Local Arts

The 9 nine new members of the Charlotte bring diverse interests and stories to town

Amand Pulaj, one of the nine new members of the Charlotte Ballet.
Amand Pulaj, one of the nine new members of the Charlotte Ballet. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Raven Barkley

Q. Why a dancer?

I actually did not want to be a dancer. I got accepted into a performing arts middle school, it’s called Ballet Tech, New York City Public School for Dance, and my first class there, I was like, I could get used to this. I love dancing. I love something that provides a challenge, something that makes me step out of myself because I was very shy when I was younger. Dancing was a voice for me. From then on, I was like ... I can’t live without it.

Q. Why Charlotte?

My friends from my dance studio back home were in the second company. So I thought, ‘I’ll just go for the gusto and audition.’ I looked into it more and I really liked their rep and I love Charlotte. It’s a beautiful city. I was like, ‘I can see myself here.’

Q. If not dance, then what?

I would be a mathematician/computer scientist, which was actually my minor until junior year, but there was a conflict with my schedule. I still like to read articles, I’m very tech savvy. Java Script and Cocoa Touch, all that. In my free time ... I nerd out.

Q. Greatest strength?

My ability to jump as high as the guys. I think jumping came naturally.

Q. What might surprise others?

I like to read a lot. A lot of people don’t know that about me. Fiction, British literature. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is my favorite. That, ‘Great Gatsby,’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ all the classics, I guess you can say.

Ryo Suzuki

Q. Why a dancer?

My sister started, that’s why my parents put me in the (dance) school at age 4. I didn’t like ballet (at first). I wanted to go out with my friends. No choice. ... (I had) been dancing 18 years, and I got a scholarship in U.S., so I chose to come to the U.S. at 18 years old (to study at the) Houston Ballet Academy.

Q. Why Charlotte?

Until I took audition with this company, I didn’t know about this company. I heard some good things from Jean-Pierre (Bonnefoux), he said ‘I like you’ and I thought, ‘Oh, he’s nice.’ I liked him.

Q. If not dance, then what?

Teaching.

Q. Greatest strength?

Funny? People say that I’m funny. I’m classical, good technique. Maybe that I’m Asian? Nobody beats me at that.

Q. What might surprise others?

I play golf. I’m not very good, but I still play. My handicap is really bad. I think 30 or something.

Juwan Alston

Q. Why a dancer?

I was introduced to dance through musical theater in my freshman year of high school. I was singing down the hallway, so someone said, ‘We need guys for the musical, come audition.’ So I was like, ‘OK.’ And then I apparently nailed the dance audition in “Footloose.” And from there, I taught myself how to dance on YouTube.

Q. Why Charlotte?

To be able to train under Jean-Pierre (Bonnefoux) and Patricia (McBride). And just the reputation this company has, and how they treat their dancers, along with their repertoire, is just phenomenal.

Q. If not dance, then what?

A doctor. Before I started dancing, I was studying to be in the medical field, and I wanted to be an oncologist. I’ve been personally impacted by cancer just with my family, so it was one of those things where I thought, ‘Maybe I can help other families in that area.’

Q. Greatest strength?

I would say being musical. Just finding different accents in the music, as well as being able to move very briskly and quickly. And jumping. I’m a jumper.

Q. What might surprise others?

My biggest inspiration is my father (Kenneth Alston). I lost my father five years ago, and what he did in life, he was a basketball coach, and he just went out of his way to help people in whatever way that he can, and that’s what I feel like I do through dance. I like to be able to tell the story and reach out to people and impact someone who is maybe having a hard day, or just put a smile on someone’s face.

Amelia Sturt-Dilley

Q. Why a dancer?

When I saw Balanchine’s “Serenade.” It just evoked a very emotional response from me, and I knew that I wanted to be up there doing something similar. I was 12.

Q. Why Charlotte?

I think because of the really diverse rep that we get to do. We do classics, but Balanchine, and the contemporary stuff which is awesome. I think meeting Jean-Pierre and feeling his positive energy and his generosity in terms of wanting to give what he can back to the art form really drew me to the company. He was at Juilliard and saw me, and approached me. So he found me. Thank goodness.

Q. If not dance, then what?

I think I would be a chef. I love cooking. It’s definitely a really fun hobby for me. I think it has something to do with having control over a situation.

Q. Greatest strength?

I think my ability to adapt into character, becoming different people on stage.

Q. What might surprise others?

I didn’t get my license until I was 22. So just a few weeks ago. I got it at home right before I came. I went to boarding school and then I moved to Manhattan, so there was no need for a car.

Tendo Pereira Dos Santos

Q. Why a dancer?

It’s a long story. My brother and my sister used to dance, and they won a scholarship for a private school. I went to do the application, but in order to get the scholarship the director said I should take jazz classes. And then the jazz teacher said, ‘Oh, you should take ballet classes.’ And then I had a little bit of prejudice in the beginning, but I ended up really liking it.

Q. Why Charlotte?

I auditioned for them in New York, and in New York you take a lot of auditions and just hope somebody picks you. I had a friend here before from Brazil, so I had a good reference for the company.

Q. Choreographer of choice?

I love Frederick Ashton. I would love to dance something from him.

Q. If not dance, then what?

I used to play violin before dancing, and I would like to be an actor. I would like to experience this. I took a few classes when I was in Brazil. I did some musicals, too, in my school.

Q. Greatest strength?

I think I have good technique. I think I’m a lyrical dancer. I’m tall.

Q. What might surprise others?

My brother lives in Kansas City; he’s a dancer, too. He dances with the Kansas City Ballet.

Sarah LaPointe

Q. Why a dancer?

When I was younger, my mom put me into ballet classes. She was either going to put me into ice skating or ballet. So she decided to put me into ballet when I was 2 years old. I never stopped because I loved it so much and it just had a huge part in my heart.

Q. Why Charlotte?

I’ve been to Chautauqua for two summers, and I worked with the company for two summers, and I really enjoyed it. I just thought I would audition.

Q. Choreographer of choice?

Forsythe. I just love his style of movement. It’s just so unique and beautiful, and so different than a lot of people.

Q. If not dance, then what?

Well, right now, I’m dual-enrolled in college. I’m going for a degree in kinesiology, so physical therapy.

Q. Greatest strength?

I guess I feel like a totally different dancer once I get on stage. I feel like in rehearsals, I’m myself, but when I get up on stage with the lights and the music and the audience and the orchestra, it brings more out of me.

Q. What might surprise others?

I’m an only child. I like to draw and paint. I like physical therapy and I feel like it’s good to have a physical therapist who knows the dancer’s body, because when we need it, we need it. It’s really helpful to have someone who knows.

James Kopecky

Q. Why a dancer?

I started dancing because I had allergy-induced asthma, so I couldn’t do sports outside. I started doing tumbling and dancing, that mixture group where you send your kids off and they just kind of dance around for a little bit and they call it activity. I just really liked the musicality of it all, and the rhythm and that sort of thing.

Q. Why Charlotte?

I sent my stuff to Charlotte Ballet and then one thing led to another. And then when I came here, everybody seemed kind and welcoming and it just seemed to click. Plus, my wife’s from Memphis, and it’s a lot closer. She used to be a dancer, she’s really good, but she’s now switched to commercial real estate.

Q. Choreographer of choice?

I’m excited about the Jiri Kylian piece we’re doing this October just because I’ve never done a Kylian piece. He’s just been very influential, and the type of choreographers that I like. I like Ohad Naharin, if we’re going to go with my favorite choreographer of all time.

Q. If not dance, then what?

I really like music composition. I really enjoy score composing, a lot of movie scores and stuff done in television is very interesting. I learned the piano at a young age, I was a drummer and I have a piano, but it’s been awhile since I touched it. I recently got married, so a lot of things have been on the back burner.

Q. What might surprise others?

I don’t like to listen to a lot of music to get ready for a performance, I like to be calm and listen to something a little more artsy-fartsy, background music, almost.

Lauren Baznik

Q. Why a dancer?

The first event I remember is I saw my cousin dancing in the “Nutcracker” back home. I was probably 3 at the time. I saw her on the stage. She was 2, so she just did a little walk-on part, but I saw her and thought, ‘Oh, I have to do that.’ I kept begging my parents, and they let me sign up for (lessons) when I was 6.

Q. Why Charlotte?

I attended a summer course here in 2007. I really enjoyed the program and I loved Charlotte. And I just needed something different. I loved my life in Zurich, but I was also looking for something totally different. I was thinking about coming back home to get closer to my parents, which made me think of places I remembered growing up, and Charlotte Ballet stuck in my head.

Q. If not dance, then what?

I would be having my own coffee shop. I love coffee. I’m really into vegan baking at the moment, so I’d do a coffee shop-slash-vegan theme. I like to talk and meet with people, and I think if you have a coffee shop it’s the perfect chance to do that, meet a lot of people every day, hear their stories.

Q. What might surprise others?

I travel a lot, especially living in Switzerland – it was kind of the hub of all of Europe. So I’ve been to a majority of all European countries, and I travel whenever I can. I’ve been all over. I really loved our time in Tel Aviv in Israel. Surprising but awesome city. Very great ambiance and people.

Amand Pulaj

Q. Why a dancer?

I have a twin brother. We were around 6 years, 7 years old, and my mom said, ‘OK, you have to do some activity.’ He always liked to dance whenever she was playing music. He would go dance, and I always liked to draw. And then my brother, they liked him. He was very flexible and good with music, and they thought, ‘Oh, you are twins. You can try it, too.’ That’s how they put me into it.

Q. Why Charlotte?

I had my older brother living in the U.S., and he came and saw a couple performances of the company. A year ago, I decided I wanted to move from Des Moines, I wanted to see other places. And thought, why not start with them. I looked at the website and I thought, ‘Oh, I like the repertoire. It looks good.’ So I sent a video and came here for class and loved it.

Q. If not dance, then what?

Maybe math? Everyone in my family is good in math, I was good, too, in math. Not that I like it.

Q. Greatest strength?

I think flexibility, probably. Technique, sometimes.

Q. What might surprise others?

I like to use my bow (and arrow) with targets. I love that.

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