State Thespian Spotlight: Randy Rainbow

Internet musical parody sensation Randy Rainbow launched his life in musical theater right here on Straz stages when he was a high school Thespian.

As many, many, many, many, many high schools in Florida know, this week is State Thespian Week, when almost 8000 students, teachers, chaperones and judges descend on The Straz and elsewhere in downtown Tampa to compete for top distinctions in this distinguished drama festival.

Flashback: 19 YEARS AGO

It’s 1999. President Clinton is impeached, acquitted then cited for contempt of court. The dot-com bubble looks eternal. Joe DiMaggio dies, the Yankees win the pennant and Carolyn Bassette Kennedy and her husband, John F. Kennedy, Jr., perish in a plane crash. The United States wins the Women’s World Cup (the year we all learn the name Brandi Chastain), and the Dow Jones closes at an unprecedented 11,410. Somebody buys the last New York City Checker cab for $135K at auction. It is the year of the Columbine High School massacre and the highly publicized hate crime against Wyoming man Matthew Shepard. 1999 is the year three white supremacists are convicted of felony murder for the lynching-by-dragging of John Byrd, Jr. Unemployment is at a 29-year low. George W. Bush announces he will run for President.


A senior in high school from Plantation, Fla., stands alone on the Morsani stage. He sings his heart out in the number he’s prepared for the Florida State Thespians. He wins for solo musical and, later, with his best friend, an award for comedy scene.

That 17-year-old, defying the world with musical theater comedy, is Randy Rainbow.


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First of all, Randy Rainbow *is* his real name.

Second of all, we had no idea he competed (and won, of course) during the Florida State Thespian festival when he was in high school until we had to interview him yesterday for The Straz’s “Behind the Persona” feature for INSIDE magazine. Be sure to check out that Q&A in the Spring/Summer issue out in April.

Third of all, when we found out the Randy Rainbow, who just happens to be a superhero of the internet for defying the world with musical theater comedy, played the Straz stages as a 15-, 16-, 17-year old theater kid and winning, we had to write this blog.

“When I used to do theater competitions, we would do district and state, they were held in Tampa. Florida is where everything started for me,” Randy says, “so it has a special place in my heart.”


Randy Rainbow comes full circle when he returns to The Straz as an international internet sensation with his hilarious one man show on April 13 .

As it turns out, his time as a Thespian competing against other state actors and meeting other theater kids at The Straz changed his life. “That was a major part of my [early experiences as an actor]. That’s where I came out of the closet, as a matter of fact. At Tampa, at state competition. How appropriate.”

Like many kids who are different, Randy survived school bullies, sharpening his comedy and musical theater chops to get through and graduate to pursue his dreams. In the meantime, Thespians and his annual high school trip to the state drama festival gave him something to look forward to where he was among friends doing his favorite thing in the world.


Ok, so this isn’t from when Randy was in high school, but it’s pretty cute. (Photo from Instagram: @randyrainbow)

“Yeah. You grow up, and it’s hard to find other drama nerds, really. So once a year, to gather with hundreds of them, I just remember, it was just ecstasy,” he says. “It was so exciting to have other like-minded people nerding out on theater. That was such an important time in my life. I still have such amazing memories of it, and it had such an impact on me. It was joy, absolute. Just … joy.”

Randy Rainbow, like so many artists, took his life experiences and the history he was born to and made his art. Now famous for his political musical parodies as a “woke show queen, comedian, actor, songstress, active-isht, Internet Sensation and TV Personality” [his Twitter description], Randy finds himself able to do something, to speak out and show up politically in visible ways.

But would he consider running for office?

“Hell, no. Let me stick to my comedy.”

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FAME Academy at River Ridge High School won its first ever Critic’s Choice for One Act after students studied with touring Broadway actors from FUN HOME at The Straz.


River Ridge High School students with cast members from FUN HOME after the post-show talk-back at The Straz.

SETTING: An Army hospital

CHARACTERS: Three Vietnam veterans

SYNOPSIS: The war survivors befriend each other while recuperating from tours in Vietnam. They tease, torment and often console each other as they face the uncertainties of returning to civilian life.

This play, PVT Wars, comes to the TECO Theater March 14 at 10 a.m. as part of the annual State Thespians Festival held next week on The Straz campus and elsewhere downtown. The actors, two seniors and one junior from FAME Academy (Fine Arts and Musical Entertainment) at River Ridge High School won the school’s first-ever Critic’s Choice for One Act for PVT Wars, a distinction that gave them a direct shot at the state level Thespian competition and is a huge deal to be won at the district level.

The young men—Shaun Memmel, Zachary Schumacher and Christopher Cavazza—had been working on PVT Wars when they attended a talk-back with FUN HOME actors at The Straz. Coaching the young actors on the “power of the pause” and using silence to dramatic and comedic effect, the Broadway touring stars made a craft-changing impression on the young men.


Post-show talk-back with FUN HOME in Morsani Hall.

The RRHS students took this advice to heart and put it to work. Back in the acting lab at FAME Academy, the guys honed their one act and gave a jaw-dropping performance at the district festival, earning the coveted Critic’s Choice nod. “We were able to take what we were taught at and work on the timing,” says Taylor LaRoue, the technical theater teacher for FAME Academy at RRHS. “It was an invaluable experience. My students were able to dive into deeper conversations with professionals in the business and learn from adults outside of the classroom. Our actors were able to go back and focus on more detailed aspects like timing. I fully believe this coaching pushed us to the top.”

The Community Programs Coordinator at the Patel Conservatory at The Straz, Heather Clark, facilitated RHHS’s participation after inviting the group to Teens Take Broadway, a special pre-show party for Straz patrons in their teenage years. This exposure to the welcoming attitude of The Straz and its commitment to encouraging young people to pursue a love of the arts further encouraged the RHHS students to take advantage of what The Straz offers.


Teens Take Broadway event at The Straz.


River Ridge High School representing at Teens Take Broadway!

“When I first met the drama students of River Ridge High School this past fall, it was refreshing to see high school students hungry for knowledge and for real-life theater experience,” Clark says. “Because they live in Pasco County, I’m sure a lot of them don’t get the opportunity to come to The Straz as much as they would like. We offered them a fun-filled evening with our Teens Take Broadway event, along with a discounted ticket to that evening’s performance of FUN HOME. Having these opportunities for student actors truly embodies the mission of our community programs department here at the Patel Conservatory. The students were attentive, eager and appreciative of the opportunity. It doesn’t surprise me at all to hear that those young men received a Critic’s Choice for the scene at districts.”

For one whole week, almost 8,000 Thespians—a drama honors society—descend on The Straz and downtown Tampa to compete, meet each other, make friends and enjoy the opportunity to perform in one of The Straz’s gorgeous, state-of-the-art theaters.

We wish the actors of PVT Wars well as they compete in the state festival, as we do for all the talented students coming here for another hectic, exhilarating, fun-filled, madcap week that is Thespians at The Straz.


This Is What It Looks Like to Change a Child’s Life


On the far side of the indoor basketball court, a line of wobbly-kneed elementary school kids stomps through a sequence of shuffle-step, shuffle-step with their dance teacher clapping time. Their shiny, tiny tap shoes clobber the gymnasium with sounds, their faces an endearing mix of intense concentration and unadulterated joy.

Out of context, this line of adorable grade schoolers looks like any other kids’ dance class, but there is a stark difference: these children are in the temporary safety of Metropolitan Ministries’ shelter, their lives upended by homelessness, domestic violence and other horrors beyond their control and not of their making.

Facing an uncertain future and abrupt changes, these children have this dance class in which to feel their joy, to be kids among kids, to have a normal, kind, loving thing happen to them at a predictable time every week. This one dance class helps hold their worlds together. This one dance class works its small, tireless magic to calm the beast of trauma ravaging their lives.

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“These kids, so many of them, have a history that should happen to no one,” says Janet Pantaleo, vice president – major gifts officer of Metropolitan Ministries (Met Min). “The transformational power of the arts, it’s tremendous. There’s no question about it. Yes, people have needs like food, shelter, rest … but humans need a creative outlet, too, to be alive. These children love their dance class, their music class, their theater class.”

Quietly and tenaciously, the Straz Center has offered performing arts classes for the children of Met Min since 2007. Today, we offer in-school and afterschool programs. We are there for hip-hop class, tap class, ballet class, music and theater. We are there when homeless children need hope, need a way to communicate without violence, need to feel confident and hear a roomful of people applauding their achievement.

“The kids have been blessed, very, very blessed to have been given this opportunity to have performing arts classes. How intimidating is it to stand up in front of people and do a tap dance or speak your part of a play? But they do it,” Pantaleo says, “and they gain confidence. Then they think, ‘if I can do that, what else can I do?’ Our relationship with The Straz makes us able to give well-rounded support. It’s mind, body and spirit.”


Some of those elementary-aged kids clomping through shuffle-step at the end of the basketball court? They will utilize full scholarships to train at the Patel Conservatory – and who knows where they’ll be able to go after that.

Every one of our classes for Met Min children happen 100% through donor support. When you give to The Straz this holiday season, you’re also giving to Met Min and every one of our other 44 community partners. That’s what we call playing it forward.

Together, we can keep changing lives through the power of the performing arts.

… Five, Six, Seven, Eight …

Understanding the summer dance intensive


PCPD Intensive dancers with instructor Kelly King, 2016. (Photo: Soho Images)

Dance training often begins as early as three years old with a training year of classes mimicking the school schedule. In June, recitals signal the culmination of study and show off the hard-won skills in a public dance performance.

But then what?

Cue the summer dance intensive, an integral part of a dancer’s training that, hopefully, offers new styles and experiences outside of the dancer’s home studio—and sometimes out of the home town or even the home state.

Most of the top tier dance companies offer summer intensives through an audition process. Take a quick Google search of “summer dance intensive,” and you’ll see what’s on tap at Ailey, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet (NYCB), Hubbard Street, Alonzo King, Paul Taylor … everybody who’s anybody offers a summer intensive with their company members to expose young dancers to their style, culture and methods.


Auditions for the 2016 Patel Conservatory Popular Dance Intensive. (Photo: Soho Images)

Today, with the greater demands placed on dancers for versatility, it behooves a ballerina to explore a contemporary or hip hop intensive or a contemporary jazz dancer to gain experience in classical ballet. Foundations in modern dance are becoming more and more in demand for contemporary dancers, so a summer intensive with the Martha Graham Dance Company or with the Merce Cunningham Studio provides excellent instruction for a well-rounded dancer.

The Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center has an internationally recognized dance program with two professional dance tracks: one for ballet headed by Philip Neal, a former principal dancer for NYCB, and another for popular, or commercial, forms of dance, headed by Kelly King, a former Rockette.

We caught up with King to get the inside scoop about the Patel Conservatory Popular Dance summer dance intensive starting next week at the Patel Conservatory.


Kelly King was a Radio City Rockette for 12 years and has performed extensively for television, stage and film. (Photo: Soho Images)

“Dancers know they have to build technique,” she says. “So intensives are for dancers who either want to make a career of it or who are very serious about their study of the craft. For an intensive, you can’t just sign up for it. You have to audition, and we are looking for dancers with a strong technical background. We want to work with dancers already at a certain level who know they want to dance in college or in New York.”

“Technique” often refers to ballet technique in footwork, alignment, turn out and proper execution of basic steps, leaps, extensions and turns, although other dance styles build on this technique and/or invent their own. “Technique is important,” King says. “I knew I wasn’t going to be a ballerina. I didn’t have the right body type; it wasn’t where I was going as a dancer. But I took ballet because I needed the technique for my career. Our intensives provide a way for dancers to study ballet technique with some of the instructors from Next Generation Ballet [the pre-professional company of The Straz] and also work with other professionals.”


PCPD Intensive dancers with instructor Kelly King, 2016. (Photo: Soho Images)

The Patel Conservatory Popular Dance (PCPD) program has grown a lot under King’s leadership, and this summer’s dance intensive contains 25 dancers from all over Florida and one from Colorado. “Intensives are what happens in summer,” King says. “Dancers need to be open-minded to all kinds of intensives, styles and teachers. That’s how you become more well-rounded and how you learn to take a critique and not take it personally. You learn to appreciate that a teacher notices you and tries to make you better. We only have three students from the Patel in the intensive. The rest are students coming from elsewhere to learn from us.” Some of the yearly PCPD dancers chose intensives with other schools and companies to take, as King advises, the opportunities to expand their minds, their facility and their bodies.

The PCPD dance intensive focuses on Rockette repertory, jazz-funk fusion, contemporary, jazz, musical theater and ballet technique. Dancers begin at 9:30 a.m. with ballet then advance throughout the day in a curriculum of different styles and teachers with a break for lunch. The day concludes at 4:30.

At the end of the intensive, the dancers perform a full concert of works, some prepared during the intensive, but others pieces are self-choreographed solos prepared ahead of time and coached by King during the two-week immersion. A $10 ticketed event, the final concert is open to the public, which is an excellent opportunity for Tampa Bay area audiences to glimpse the emerging talent and trends in dance.


Patel Conservatory Popular Dance Intensive Showcase, 2016. (Photo: Soho Images)

“The intensive focuses on developing all types of techniques, all the styles we can fit in two weeks, and exposing the dancers to exceptional quality of classes and a diverse set of teaching styles. We all teach differently. The intensive is not about creating choreography for a showcase, but about giving professional training to serious dancers. But we are excited to be able to perform work at the end, and we are very excited to have their solos interspersed throughout the show. We encourage anyone who is interested in dance to come out and see the show.”

Want to see the end-of-intensive performances? For Next Generation Ballet, your chance is coming up this Friday night, July 21. For PCPD, you can go ahead and get your tickets for their spectacular showcase on August 4.

Practice Makes Perfect, Performing Makes Professionals

The importance of recitals in arts education

Summer at the Straz Center means a windfall of students leaping, singing, tapping, tuning, rehearsing, running lines and taking selfies with beloved teachers in our many, many (many, many) summer camps and classes. We enjoy the nonstop energy all year long at The Straz, but the exuberance of everyone here for our summer arts education programs makes life sizzle with excitement on every floor of our performing arts school, the Patel Conservatory.

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Summer campers from Musical Theater Camp: Dancing with Props pose for a quick photo during rehearsal for their end of the week showcase, 2017.

A big part of our arts education curriculum involves a performance component—after all, we must put the “perform” in performing arts. We thought we’d take a closer look at an aspect of performing arts training that often goes unexamined: the recital.

Why do it? Are recitals really necessary?

“A recital gives us a place to share with an audience,” says Patel Conservatory Music Department Chair Lauren Murray. “In music, we have a ‘triangle’ of artistic collaboration: the composer, the performer who interprets the composer’s work and the audience. The recital allows for all those collaborators to come together in one place.”

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Private voice student performing in the Honors Recital, spring 2017. (Photo: Soho Images)

Recitals also provide a legitimate training ground for professional artistic development, and, ideally, the performance executed in a recital marks a new stage in the artist’s study of her craft. “When you study privately,” says Kavanaugh Gillespie, a voice specialist at the Patel Conservatory, “you are only performing for your instructor. The recital puts you out there in front of strangers, under the lights and in a new space. It is a different and exciting atmosphere. You cannot simulate that environment. Performing as a young musician helped me become more comfortable in front of others—I can credit my comfort in the classroom to performing as a child.”

The dreaded notion of stage fright enters the equation somewhere, as it’s a top fear akin to glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. Similar in nature, stage fright and glossophobia stem from a sense of feeling threatened (perceived ridicule, failure, or ostracism) and trigger the flight-fight-freeze response in the brain. Recitals, especially in a conscientious environment, are a great way for people of all ages to learn to overcome fear and gain invaluable self-confidence in presentations.

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Beginning Dance students performing in their first recital, spring 2017. (Photos: Soho Images)

“Many people, especially when they first start performing publicly, are nervous or worry about what people will think about them personally and their playing, that the audience will judge them harshly in some way,” says Murray. “Recitals can be stressful if the performer isn’t prepared or ready for public performance. As an instructor, it’s my job to make sure I’m sending my students into an environment that’s healthy and positive, and that they are prepared. Once they’ve performed live, it’s a bit addictive, and they’re ready to do it again! As time progresses, the fear of personal ‘failure’ becomes less, transforming into a hope that the audience will like or understand or enjoy the music you’re performing. I try to get my students to transfer the concern from themselves (“what if they don’t like me”) to the audience (“I love this piece, and I want them to love it, too”).”

“Overcoming and managing stage fright can be a challenge,” says theater instructor Audrey Seigler. “Building confidence through practice is a great way to work through feelings of stress and ‘butterflies.’ Committing to a goal and working hard to achieve that goal is the core behind all recitals and performances. It’s life lessons: teamwork, pursuing goals, self-discipline, humility. Learning to manage nerves is necessary to reach one’s true potential, and practice with performing is a great way to figure out how to handle your nerves.”

“The more you perform,” Murray adds, “the positive experiences begin to replace the negative scenarios your brain invents.”

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Students from Showstoppers, Jr – Thunder Mountain Revue performing at the end of their two-week summer camp, 2017.

Even if students do not pursue professional artistic careers, recitals and public performances build a critical professional skill set.

“The long- and medium-term preparation students put into performance all the way from the beginning stages of play and early technique to the weeks or months that might go into a particular performance help develop the sense of pride and a higher level of attention to detail that translates well to nearly any aspect of life—in any discipline,” says Dr. Catherine Michelsen, string specialist with the Patel Conservatory.

“We study and take lessons to get better,” says Murray. “Our performances are places where we experience the joy of our hard work. And, if we, as teachers, are doing our jobs well, the students want to perform in a recital or live in some way, to share that joy.”

Did you know that Patel Conservatory recitals are usually open to the public? Often free of charge, our recitals are a great opportunity for community members to play their part as the collaborators of the artistic triangle. Come be in the audience! Our performances are listed on the Patel Conservatory web page.

The Straz Center Stands with National Endowment for the Arts

The FY2018 federal budget proposes to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Here’s a brief look at the creation of the agency and the reasons why a national investment in the arts makes dollars and sense.

“The Arts Endowment’s mission was clear – to spread this artistic prosperity throughout the land, from the dense neighborhoods of our largest cities to the vast rural spaces, so that every citizen might enjoy America’s great cultural legacy.”
–from National Endowment for the Arts: A History 1965-2008

During the desultory years of the Great Depression, 10,000 of the 15 million out of work Americans were artists. Through New Deal programs such as the Federal Arts Project and the Federal Writers’ Project, these artists recorded, documented and produced the bulk of American cultural achievement and historical record of the time. While this social program provided a historical precedent for federal support of artists, the nation’s leaders began to see America’s need to make a commitment to the bountiful creative expression of such a diverse and talented society without a socio-economic agenda. The time had come for America to put its might behind its artists, the very citizens who created the nation’s cultural heritage.


On Sept. 29, 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities, the legislation creating NEH and NEA, into law. (Photo:

The National Endowment for the Arts, then, emerged as this commitment to the exaltation of the spirit produced by American artists. In his remarks at the signing of the arts and humanities bill in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson noted that to make America great, the fed needed to support the arts:

Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a Nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish. … What this bill really does is to bring active support to this great national asset, to make fresher the winds of art in this great land of ours.

While the NEA more or less weathered the culture wars headed by North Carolina senator Jesse Helms in the ‘80s and house speaker Newt Gingrich in the ‘90s, the NEA’s unfortunate position as an easy target for political posturing continues to undermine the agency’s mission as set forth by LBJ.

On May 23, 2017, only a year and a half after the 50th anniversary of the agency, the current president released his budget proposal which outlines his plans to eliminate funding the NEA altogether. He is the only president in history to propose zeroing out funding to the nation’s cultural agency.

Congress ultimately approves or rejects the proposed line items, and Congress gave the NEA a $2 million boost for FY2017—a smart move considering the NEA helps an industry that generates $742 billion to the national economy. So, the people have an extraordinary opportunity to respond on behalf of preserving the NEA by contacting their members of Congress.

(Don’t know your member of Congress? Find her or him here. Don’t know what to say? Americans for the Arts created an easy online form.)

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Third-generation Montana rancher Wallace McRae was the first cowboy poet to be awarded the National Heritage Award from the NEA. (Photo: Tom Pich)

The NEA was a simple solution for the questions of how to preserve the many splendid cultural traditions of this nation and continue to nourish the creative soul of the country. Creating it demonstrated a stunning act of faith in humanity after the harrowing tumult of the early 60s and the American entrance into the Vietnam War.

NEA grants, while supporting high-profile artists and organizations, mostly support rural and inner city areas that lack the economic infrastructure to provide arts development for their people. The bulk of the grants go to small and mid-sized organizations. These grants help foster economic growth and community pride. People understand that arts nourish the greatness of their hometowns as well as their country as a whole.

As for the controlling-government-waste-by-cutting-arts-spending argument, it doesn’t hold. As of now, the NEA gets $150 million in funding (.003 percent of the total budget) yet supports an industry of nonprofit arts that return $9.6 billion in federal taxes. That’s a massive ROI.

In addition to the big business of arts funded partly by NEA grants, the National Endowment for the Arts serves as both repository and springboard for American arts, with some of the nation’s most renowned and gifted artistic geniuses and organizations participating in its development, implementation and execution. The first year of grants included Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey, American Ballet Theatre, Actors Theater of Louisville, American Choral Society and to the New York City Opera to expand a training program for young singers and aspiring conductors. Over the years, the NEA supported American giants like the Joffrey Ballet and Dizzy Gillespie as well as hometown folk artists like cowboy poet Wallace McRae and programs like the Rural Arts Initiative and Arts Education Partnership. In 2016, the organization announced its new focus on contemporary authors for the NEA Big Read program and was nominated for an Emmy for its digital story series United States of Arts.


When Black Violin performed at the Straz Center in 2015, they also did master classes and other outreach in the Tampa community. Pictured here is their stop at St. Peter Claver School.

The NEA’s support helps the Straz Center deliver our Cultural Intersections program, a multi-disciplinary series of artists who use traditional, authentic artistic disciplines to transcend cultural boundaries. The NEA makes our work in this endeavor possible, opening our stages in recent seasons to such phenomenal artists as Black Violin, Parsons Dance Company, Celtic Nights, tabla master Zakir Hussein and others. This program includes an outreach arm which also sends our Cultural Intersections artists to the community in master classes, lectures and school visits with subsidized tickets for underserved K-12 students.

As the NEA says, a great nation deserves great art. A great agency doing good work at a great financial return deserves the nation’s support. In the immortal words of this country’s first president:

The arts and sciences are essential to the prosperity of the state and to the ornament and happiness of human life. They have a primary claim to the encouragement of every lover of his country and mankind.
–George Washington

Want more info? The NEA produced this online fact sheet for simple answers to FAQs.


Manual Transmission

Dance lineage is a big deal. A very big deal. So, when Next Generation Ballet got a descendant of Jerome Robbins, who was guided by George Balanchine, who was instructed by Marius Petipa, the Straz Center leapt for joy.

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Philip Neal, dance department chair and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet, instructing students during the summer intensive.

Philip Neal, the artistic director for Next Generation Ballet, came to us from New York City Ballet, where he worked as a principal dancer for more than twenty years. When you take into account that his main choreographer and teacher was none other than the Jerome Robbins, you can begin to understand what a tremendous, unparalleled gift we have sitting right here in the Patel Conservatory. (For you non-dance folks, just imagine if we told you we had a rock guitar teacher who learned from Jimi Hendrix. Same.)

While most people recognize Robbins’ work from West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof, Robbins was first and foremost a ballet choreographer, hailed as the first dance maker to invent a singular, artistic American ballet style. (Robbins’ mentor, Balanchine, was the father of American ballet.) In 1986, Robbins spotted the then-19-year-old Philip Neal in Philip’s very first rehearsal with NYCB. Impressed, Robbins called Philip to solo in “Jerry’s” latest ballet.

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In addition to many ballets, Jerome Robbins choreographed Broadway productions including On the Town, Peter Pan, The King And I, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and more.

“For the next year,” says Philip, “I worked with Jerry on that ballet. He called me to understudy for every one of his ballets. Jerry sourced from Balanchine, who sourced from Petipa. Today, when I choreograph for Next Generation Ballet, I find myself teaching and thinking ‘I stole these steps from Balanchine’ or when I teach my students to use their full arms and say ‘paint your sky with a paintbrush’ they don’t know that I’m saying to them exactly what Jerry said to me.”

Dance is passed down manually, almost always without notes or a written record. The art transmits from teacher to student through class and rehearsal, each student taking the master’s work and either passing it to the next generation in pure form or building on the tradition by incorporating his or her own style.


Maruis Petipa was ballet master and principal choreographer of the Imperial Ballet (precursor of the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet) from 1871 until 1903.

The root of Philip’s work is Marius Petipa, the “granddaddy of classical ballet,” who was born in France in 1818 and eventually came to fame with Russia’s St. Petersburg Imperial Theatre. Petipa more or less singlehandedly created the school of Russian ballet. Every ballet you see has Petipa’s influence somewhere on it.

In 1904, George Balanchine (neé Georgi Melitonovich Balanchivadze) was born in St. Petersburg. He enrolled in Petipa’s Imperial Ballet school and performed his first work on stage in Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty in 1915. As Petipa had left France for Russia, so Balanchine left Russia for America. He partnered with Lincoln Kirstein to create a ballet company that would rival the best of Russian and French ballet. Ergo, New York City Ballet. Balanchine dancers included Suzanne Farrell, Maria Tallchief, Arthur Mitchell, and Edward Villella.

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George Balanchine, co-founder of New York City Ballet, (left) and Arthur Mitchell.

“Balanchine adored westerns, the films,” says Philip, who did not study with Balanchine but did see him on occasion during classes or rehearsals. “He loved Americana and captured the essence of New York—to be fast, to break rules, to turn structures on end. It was so American, so beautiful. He edited out Petipa’s pageantry and could do three hours of steps in 25 minutes.”

In 1948, Balanchine received a letter from a dancer he’d worked with on Broadway, a young man of quite some fame named Jerome Robbins. By 1948, Robbins was already a big time star from creating the heroic, titillating wartime ballet Fancy Free which became the Broadway musical On the Town. In almost no time, Robbins’ talent and charisma inspired Balanchine to promote him to associate artistic director of NYCB.

Enter our Philip Neal in 1986, a tall, elegant dancer who trained at NYCB’s school, and the rest is history.

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Philip Neal danced with New York City Ballet for more than 20 years. (Photos: Paul Kolnik)

Except, of course, that dance history never ends. The continuation of this preeminent legacy now germinates in the classes and rehearsals of our very own Next Generation Ballet. In a bold and exciting move, Philip—a repetiteur of both Robbins and Balanchine, which means he has exclusive permission to stage their dances on other companies—decided to bring this legacy to life in this year’s spring program, Masters of Dance, a program that includes Balanchine’s Donizetti Variations, which Philip performed for NYCB, Robbins’ Circus Polka, a whimsical dance for 48 (not a typo) girls from nine to 12 years old. The performance concludes with Petipa’s extraordinary final act of Don Quixote.

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Philip Neal teaching Next Generation Ballet dancers.

For the first time, Tampa audiences can see the direct lineage of this extraordinary ballet heritage offered by a direct descendant of Petipa to the dancers in our resident company.

“I’m serious,” says Philip. “It’s going to be a milestone performance. I’m in total disbelief that we are going to be able to do something like Circus Polka and Donizetti Variations. My colleagues in New York know what is happening down here, and they are paying attention. We’re only going to grow and go on to bigger things. We are building our own legend with this ballet school.”

Masters of Dance: Balanchine and Robbins plus Petipa’s Don Quixote Suite runs May 13 and 14 in Ferguson Hall.