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Dancers Near and Far Share the Stage

Published August 5, 2022

Dancers Near and Far Share the Stage

by Steve Trounday

Each year, dozens of guest principal dancers come to Reno to perform in A.V.A. Ballet Theatre’s productions. A.V.A. Ballet Theatre is the resident ballet company of the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts. These dancers have either previously danced or are currently dancing with large city ballet companies such as the San Francisco Ballet, Ballet West, and the Houston Ballet. In most instances, they perform lead roles that are the most technical and require years of training with the most rigorous ballet companies in the country.

A.V.A. Ballet Theatre’s artistic director, Alexander Van Alstyne, has built relationships with these ballet companies. He is able to coordinate the guest dancer performances here in Reno around the busy schedules of their home ballet companies. Mr. Van Alstyne believes it is important to bring these guest professional dancers to Reno as it not only enhances the ballet experience for the audience but also sets a standard for the local dancers to aspire.

“When you have dancers who have danced with Rudolf Nureyev it brings a whole new level of dance to the stage,” Van Alstyne said. “The local dancers understand they are dancing with some of the best dancers in the country and they work harder to improve their own performances.”

As I have written previously, an alumnus of A.V.A. Ballet Theatre, David Huffmire, has gone on to become a professional dancer with Ballet West in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is currently a soloist. Ballet West ranks as one of the top professional ballet companies in the country and it is considered to be a very prestigious organization. All of us with A.V.A. Ballet Theatre are very proud of him and his accomplishments.

I am pleased to announce that Huffmire will be joining the cast of Swan Lake this September 17th and 18th at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts. Huffmire will be the prince and fellow Ballet West dancer, Chelsea Keefer, will join him on stage as Odette. Laura Jackson will be conducting the Reno Phil.

Another frequent guest principal dancer to grace the Pioneer stage is Kathleen Martin. She has danced with Idaho Ballet, San Antonio Ballet and Ballet West. She has performed in Reno in many roles including the Snow Queen and Lead Waltz in The Nutcracker, Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, Wendy in Peter Pan, the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, and in the innovative rock ballet Vortex. She was one of the stars of the ballet reality series Breaking Pointe and especially enjoys the rock ballet.

“Classical ballet performed to the music of Lady Gaga, Metallica, and Jennifer Lopez is unique,” Martin said. “Alex is always pushing the envelope with new choreography.”

Martin cherishes her experiences coming to Reno to perform.

“A.V.A. Ballet Theatre was always my home away from home,” Martin said. “I always felt loved and supported as an artist and a friend. The staff is diligent in training and coaching its dancers with precise knowledge of classical ballet.”

A common reaction from the guest professional dancers who come to Reno is how talented and dedicated they find the local dancers.

“A.V.A. Ballet Theatre puts on high quality performances as it trains new generations of dancers,” said Dawn Milatin, a professional dancer with the Israel Ballet. “When I perform in Reno I’m impressed by the wealth of talent. I don’t feel like a guest from another company but like I’m part of a family.”

While the guest professional dancers may enjoy their experiences dancing with A.V.A. Ballet Theatre, the local dancers appreciate what the professionals bring to Reno. Eri Nishihara, a graduate of Galena High School, danced with A.V.A. Ballet Theatre as a student. She attended college in Utah and signed a contract with the Richmond Ballet in Virginia where she is a company dancer.

“Dancing with the guest professional dancers gave me the inspiration to seek my own professional career,” Nishihara said. “I have received so much valuable advice and encouragement.”

William Pizzuto, a former dancer with the Boston Ballet and the Houston Ballet, agrees that the local dancers are fortunate to be in this situation.

“I always tell the young dancers how lucky they are,” Pizzuto said. “They are dancing these huge productions with a live orchestra and surrounded by all of this talent. They are privileged to live in a city with a ballet company of this caliber.” 

This coming from a man who danced with Nureyev. A.V.A. Ballet Theatre is grateful to the guest principal dancers who join them on stage in Reno. It is all of us in the audience who benefit the most.

Steve Trounday is a board member at A.V.A. Ballet Theatre, the resident ballet company of the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts. The next production is Swan Lake September 17 and 18 at the Pioneer Center.

More from Steve Trounday

Vortex, the Ballet that Rocks 2022 by Steve Trounday — July 8, 2022

Ballet with a Live Orchestra by Steve Trounday — June 10, 2022

En Pointe by Steve Trounday — May 13, 2022

Local Dancer’s Rise to the Top by Steve Trounday — April 15, 2022

Back on Stage with Beauty and the Beast by Steve Trounday — April 1, 2022


This PBS Reno series delves into the local arts scene.