PORT ANGELES — This may be a rural town, but its young performing artists do not play small.
Five teenage students at the Ballet Workshop, the school founded in 1970 by Sylvia Wanner, have been accepted into prestigious summer training programs, reported Kate Robbins, BW’s artistic director.
The girls — who’ll give a spring recital for their families today — are Port Angeles’ Ava Johnson, 15, Isabella Knott and Caitlynn Donaldson, both 17, and Amelia Brown and Daphne Oakes, both 13. All are headed out of state this month: Oakes to Ballet Idaho in Boise and the other four to Atlanta’s International City School of Ballet (ICSB).
“Each girl was required to film and send a 15-minute audition video of their classwork to the respective programs to compete for acceptance,” Robbins said.
“The ICSB academy is considered one of the premier institutions in the South, with graduates who annually represent the U.S. and win medals at major international ballet competitions such as Prix de Lausanne [in Switzerland].”
Of 60 spots available to candidates around the world, Ballet Workshop’s students took three of the senior spots and one of the intermediate-level spots — “an outstanding achievement for four students from one small community,” Robbins noted.
“Ballet Idaho is also one of the leading summer programs for young dancers in the Pacific Northwest. At 13, Daphne is one of the youngest to be accepted into their senior professional summer division,” she added of Oakes, who’s danced at the Ballet Workshop since she was 5.
Those audition videos were grueling to make, Robbins said, adding she didn’t have to push these dancers to try for what they wanted.
“They’re pushing themselves,” she said.
Donaldson, a high school junior, moved from Yakima to Port Angeles to live with a host family — friends of Robbins — so she could study at the Ballet Workshop. She met Robbins in seminars at Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet, and with her help has recovered from a back injury.
During the past year of pandemic-induced isolation, ballet has been a kind of saving grace.
Back in the period of lockdown last year, “we did have our Zoom classes every night. That was really nice — the consistency of it,” Donaldson said.
Classes are in the downtown Port Angeles studio again, with safety protocols part of the routine. Donaldson dances five nights a week and takes private lessons on weekends.
She and her fellow Ballet Workshop dancers appeared in “Nutcracker: The Movie,” the school’s 2020 production screened at Port Townsend’s Wheel-In Motor Movie last December.
This year’s “Nutcracker,” the sixth since Robbins became the owner and director, is slated for Dec. 4-5 back at the Port Angeles High School Performing Arts Center.
Some 120 youngsters ages 3 to 18 study at the Ballet Workshop, Robbins said. All five of her star students will go to summer camp here in late July and early August; Robbins added she has room for more girls and boys, in all age groups. Register at by sending an email to [email protected].
As the state reopens, “we’ll be in a place where more kids can participate. We’re encouraging them to start,” she said, adding she has students from Port Ludlow, Port Townsend, Joyce and Forks as well as Port Angeles.
Knott, for her part, said she’s looking forward to the intensity of her time in Atlanta. She now dances “maybe three hours a day, six days a week. But the classes aren’t all intense. Some are tap, or character classes.”
At ICSB, it will be straight ballet and immersion in the school’s specialized Vaganova training program.
Created by the Russian dancer and teacher Agrippina Vaganova (1879-1951), it’s considered an essential training in classical ballet, one that emphasizes dancing with expression — yet without injury.
This summer program “will really get me in shape,” Knott said.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]