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Ballet San Jose’s Brazilian-born bombshell, Alison Stroming

Alison Stroming, Ballet San Jose Alison Stroming and Cindy Huang in Twyla Tharp's "In the Upper Room." Photo by Alejandro Gomez.

By Stephanie Wolf of Dance Informa.

For burgeoning ballerina Alison Stroming, age don’t mean a thing.

The 20-year-old is the youngest dancer on the roster at Ballet San Jose – now under the tutelage of former American Ballet Theatre star José Manuel Carreño – and Stroming is finding her niche as an artist in Silicon Valley.

At only eight months old, she was adopted from Recife, Brazil by a New Jersey family. By three, her adopted family had enrolled her in dance classes, following the lead of her older siblings, two brothers and two sisters. Her life became about perfecting pirouettes and jetés, as well as time steps, isolations, contractions and a bevy of other steps and positions from a vast array of dance styles.

Then, at nine, Stroming entered the elite echelon of aspiring ballet dancers when she shifted her ballet studies to a more formalized setting at the School of American Ballet in New York City. From that point on, she was pegged as a promising pupil and opportunities began to present themselves at the most opportune times.

Here, Capezio Athlete Stroming chats with Dance Informa about her ascension into the professional ballet world and what it’s like to dance under the artistic leadership of a highly decorated and long-time ballet veteran.

Alison Stroming

Alison Stroming proudly wears Capezio pointe shoes. Photo by Charles Hope.

Can you take us back to when you first started ballet? Were you hooked right away?

“Growing up, dance was my entire life outside of academic school since I was three. I really didn’t know much else. At that time, I did every genre of dance and was part of a competition studio. I started my formal ballet training when I was nine years old at the School of American Ballet (SAB). As a competition kid, it was tough transitioning to an elite ballet school. I was starting to miss my competition team and traveling to dance competitions, but ballet started to grow on me. Honestly, I can't recall a moment in which I instantly knew that ballet was what I wanted to do, but ballet gave me a sense of joy, freedom and just felt right.”

What was it like growing up and training in such a highly competitive environment at School of American Ballet?

“It was amazing growing up at the School of American Ballet. My division was very big – about 25 girls – but I made some great friends. I met my best friend, Amanda, while at SAB and we have been friends ever since. My class was full of amazing talent and at times there was pressure as to who was being moved up or who got cast and who didn’t. Since we were so young and all friends, there wasn't strict competition among us. There were plenty of performance opportunities for children at the School of American Ballet. I performed many children's roles in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, Coppelia, Swan Lake, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, just to name a few. Performing with New York City Ballet was inspiring, and being surrounded by such talent only made me strive to improve.”

You then went on to train at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (JKO) School. How did the atmosphere and training differ?

“I attended the ABT Summer Intensive when I was 12 years old and Franco De Vita, principal of the JKO School, offered me a full scholarship to the new Junior Division. I enjoyed my experience at the summer intensive, especially the teachers, which is why I switched ballet schools. I was also very fond of the dancers in the main company at American Ballet Theatre. The Junior Division was very small, only nine girls and two boys - I think Mr. De Vita made a special connection with each student. He is very humble, has a great sense of humor and cares about each student. He can also be very tough; he can sometimes make you cry. But he only wants the best for his students and for us to work to our full potential every class. The training at ABT was different than SAB since it focused on classical ballet instead of the Balanchine technique. Mr. De Vita primarily focused on clean technique and beautiful lines, as having that training allows you to adapt to other methods. He also wanted his classes to focus on presence. It is important to learn how to perform in class, so you can give your all when it is time for stage.”

Alison Stroming

Alison Stroming performs in "Swan Lake." Photo by Charles Hope.

Between the two schools, did you have any specific mentors or teachers that greatly influenced you as a dancer?

“Franco De Vita and Raymond Lukens were my two favorite teachers while at the JKO School. Both of them truly care for each individual student and have such great personalities. They can be tough at times and can make you cry, but it is only to help you become stronger and work to your full potential. I wouldn't be where I am today without them.”

You then joined Canadian company Alberta Ballet. Can you tell us about your experiences of transitioning from student to professional?

“I finished my last year at the JKO School and I was also dancing with American Ballet Theatre II, now the ABT Studio Company. When I graduated from JKO, I felt prepared to join the professional world because of my teachers and my training. While my friends and family, as well as everyone at Alberta Ballet, made my transition from student to professional a lot smoother, stepping into the professional ballet world has brought many challenges and adjustments. Moving from the United States was exhausting, but also exciting. Luckily, I lived in Calgary where the first language is English, so I didn’t have to worry about learning French. Calgary is also very cold – temperatures in the winter are below zero! But my body was used to cold winters since I lived in New York.

Coming directly from school, I was accustomed to daily classes and rehearsals, but I have discovered that once you are a member of a professional company many aspects of this routine are different. Class in the morning is shorter and the emphasis is less on perfecting technique and more on getting one's body warm and ready for rehearsals, as well as improving individual artistic abilities. Long days of rehearsal have proven to test my physical, as well as mental, ability. But, with a positive mindset, you learn how to handle it. Since I was the youngest dancer in the company, I was grateful to have older, experienced dancers willing to help and support me.”

You recently joined Ballet San Jose, which is now under the artistic leadership of José Manuel Carreño. What is like working for Mr. Carreño?

“It is an honor to work for José Manuel Carreño, as he is so highly respected in the ballet world. He teaches company class about two to three times a week, including a separate class for the men. Usually he does not run rehearsals because we always have different individuals come to set ballets. But he does come in to watch the rehearsals and has always been supportive of the dancers. He is very genuine and supportive. I believe he has some of the best advice to offer, especially when it comes to partnering and pas de deux.”

What type of pointe shoes do you wear?

“I wear Capezio Elan pointe shoes. I actually have been wearing the same shoe since I started pointe when I was 10. When I go on pointe, I feel very supported by my pointe shoes and the Elan shoes give my feet a nice shape. They help me feel more secure when I balance and attempt pirouettes.”

Do you have interests beyond the ballet barre? If so, what do you like to do in your free time?

“In addition to ballet, I also enjoy keeping up with my contemporary and jazz classes in L.A., N.Y. and at my brother’s dance conventions, Nuvo and Jump. [Alison’s brother is tapper Gil Stroming, the director of Break the Floor Productions]. In my spare time, I love to shop, pamper myself and have a girl’s night with my girlfriends at the movies or dinner. I guess you can say I am a very girly girl. I also love to travel and vacation with my family.”

Looking ahead, any there any specific roles or ballets you're thirsting to dance?

“I hope to dance Kitri in Don Quixote because I love the Latin-style roles – I would get to bring a little bit of my Brazilian background to the character. I also would love to work with Christopher Wheeldon and William Forsythe and perform their works.”