Updated: Jun 30
From cherished dance memories and injuries to the challenges ahead - we spoke with High Point's Youth Ballet's Jacob Allison and Anna Carapellotti who join the White Doves creative team in preparation for performances at The MAC Belfast from 3-5 August 2023.
Based in central Belfast, High Points Youth Ballet CIC was founded by Turkish ballerina Rana O’Brien, who recognized the need for more intensive ballet training in Northern Ireland. In 2018, with the support of Arts Council of Northern Ireland, HPYB developed a year-round pre-professional training programme under the Artistic Direction of Jacob Allison that has since grown into a youth ballet company. HPYB dancers hail from across Northern Ireland, from Armagh to Newtownards, and from Derry/Londonderry to Belfast and more recently the Republic of Ireland and Scotland. HPYB has an international teaching team including Rana, Jacob, Anna Carapellotti, and Argyro Tsampazi. Six Dance Collective are proud to be collaborating with High Points Youth Ballet on White Doves, and welcome Jake and Anna to the production.
Introducing Jacob Allison
Jake started dancing at age 16 after participating in a high school musical production of Oklahoma!. After studying musical theatre for a year, he decided to pursue ballet at the School of First State Ballet Theatre (FSBT) with Pasha Kambalov, a graduate of the renowned Vaganova Academy. Jake then went on to dance the major roles of the classical repertoire with the company of FSBT, including Albrecht in Giselle, Desire in The Sleeping Beauty, Espada and Basilio in Don Quixote. Jake has been teaching ballet for over ten years, and helped found HPYB's Pre-Professional Training Programme and Youth Company in 2018.
Introducing Anna Carapellotti
Anna took ballet classes throughout her childhood, and began training at a vocational level at age 14. She began her professional career at Richmond Ballet in 2005 and in 2008, she joined First State Ballet Theatre under the direction of Pasha and Kristina Kambalov. She performed soloist roles in classical ballets such as The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Giselle and Don Quixote, and in contemporary and neoclassical works such as George Balanchine’s Valse Fantasie and Serenade. She was a faculty member of the School of FSBT from 2009-17 and the Academy of International Ballet from 2014-17. Anna has been teaching for HPYB since 2018. Anna is also a researcher who studies the impact of dance for people living with Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis, earning her PhD from Queen’s University Belfast in 2022.
Jake and Anna are joining the White Doves creative team as Rehearsal Directors. We spoke with them ahead of rehearsals beginning in July.
High Points Youth Ballet are fresh off The MAC's stage at the beginning of June. How was the gala?
Anna: HPYB's Spring Gala was a great success, thanks for asking! Our dancers presented selections from The Sleeping Beauty, including the challenging fairy variations from the prologue, as well as the Paquita Grand Pas Classique, which involved technical and artistic challenges for every dancer.
Jake: Everyone stepped up to the challenge and we couldn't be more proud, especially after receiving several requests to present these works again!
You have both moved through professional careers before finding teaching. Can you tell us a little bit about how you found ballet?
Jake: In my journey, my teacher, Pasha Kambalov, has been one of my greatest inspirations. Even though I was a late-starter, Pasha gave me a chance, and sacrificed a lot of his time and energy to help me catch up. I lived with him and his wife Kristina for six months and did one-on-ones with them every day for an entire year. The selflessness and dedication they demonstrated helped me understand the essential role that a dedicated, passionate teacher can have in a student's success, and I work to continue that tradition with my own approach to teaching.
Anna: Growing up in America and dancing from a young age, I was fortunate to have teachers from all over the world and I was exposed to many different ballet techniques and styles. When I started dancing professionally, it became interesting to find out where certain approaches fell short (in my opinion!) and what worked well for my body. I wanted to help others to discover the same.
I was lucky to get invited to teach in the schools of some amazing teachers (Pasha and Kristina Kambalov and Anastasia Babayeva and Denis Gronostayskiy) and to learn from them. The best part is watching students grow as dancers and people.
The Vaganova method is central to HPYB's offering, as the only ballet training programme and youth company in Northern Ireland which teaches technique based on the early 20th century Russian method. Can you tell us a little about its importance and what sets HPYB apart beyond this?
Jake: I studied under a Vaganova graduate, and Anna taught in a Vaganova-based academy in the US for 8 years. Taught by the majority of high-level ballet schools worldwide, the method is a comprehensive approach to developing the technical and artistic talents of each individual dancer.
Anna: Our training approach also involves learning and performing classical repertoire, intensive physical conditioning, and contemporary dance. HPYB's students have competed internationally at competitions such as YAGP, and have received scholarships to opportunities such as the Nervi Ballet Music Festival in Genoa, Italy. Many HPYB students have gained acceptance to prestigious ballet and dance schools such at the Northern School of Ballet, Central School of Ballet, KS Dance, and The Hammond.
What have been some HPYB highlights?
Some of our highlights include inviting Mustafa Çagatay Özmen, a soloist at the Istanbul State Opera and Ballet to be a guest artist in our Nutcracker in Dec 2019.
More recently, our performance of Swan Lake at Theatre at the Mill in honour of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June 2022 with former HPYB Company Member Rachel Neale returning to dance Odette, travelling to Barcelona to compete in YAGP for the first time in Dec 2022, and selling out The MAC for our most recent performances of The Sleeping Beauty and Paquita in June 2023.
Is there a favourite moment in your performance career which stands out?
Jake: My most cherished memory is when my mother got to see me perform Albrecht in Giselle, and my other favourite ballet memory is participating in the inaugural Boston International Ballet Competition in 2010 and getting to take class alongside amazing dancers like Young Gyu Choi, and being adjudicated by stars like Andris Liepa and Violette Verdy.
And perhaps any less favourable moments?
Anna: I got stress fractures in the same bone in the same place in both feet, and danced Valse Fantasie and Swan Lake on them, respectively… which was ridiculous! Dealing with these injuries and surgeries unfortunately defined the majority of my career, but I was proud to have made a full recovery both times. I learned some important lessons through those experiences that shape my approach to teaching.
As rehearsal directors on White Doves, what are you most looking forward to? Anna and Jake: We are most looking forward to working with the many HPYB dancers who are taking part in this project, and the many talented other students with whom we haven't yet worked to tell the story of the Peace People through dance. We think it will be a challenge to push the students to take on these serious, real-world roles and bring them to life in only three weeks, but we think we're up to the challenge!
Lastly, we'd love to know your favourite dance works? Jake: Giselle has to be my favourite classical ballet. I also love the work of Slovenian choreographer Edward Clug.
Anna: Giselle is also my favourite. I loved dancing the Willis, and Moyna was the last role I performed professionally so it will always have a special place in my heart. My favourite dance work I’ve ever seen live was Kunstkamer, a collaboration between Paul Lightfoot, Sol León, Crystal Pite, and Marco Goecke for Netherland Dans Theatre’s 60th anniversary season.
Throughout August 2023, High Points Youth Ballet is offering summer intensives for all ages. Those interested in dancing with HPYB can email firstname.lastname@example.org to register or find them on social media on Instagram and Facebook.
The White Doves Junior Company includes many students from HPYB alongside dancers other schools across the island. They'll perform side-by-side with international professional dancers for four performances at The MAC Belfast from 3-5 August 2023. Tickets are available below: