By Dasha Morgan- Skilled, disciplined, and highly talented students from throughout Western North Carolina are showing their amazing skills on stage Friday, April 29th at 7:30 in Asheville. The dancers, who are as young as the fifth grade through high school, will be preforming “An Evening of Modern and Contemporary Dance” at the Diana Wortham Theatre. The extraordinary talent of these dedicated students is immediately evident as they glide across the stage and acrobatically fold and unfold their agile bodies to express the emotion needed for the music and dance. The agility of their movements is breathtakingly exciting to watch and is enhanced by the expert lighting design of Eric McCormick. The program has been choreographed by some of the best in the world, including Raquelle Chavis, who was a former principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and is now living in Asheville.
The Blue Ridge Ballet Company has been in existence for only a few years. Gregor Lee Pickral founded this ballet company and has managed to bring so many of these students to an amazing level of skilled, quality performance. (Many may know of Gregor Lee—now Pickral—who was Miss Asheville in 2001 and later taught etiquette and ballroom dancing.) Her students at the Blue Ridge Ballet from schools such as Carolina Day School, Charles T. Koontz, Hominy Valley, Ivest Collegiate Charter, Reynolds High School, T.C. Roberson, Tuscola High School, Valley Springs, and Veritas Christian Academy devote 4 or 5 hours a day to training, practicing and rehearsing their steps and dances. These students obviously just love to dance and hope to make it a career. However, to improve their skills they must increase their strength, flexibility, and energetically learn the rhythm and dance moves. Gregor teaches them with the help of others, choreographs many of the dances, and provides costumes through Vixen Dancewear. The path to success in the world of dance is incredibly difficult since, as we all know, only a few making it to the top. These students are certainly putting in the time and effort with high hopes for success. The Blue Ridge Ballet Company has been able to rehearse through the generosity of donated space by Michele Lee of Center Stage Dance Studio in Asheville.
Throughout the year with Gregor’s guidance, these students travel to conventions and competitions, throughout the United States, which can include 12 to 13 hours of dancing in just two days over the weekend. Many have won major dance competitions. Eden Galloway, a home schooled 5th grader and 11 years old, is a former Petite Miss Dance of North Carolina. She was first runner up in Petite Miss Dance of America in Orlando, FL in July 2014. Eden aspires to be on Broadway and to choreograph and teach, in addition to have a career as a professional dancer. Eden was selected by Raquelle Chavis as the only student soloist in the upcoming show. Her solo “Homebound” is a stunning performance, which was choreographed by Beth Fagan from Louisiana.
Claire, 11, and Meredith Brown 13, are both students at Carolina Day School. Meredith was Junior Miss Dance of North Carolina in 2015 and placed 3rd runner up for Junior Miss Dance of America in Boston last summer. Claire has completed the Joffrey Ballet younger dancer program in NYC and attended NYCDA nationals last summer. She is in four dances in the upcoming performance. Claire and Meredith will dance a dramatic and moving duet, “On the Day You were Born,” beautifully choreographed by Gregor Lee to the music of Debussy’s Claire de Lune. Pairing this 19th century music with a contemporary dance piece is amazingly effective and is enhanced even further by McCormick’s simple lighting design and the dance’s staging.
Island Shuler, 11, is in the 5th grade at Carolina Day School and the daughter of Heath and Nikol Shuler. She is the reigning Junior Miss Dance of North Carolina 2016, She will compete in Nashville this summer for the title of Junior Miss Dance of America with her musical theater solo, “That’s Rich,” choreographed by Gregor Pickral at the Dance Masters of America 133rd annual convention. She will be in three dances in the upcoming program: The Unconventional Way, Hoofer, and Amity.
Raquelle Chavis, although still a New York resident, is in Asheville as an Artist in Residence at Center Stage Dance Studio. She teaches the Horton technique, as well as coaching and mentoring young and upcoming artists. Raquelle’s experience as a dancer, performer and actor is impressive and certainly distinguished. Her artistry is not limited to dancing. She is also an accomplished singer, songwriter, choreographer, stage director, playwright and actor. At the age of 19 she joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, for 7 years, working under the direction of Alvin Ailey until his death in 1989 and then under the current director Judith Jamison until 1994. She has had many One Woman Shows, been a featured dancer, singer, or guest artist, been in films and television, traveled extensively, and won many impressive awards. She manages to do all of this while still creating works, producing and performing for Geechie Anne Productions, the multidisciplinary Performing Arts Company she founded in 1997. She was born and raised in New York City, but both her parents are from here in Asheville, where she spent many summers here as a child.
The upcoming production at the Diana Wortham Theatre on Friday, April 29th is an opportunity to see sophisticated, beautiful, modern and contemporary dance. Plan to be swept off your feet and feel the exuberance of youth in the fluid movements. This talented group of younger dancers will amaze you with the quality of their performance. The works in the evening will feature pieces by Raquelle Chavis, Beth Fagan, Rudi Garren, Melissa Jackson and Gregor Pickral. Tickets are now on sale at the Diana Wortham box office for $25, by phone at 828 257-4539 or online at dwtheatre.com