Photo Courtesy of Soho Images
Featured Article, September 16, 2015 Everyone's story is a little bit different, but this one really caught our attention, especially with today's common company structure built on layer after layer of advanced feeder levels that most dancers must complete before acquiring their professional status. This is now putting majority of dancers well into their 20's before officially becoming a first year corps member. This framework was designed for several reasons, one being the ability to groom dancers to the style and look of that specific company, while still effectively requiring the dancers to build on their technical base. This allows the dancers the benefit of continuing their training with a student mindset while adapting to company life, which is a common pitfall to some professional careers.
Tampa born, Nicole Assaad, now only 18 years old, just recently landed a first year corps contract
with the Hong Kong Ballet, and not in the usual way. More on that later.
We first met Nicole when she was thirteen, training with Julio Montano and Gissell Durand. It was clear, instantly, she would have a career in ballet. That same year, she was named the 5th Recipient of our Fernando Bujones Memorial Award. The following year she took Gold in the Junior Division, and in 2012 the Silver Medal as the youngest in the Senior Division.
Nicole started ballet later than most, having played soccer and the french horn for years prior to finding her love of classical ballet. She does not come from a ballet family. Neither parents danced professionally, and one sibling is a mechanical engineer, and the other an archaeologist.
In 2012, Nicole was introduced to Gelsey Kirkland Academy and auditioned for the summer program. She attended and was asked to stay for the full year program. It was a tough decision for her to move away from her parents, and Tampa coaches, whom she loves dearly. But at 15, turning 16, it was time for her to fully immerse herself in the ballet world at the level of training required.
She stayed at GKA for a total of three years: one as a student, one as an apprentice, and the last year as a studio company member. We asked Nicole to give us a sample day there at Gelsey Kirkland Ballet. "Classes started at 9am for students, and studio company started at 10:30am. I would take the student and company classes most days. Then we would have pointe warm-up from 12:15-1pm and rehearsals until about 6pm. During busy days, we would stay until 8pm." During these years she completed her schooling through FLVS, an online school. She said, "I didn't have a vacation from school for 3 1/2 years because with the dance schedule, I got very behind in school, and all my weekends and summers were dedicated to my classes."
While dancing with Gelsey Kirkland Ballet, Nicole performed the Grand Pas de Deux from The Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center for the American-Israeli Gala Hosted by Itzhak Perlman. "Ms. Kirkland was my main coach for the principal role in The Nutcracker, working primarily on artistry and presence. She taught me how to accomplish elegant and refined lines. I will cherish her teachings forever." Nicole also starred as Columbine in Harlequinade. She developed her character for the role with Vera Solovieva & Nicolai Levitsky. Nicole also had the opportunity to perform the Flames of Paris Pas de Deux and soloist roles in The Sleeping Beauty, Le Corsaire, and Cavalry Halt. Lyubov Fominich was the coach that worked her to tears. But she says, "without tears and harsh encouragement, I would not have developed my technique or strength."
In 2014, Nicole became interested in Hong Kong Ballet, and decided to go to the auditions in NYC the following year just to test the waters, with no expectations, she said. She never did make it to the audition, due to school requirements, but she did, however, send in her CV with a few photos and videos from past performances. "To My Great Suprise, the director asked me for more information. I then sent her more recent videos of class and a few days later, I received a contract for a corps de ballet position!"
Hong Kong Ballet is led by the Swedish born, Madeleine Onne. Known for her engaging style and dramatic talent, Ms. Onne was a Principal Dancer for the Royal Swedish Ballet from 1984 to 2002.
Founded in 1979, Hong Kong Ballet has evolved into a vibrant performing arts organization with accomplished dancers and a strong repertoire ranging from the Classics to the works for George Balanchine, William Forsythe, Nils Christe, and Nacho Duato.
HK Ballet is a strong, financially solvent organization with nearly a 9 million USD surplus in 2014 alone, and the company continues to raise its International profile by conducting more than 30 tours to 10 countries in North & South America, Canada, Europe, and Asia. The company is ranked, and consists of 44 company members and 2 apprentices. Of which, 28 dancers are of Chinese descent, 7 Japanese, 3 American, 2 Italian & Russian, and a dancer each from Cuba, Canada, Sweden, and the Phillipines.
Nicole Assaad just recently arrived in Hong Kong in July, just 3 days prior to her first day of work! No, she did not arrange an earlier visit to familiarize herself with the Region. A common question would be why Hong Kong? Are you worried about the cultural differences? Nicole is a bold young woman, but admits to being a little nervous about culture shock and being the youngest member. "I decided on HK Ballet when I saw the amount of work that I would have to do. I love the company, as each and every dancer is absolutely vital. There is never a shortage of dance opportunities."
With a 12 month contract, and starting pay higher than most US companies, she decided to take a leap.
She is very excited for their Romeo & Juilet Production coming up in November. This year they will be touring Canada and NYC, and she can't wait to see her parents during that time. We joked with her about the shock in discovering the culture's food. Drastic difference to an American diet. She told us where she is located, "It is great actually, because anything you want, you can find within 1 mile. There's everything from American, to German, British, and Chinese. Many organic shops as well! I had my first dim-sum the other day, which was very good. There are many wet markets which offer fresh locally grown vegetables, fruits, and free range eggs."
Nicole is loving her daily new experiences, and sees herself staying with the company for some time. She also has enrolled in the Florida International University, where she will complete college courses online while overseas. "I believe that the mind must be trained equally as the body. It gives the individual depth and it is expressed in their dancing", says Nicole, and we couldn't agree with you more! Your ADC Family is exceedingly proud of you, and we look forward to following you on this journey!