Earlier this year talented 13-year-old Alianna Isaacs, a learner at Generation Schools Hermanus, auditioned for and was granted a partial scholarship to attend the American Academy of Ballet’s summer school in New York. She tied on her ballet shoes, polished up the stars in her eyes, packed her dreams in her backpack and headed for the Big Apple.
Now she is back, having had an experience that most teens can scarcely imagine. Although the summer school was five weeks long, Alianna only participated in the last week, which was Ballet Intensive – intensive being the operative word (the earlier weeks focused on other genres like hip hop, contemporary and tap).
Thrown in at the deep end, Alianna and her friend Lulu Botha, also from Hermanus, very quickly learnt just how hard ballet dancers have to work to keep ahead of the game. Dancing seven to eight hours a day and 11 hours the day before a final stage performance, her toes were soon bleeding and her legs cramping, but, as she says, she had to learn to work through the pain.
The course was divided into five stages and the participants, who came from all over the world, were categorised according to age and proficiency. In Alianna’s group there were 18 students from countries as diverse as the US, Brazil, Venezuela, Sweden and, of course, South Africa. A typical day was made up of 40-minute classes with 10-minute breaks between. The focus was on classical ballet and tango. One of the aspects of the course that Alianna found particularly fascinating was that they were taught on a rotational basis by five different tutors – three from France, one from Russia and one, Iain MacDonald, from Johannesburg Ballet.
“I learnt so much from the different teachers,” comments Alianna excitedly, “each of them had a different approach to technique. It was such hard work, but it was so worth it. I didn’t want to leave and come home; I just wanted more. And I made so many friends while I was there. Actually, I can’t wait to go back and even though classical ballet is my favourite, next time I’d love to be able to do some of the other courses, too.” In the meantime, she was able to link up with Iain MacDonald again last week when she attended Joburg Ballet’s Master Class in Hermanus.
Alianna was accompanied to New York by dad and mom, Larenzo and Abigail Isaacs, previously a dancer herself. They are passionate about supporting Alianna’s talent and giving her every opportunity to develop it. “I’d sell my left kidney, if that’s what it would take to make her dreams come true,” says Larenzo. “She’s already been granted another partial sponsorship for 2020, so we’ve already started saving for that.”
But it wasn’t all work and no play for the Isaacs family; they took an extra week after the course and did some sightseeing in New York City. “Wow, it was so fantastic,” laughs Alianna with stars in her eyes. “I felt as if I was in a movie, as if it wasn’t for real.” Amongst the many sights they took in were Ground Zero, Grand Central Station, Times Square and Broadway with its showbiz billboards and bright lights, and the Brooklyn Bridge. But perhaps most meaningful for Alianna was a visit to the Juilliard School for the Performing Arts.
“We went inside and I could hear music and ballet classes actually happening; it was so exciting. That’s where I want to be one day.” And that certainly would not be beyond the bounds of possibility. Not only is she a talented dancer, but she is also a gifted cellist. Last week she performed at the local Music Eisteddfod and was awarded gold and cum laude certificates respectively for the two pieces she performed, the judge commenting on her musicality, which is the quality that ballet judges have also invariably mentioned.
However, her trip and unforgettable experiences in New York would not have been possible without the support she received from the Hermanus community, says Larenzo. “We were absolutely blown away by the generosity we received from Hermanus people – yes, we had help from outside as well, but what meant most to us was the unstinting outpouring of love for Alianna from our own town. There were too many contributors to mention each one by name, but we want them to know how deeply we appreciate it.”
And so it’s full steam ahead for this enthusiastic, unspoilt child of our town with her head in the clouds, but her feet firmly planted on the ground. Lay out the welcoming carpet, Juilliard, here comes Alianna Isaacs from Hermanus. ’You ain’t seen the best of her yet – Baby, remember her name’.*
*With apologies to Fame