Local students plié their way into Canada’s National Ballet School
Colleen Connolly CCE CONTRIBUTOR
Come July, three young Waterloo dancers will be one step closer to achieving their one shared dream.
This summer, Avery Grierson, Aidan Grierson and Phoebe Bennett will be joining Canada’s National Ballet’s summer school program. The three were selected after they participated in the National Audition Tour on Jan. 11. The tour began in early November and swept the country over the course of three months in search of 150 dancers from grades 6-12 who were suitable for the ballet’s four-week summer program.
The Summer School Program is the second stage of auditions at the end of which 50 students will be invited to join NBS’s Professional Ballet Program in September and study at their Toronto facilities under Canada’s leading instructors from September onward. Aside from hours of rigorous dance training, NBS is much like any other junior high or high school. Students enter the same grade they would at home.
This summer will be Aidan’s second time attending NBS Summer School. Now at age 11 and in Grade Six, he has been dancing since he was five and feels that this year will be his best shot at getting accepted.
“In Grade 7 you have to work harder, you have to be mature and you have to dance a little better. You’re expected to show your best off in Grade 7 so your best chance is in Grade 6,” he said.
This opportunity will prepare students for professional careers with dance companies upon graduation and which will be reach for both the Griersons and Bennett this coming summer.
Audra Grierson, Avery and Aidan’s mother and the owner and artistic director of Waterloo’s Classical Dance Conservatory, explained that there is a level of truth to his concerns.
“The fact is the window of opportunity diminishes as they get older because the children who audition in grade 11 have to fit into their classes. They have to be technically strong enough, they have to have the look and the training and the fact of the matter is most schools, like my school here, aren’t able to offer six hours of training a day to get them up to standard and to fit into their programs,” she said. “So their chances of getting in as they get older diminish, but it does happen.”
Avery is nine years old and has been dancing since she was three. At her young age, she will not be eligible for the Professional Ballet Program at the end of her summer experience but it will no doubt better prepare her for future auditions, as it did for her brother Aidan.
Phoebe Bennett is the oldest of the trio but still has a strong shot at age 12. Bennett has been dancing since she was four years old but has just recently decided to take her hobby to the next level. “I’m all new to this because Phoebe has toyed with the idea but it was only last year that she really decided that this was it, so this year we spent doing the auditions and getting ready for this,” Kari Olsen, Phoebe’s mother, told the CCE. “I’m just following along because it’s really her dream so she’s very dedicated to it.”
An opportunity to attend NBS is a rare and esteemed honor within the dance world and Audra has had the privilege of seeing half a dozen of her students achieve it. She herself began dancing at the age of 10 and studied at L’Ecole superieure de ballet du Quebec before coming to Waterloo for a degree in dance at the University of Waterloo. She opened the Classical Dance Conservatory in 1998.
Since then she has continued her professional development in both Canada and the United States where she will be returning next week to do teacher training at the American Ballet Theatre. Her past has made her well aware of what her students require in order to achieve a placement at NBS along with other renowned schools.
“Not only do they have to have talent, they have to have a natural sense of movement, they have to have a natural sense of musicality and they have to have the physical attributes that they want for their dancers to produce strong, healthy dancers that aren’t going to be injured through the rigorous training that they will undergo,” said Audra.
Avery, Aidan and Phoebe are hoping they’ll have what it takes to come out on top.