Book: The Ballet Companion


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GM Artists > Dancer Profiles > Karen Ellis-Wentz


Tagging along to an older sibling's dance class has started many wonderful ballet careers, including the international trajectory of A.B.T.'s Karin Ellis-Wentz.

At age 5 Karin loved her big sister's ballet class in their hometown of Saratoga, CA. By age 10 she was dancing five or six days a week, studying the R.A.D. syllabus with Elizabeth Neumann and additionally with Stephanie Wing and Georgina Coleman.

By 12 she was dancing at the Marin Ballet School, studying with Maria Vegh and Ruth Petrinovich, and attending summer programs at the San Francisco Ballet and the Joffrey, (3 hour classes with Mr. Joffrey himself!) . Karin feels very fortunate to have had so many excellent - and complementary - teachers in her early years.

In 1985 and again in 1986 Karin experienced the big world of international ballet at the Prix de Lausanne competition where she was both times a semi-finalist. Not only did she gain confidence and eye-opening experience, she got a great invitation: the Director of the Heinz Bosel Stiftung School in Munich, Konstanze Vernon, asked Karin to study with her. Karin graduated a year early from high school in order to accept.

The training there was Russianized and Karin had to learn a different style of port-de-bras and epaulment, as well as develop the strength and endurance for super long, hard adagios. Living in Europe, being forced to learn a new language, experiencing the more expressive European approach to ballet - it was all, says Karin, a great period in her life.

She returned to the States to dance with the Atlanta Ballet, but had left her heart back in Europe. Her boyfriend from Munich was dancing with the Dutch National Ballet and Karin auditioned repeatedly for that company. She finally was accepted and so began a seven year stay in Holland.

Karin loved living in the beautiful city of Amsterdam. Although the daily routine for European dancers is very similar to the one in America, the compensation is far more luxurious: full pay year-round including seven weeks vacation. Karin enjoyed the variety of Dutch National Ballet's repertoire: Balanchine "neo"classics, and groundbreaking new works such as William Forsythe's Artifact.

Karin returned to the States with a different beau, now her husband. She asked the Boston Ballet for an audition and was hired after only two classes. Again, she had to prove herself technically - Boston Ballet was stylistically very Russian at the time. She did it, and stayed for four years.

In 1999 she auditioned for ABT and there she continues to thrive. Although she agrees that the Metropolitan Opera spring season is a "killer", it doesn't show. She has been dancing in "everything", both at City Center and the Met: featured roles in Balanchine's Symphony in C and Theme and Variations, Mother in Giselle, Cynets in Swan Lake, Helena in The Dream and - especially gratifying and exciting - she has been chosen to dance in new works by Mark Morris, Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp.

How did she discover Gaynor Minden? Her maker of ten years at Freed retired. Not entirely satisfied by other makers there she tried Gaynor Minden, "out of curiosity". She loves that they are comfortable and "low maintenance" - no scraping, darning, banging or spraying - and she wryly wonders about the effects of all that spray shellac on the lungs of the other dancers.

She says the Kingdom of the Shades scene in La Bayadere is much easier with no worries about wobbly penchÁs or concern about noise. She loves jumping in Gaynor Minden and finds ir much easier to get through a whole day in pointe shoes.

Karin's regime includes healthy eating with occasional treats, and in the off season she stays in shape by supplementing occasional ballet classes with gym workouts and Pilates.

Outside of dance she and her husband, a film director, often go to movies. She likes to cook and would love to have a garden someday. Her advice to aspiring dancers, "Have fun. Take it seriously but still try to enjoy it. Eat well. Stretch."

Photos: (top) Rosalie O'Connor, (bottom) John Minden