In a large, open studio space in the western suburbs, dancers are lacing up their toe shoes and warming up for rehearsal of their upcoming performance. They will work for two hours an evening, under the direct guidance of Sergey Kozadavey and Zhanna Dubrovskaya, formerly worldwide performers of classical and contemporary ballet with the Maly Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. Their goal – perfection at their performance of Carnival of Animals, at the MacAninch Arts Center in May.
Among them is young Connor Hamilton, just 11 years old, and winner of the prestigious HOPE award at the Youth American Grand Prix, the world’s largest student ballet scholarship competition.
Salt Creek Ballet trains dancers from as early as 2 ½ years old. And there are now more than 350 students at the Westmont school. The company provides professional level performance opportunities to dancers ages 15-18, and approximately 2,650 dancers have come through Salt Creek Dance Company since its inception in 1985.
“We train them to become dancers, or to be able to express themselves through dance,” says executive director Christina Salerno.
She ought to know. She’s come full circle… the perfect career pirouette. She began at Salt Creek as a student there from 1986 until 1992. After having danced through her three high school years at Downers Grove South High School, she graduated early to attend a dance school in San Francisco. Salerno then enjoyed a dance career as a soloist with Boston Ballet, Zurich Ballet and Royal Ballet in London, before returning to the Chicago area, when she rejoined Salt Creek as the director of development and communications in 2008, becoming the executive director in 2009.
Salerno is just one of what is an impressive number of Salt Creek dancers to have gone on to successful professional careers. Salt Creek alumni, Salerno says, have move on to perform with dance companies including Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance, Radio City Music Hall, Metropolitan Opera Ballet, River North Dance Company and many more. Other Salt Creek students have used their training to pursue related careers in costume and set design.
Consistent though its prestigious history, Salerno says that Salt Creek Ballet has retained its three-fold objectives.
“The first is that we’re trying to present professional style dance performances to area audiences.” The Salt Creek Ballet Company now has nine public performances each year including seven of The Nutcracker, and two spring productions.
“Our goal is always to provide a great opportunity for people to attend a high -quality performance without traveling far. Our ticket prices are reasonable, and we often have a meet and greet so that the audience can meet with some of the costumed characters.
“Secondly, we’ve always tried to provide high level performance opportunities to our dancers,” Salerno says. “It’s been really nice to see how our company has grown. The technical level of what our dancers can accomplish is so much more now than when I was a student.”
Lastly, Salt Creek’s mission is to encourage an appreciation and awareness of dance within the community at large.
“We have a vibrant outreach program in which we go into the school districts, libraries and more, with dance programming.”
Salerno says that she has loved watching Salt Creek Ballet grow and prosper in the community. Her experience with Salt Creek which has spanned several decades, has been “really, really wonderful.”