy of Boston Ballet.

Boston Ballet II Associate Director Peter Stark. Photo by Igor Burlak, courtesy of Boston Ballet.

“The audition is a multi-step process,” says Stark. “Dancers first submit a video entry and their resume. From the videos that are reviewed and chosen, those dancers are invited to audition in front of me and other staff members, and we make our decision from there.”

During the audition process, Stark mentions that in a potential member for BBII, he looks for finished dancers who have already had strong training. He goes on to mention that these potential members have to be ready to perform professionally. Coordination, strength and flexibility are also key traits that Stark pays close attention to throughout the audition process. Although there are many specific standards set to be a part of BBII, there is a diversity that they possess that is not always represented in other professional companies.

Stark explains, “What sets us apart from other companies is that we welcome dancers of all sizes. We are open to different heights within our company.”

As graduate dancers experiencing their first job as paid professional dancers, BBII company members are primed in learning BBII’s own repertory works but also have a chance to perform with Boston Ballet throughout the season.

Thomas Harrison, a current BBII company member, shares his experience so far, from auditioning to his first big performance.

“I was very shocked when I was chosen,” he says. “It was sort of out of the blue. I’m really happy for this opportunity.”

Along with the excitement of being accepted into BBII, Harrison’s journey of performing was just beginning. Aside from having his first job as a paid dancer, the performance opportunities have proven to stand out the most.

Harrison shares, “Just being on stage is amazing for me. One of the most memorable moments for me was landing my first big role in the company. In our production of Le Corsaire, I played The Pirate, which was a great honor.”

Fellow company member Sage Humphries also shares her initial reaction to being accepted into BBII.

“I was in complete shock,” she says. “It was the moment that I realized I was getting my first professional job.”

Sage Humphries and Jacob Clerico in Twyla Tharp's 'As Time Goes By'. Photo by Igor Burlak, courtesy of Boston Ballet.

Sage Humphries and Jacob Clerico in Twyla Tharp’s ‘As Time Goes By’. Photo by Igor Burlak, courtesy of Boston Ballet.

Humphries describes that moment as the start of an amazing adventure for her, as well as the realization of all her dreams coming true. This special opportunity was just the start to a whirlwind of shows and performances that would create memories that Humphries would never forget.

“As a new member of BBII, Nutcracker was honestly life-changing for me,” Humphries recounts. “You’re thrown into this crazy whirlwind of 43 shows, and you just go without thinking. The roles you dream of doing are now on a grand scale and on a beautiful stage.”

Inspired by those around her, Humphries credits her more memorable moment to the night of New Year’s Eve.

“It was the last Nutcracker show, and I was taking my final bow with the cast,” says Humphries. “It was magical for me, as well as a huge accomplishment that I got to ring in the new year with those same amazing people whom I had the honor to perform with.”

For both Harrison and Humphries, being in such a great company setting has proven to challenge and strengthen them. BBII has provided a bridge for them to eventually move up through the company in the future. According to Stark, BBII is just the first step for dancers’ performing careers. He goes on to explain that the benefits, such as being able to learn original works and also new works, is important for these dancers.

Stark says, “As an associate director, I like for BBII to have separate opportunities to train and perform. Knowing that the dancers feel like they were being featured while still honing their craft is what is most important.”

In addition to learning original works and having new works set on them, shows such as BB@Home with BBII and Next Generation allow BBII members to showcase their talent and accomplishments for the season. Stark hopes that these shows will not only continue to show company members how to create but how to be a muse as well.

For Humphries, BBII has proven to be the best preparation for going into a company setting so far. “Being a young dancer, you’re in the best shape of your life,” she says. “You’re able to take on principle roles at a younger age. I’ve never felt stronger. I’ve been impacted and inspired throughout this journey, and it’s brought on new dreams and an appreciation for the art form.”

Boston Ballet II company member Thomas Harrison. Photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet.

Boston Ballet II company member Thomas Harrison. Photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet.

Harrison adds, “In this company, it’s like one big family, and I love that. I want to live my life here.”

Although they are fairly new to BBII, Humphries and Harrison both have their heart set on a great future within the company. Of the goals set, one is for certain: they have the hunger to continue to grow and learn with some of the best talent around them. Principal roles are only a subset of what Harrison and Humphries have set their sights on with BBII.

“I want to focus on being a sponge and taking in everything,” Humphries shares. “I’ve enjoyed the process of growing.”

Boston Ballet II’s upcoming performance, Next Generation, is set May 24, at the Boston Opera House, with a premiere work by Jill Johnson. For more information on BBII, click here.

By Monique George of Dance Informa.

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