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The ABT Curriculum in New Zealand

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Harriet Clark Level 4B-5A Master Class, incl. Ashley Woods. Photo by Lily Cartwright.
Harriet Clark Level 4B-5A Master Class, incl. Ashley Woods. Photo by Lily Cartwright.

American Ballet Theatre Training Programs draw students and teachers from all reaches of the globe. Canterbury Ballet in Christchurch, New Zealand, is no exception. Lily Cartwright, Principal of Classical Studies at Canterbury Ballet, began her journey when she first attended the ABT Summer Intensive as a student herself in 2009 and 2010 at the New York and Collegiate Intensives. She then returned to attend an ABT National Training Curriculum Teacher Training Intensive at ABT’s studios in New York, NY in 2016 and continued to successfully complete the program through Level 7 & Partnering. Now, Canterbury Ballet-Aotearoa National Dance Institute is proud to bring the Curriculum to the South Pacific. According to Cartwright, moving the training focus at Canterbury Ballet to the Curriculum has been an incredibly wonderful experience for both students and teachers. The biggest reward for Cartwright is seeing students progress through the levels in a way that increases their strength and awareness of classical technique with content that is both challenging and enjoyable.

ABT’s National Training Curriculum is a program for the development and training of young students that embraces sound ballet principles and incorporates elements of the French, Italian and Russian schools of training.  The Curriculum strives to provide dance students with a rich knowledge of classical ballet technique and the ability to adapt to all styles and techniques of dance. “After more than ten years, ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and our related Summer Intensive program have seen the impact that the Curriculum has had on teachers and ballet students across the country and internationally,” says Cynthia Harvey, Artistic Director of the ABT JKO School. “We are pleased that teachers and students are implementing the guidelines recommended by the Curriculum and working in a way that will lead them towards a long and healthy career.”

Whether through ABT Student Examinations or ABT Summer Intensives, Canterbury Ballet students have formed a cross-continental connection with ABT since implementing the Curriculum. Cartwright has presented her students for ABT Student Examinations annually since 2017. In December, ABT JKO School Children’s Division Principal and ABT Affiliate Examiner Harriet Clark adjudicated ABT Student Examinations at Canterbury Ballet in Levels 1 through 7 and taught master classes. According to Cartwright, the sitting of examinations is an expectation at the end of each year in New Zealand and ABT Student Examinations have been an enjoyable experience for every student at the school. “The class setting of the examinations helps the students feel comfortable and enables them to dance at their best,” says Cartwright. “From the teacher’s perspective, the feedback from the examiner is so valuable and has further enhanced and improved how I teach.”

The experience the students have at ABT Summer Intensives has been extremely important to their training, as well as to their outlook and understanding of the dance profession. While it seems like a huge feat to travel to New York City from New Zealand, these students find it  worthwhile. Cartwright shared that although the students have like-minded peers at the school who dance intensively each day, dance is not an integral part of the New Zealand culture. She believes this makes it difficult for them to understand how big the dance world really is and the wonderful and abundant opportunities that are available. “Having the opportunity to watch ABT in [company] class and performance and working with such experienced teachers is so inspiring for them,” says Cartwright. “The students return having improved in their dancing and with increased motivation, discipline and goals.”

This year, the school received a special honor: two Canterbury Ballet students, who also happen to be sisters, were selected as National Training Scholars for the ABT Summer Intensive for 2019- 2020. The goal of the National Training Scholars Program is to encourage young dancers to continue their dance training and complete their academic education in their home communities. To accomplish this goal, ABT awards scholarships to a small number of promising young dancers (ages 12-18) after participating in the ABT Summer Intensive. Scholarships cover the full cost of Summer Intensive tuition, as well as a portion of students’ summer housing and year-round training expenses.

Sonia and Ashley Woods have been dancing with Canterbury Ballet since beginning their training in 2016. “It seems both girls found their happy place when they walked into the ballet studio,” says Cartwright. The Woods sisters are not only passionate but determined young people who love and support each other. Both girls have been studying the ABT Curriculum since 2017. Sonia first attended the Young Dancer Summer Workshop in 2017 and returned to the ABT Summer Intensive in New York 2019. Ashley began her journey as Sonia did attending theYoung Dancer Summer Workshop in 2019. Cartwright says, “They have always known they aspired to be professional dancers, with American Ballet Theatre being their dream company.”

Harriet Clark recently returned from adjudicating ABT Student Examinations at Canterbury Ballet, and was able to see the girls in their home environment. Clark had taught Sonia as a student at the ABT Summer Intensive in New York this past summer, and also had seen Ashley at the Young Dancer Summer Workshop. Clark states that she was eager to know where the girls received their training and was thrilled to learn that Cartwright was an ABT Certified Teacher. Cartwright believes the rapid improvement that Canterbury Ballet has seen in students both technically and artistically over the past three years is due to the logical introduction of each element of classical technique and repertoire. “The Curriculum sets the students up to achieve a professional standard both technically and artistically,” says Cartwright. Clark says that even though the dancers were of different backgrounds and abilities, each presented their work with discipline, confidence, musicality, and a real connection to the fundamentals of classical training. “I was not disappointed,” Clark states. “The exams were beautifully presented, the dancers well trained, and the school served a broad community and range of dancers throughout New Zealand.”


More Information:

ABT CurriculumABT Summer Intensives