A&A Ballet — a Chicago dance school growing by leaps and bounds

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Choreographer Alexei Kremnev with dancers Grace Curry and Michael Sayre during a rehearsal of the A&A Ballet Company’s production of “Sleeping Beauty,” Tuesday, April 16, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Trinity Santoro not only knows at 14 that she wants to be a professional ballet dancer, but she has already picked out the companies with which she wants to dance: New York’s American Ballet Theatre or London’s Royal Ballet.

If that sounds like a pipe dream, consider that former students of her respected husband-and-wife teachers — Alexei Kremnev and Anna Reznik — are members of such internationally recognized troupes as ABT as well as Dresden Semperoper, Joffrey Ballet, Netherlands Dans Theater, New York City Ballet and Staatsoper Berlin.

A&A Ballet —‘Sleeping Beauty’ When: 2 and 7 p.m. May 4 Where: Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan Tickets: $25-$45 Info: aacenterfordance.org/box-office

Dozens of young dancers with ambitions like Santoro’s are among the 110 students enrolled at A&A Ballet, a fast-growing dance school that will cap its third year May 4 with two performances of “Sleeping Beauty,” one of the most acclaimed classical ballets.

For now, the program rents studios from the American Rhythm Center in the venerable Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan. But beginning in January, it will have its own 4,600-square-foot space on the ground floor of a historic building at 731 S. Plymouth Court in Printer’s Row. Construction is expected to begin in June.

Not only will the new quarters provide two much-needed, larger studios that the school will have all to itself, but they will also include dressing rooms, study area and large lobby. The space will allow A&A to increase and diversify its classes and broaden the ages it can accommodate from 18 months to 80 years.

Alexei Kremnev and Anna Reznik | Darian Volkova

Alexei Kremnev and Anna Reznik | Darian Volkova

“It’s really, really exciting for us,” said Kremnev, the school’s president and director. “We can grow our program.”

Kremnev and Reznik, who also holds the title of director, never planned to run an independent school, but such an enterprise was more of less thrust upon them. For seven years, they served as the founding artistic directors of the Joffrey Academy of Dance and Joffrey Studio Company — training arms of the Joffrey Ballet.

But on a Sunday in June 2016, they were informed that their jobs with the Joffrey had been eliminated. Caught totally by surprise, the two teachers had no idea what to do. “It was very hard emotionally,” Reznik said. But it did not take them long to find a new direction. The couple thought about possible next steps for three days and decided to put together an intensive summer ballet course on their own, announcing it on social media.

Though such workshops are usually scheduled months in advance, they nonetheless managed to sign up 45 students, and A&A Ballet was launched. It now offers classes year-round for students ages 3 to 24.

In designing the curriculum, the two co-directors draw on their own training at Russia’s famed Bolshoi Ballet Academy as well as what they have learned through their years of dancing in a range of companies such as the Russian National Ballet and Cincinnati Ballet.

What sets dance programs apart, though, is not so much their structure, Kremnev said, but teachers and how they motivate students on a gloomy morning when staying home might be preferred. “It’s about leadership,” he said. “It’s about emotion. It’s about spirit. Because we are talking about encouraging young people who are starting something hard.”

The formula seems to be working. A&A won the outstanding school award at the Chicago semi-finals of the 2019 Youth America Grand Prix, an important student ballet competition, and its students have earned 60 training scholarships and nine apprentice positions with such companies as the Bolshoi Ballet and Houston Ballet.

In addition, the school has been invited to undertake its first international tour — performances of “Cinderella” during a festival May 28-31 in Guatemala — through the intervention of parents of one A&A’s students from that country. (About 35 percent of the school’s enrollees come from outside the Chicago region, including countries like Canada, Portugal and China.)

In looking back at the couple’s dismissal from the Joffrey Ballet, Reznik no longer feels anger, but it’s a wound that doesn’t go away. “I’m so happy with what I have right now, really more than happy,” she said. “I wish the Joffrey only the best, but it’s still in my soul.”

Santoro, who won a gold medal at the 2017 World Ballet Competition, transferred to the school about two years ago. “Going to A&A,” she said, “I thought I could challenge myself with great students and great teachers and I could just push myself.”

Michael Sayre and Grace Curry and members of the company rehearse a passage from the A&A Ballet Company’s production of “Sleeping Beauty,” Tuesday, April 16, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Michael Sayre and Grace Curry and members of the company rehearse a passage from the A&A Ballet Company’s production of “Sleeping Beauty,” Tuesday, April 16, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

As part of the conservatory program, designed for serious students striving for employment in the field, she has dance classes six days a week, taking the Metra train each morning from her home in Joliet.

Meeting Santoro on the train is Grace Curry of Orland Park, an ABT national scholar. Not only are the two good friends but they also have similar backgrounds and have shared roles in A&A productions, such as “The Nutcracker.” Both do their regular schoolwork on-line in the evenings.

Each girl will take a turn in the title role of Princess Aurora in A&A’s two performances of “Sleeping Beauty.” Guest artist Michael Sayre, a dancer with BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio, who began lessons with Kremnev and Reznik at age 9, will appear as the prince.

The A&A leaders have created a much-reduced, 1½-hour version of “Sleeping Beauty” that preserves most of the famed original 1890 choreography by Marius Petipa but adds a few changes along way. It will feature 90 student dancers and projections of celebrated illustrations of the story by 19th-century French artist Gustave Doré.

“My 16th birthday is going to be in August,” Curry said, “so it’s fun because I get to relate to Aurora in the first act. She is excited about her [16th] birthday, and I get to show off her energy and happiness.”

Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.

Choreographer Alexei Kremnev works with the A&A Ballet Company during a rehearsal of “Sleeping Beauty,” Tuesday, April 16, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Choreographer Alexei Kremnev works with the A&A Ballet Company during a rehearsal of “Sleeping Beauty,” Tuesday, April 16, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

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