Ayisha McMillan Cravotta
Charlotte Ballet Academy Director
Hailing from Illinois, Cravotta’s dance career began at an early age at the Momenta Dance Company, where she trained in ballet and early American modern dance with Stephanie Clemens. On scholarship from Homer Hans Bryant, founding principal dancer at Dance Theatre of Harlem, Cravotta studied at the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center. She also trained at Maria Tallchief's School of Chicago City Ballet, and under Bolshoi Ballet Director Asaf Messerer and Mikhail Messerer at their Soviet American Ballet School. At the age of 15, Cravotta left home to study on full scholarship at the Houston Ballet Academy. Cravotta joined Houston Ballet, under Director Ben Stevenson, in 1996. With Houston Ballet she toured and performed in London, Hong Kong, Toronto, and at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., performing ballets by Stevenson, George Balanchine, Glen Tetley, Trey McIntyre and Lila York. Cravotta spent five seasons with Charlotte Ballet and was the first African American woman to play a principal role in the company’s Nutcracker. Her time at Charlotte Ballet also included a memorable role as Tinker Bell in Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s Peter Pan, as well as being featured in Alvin Ailey’s The River and in George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After retiring as a professional dancer in 2007, Cravotta joined Charlotte Ballet’s marketing department. In 2011, at the invitation of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, she became principal of the Charlotte Ballet Academy. Cravotta’s teaching experience includes working as a dance instructor and mentor at La Salle Street CYCLE WIZ Factory of Learning and Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center. She was also a resident artist for the Arts in Medicine Program at Texas Children’s Hospital where she conceptualized, developed and led movement and music-based workshops to creatively engage pediatric cancer outpatients. In 2005, Cravotta was honored for her career achievements with an appointment as a Grand Marshal in the Chicago Defender’s 76th Annual Bud Billiken Parade. Several national dignitaries, as well as over one million Chicagoans, were in attendance. In 2007, Cravotta was inducted into the prestigious HistoryMakers national archive in recognition for her accomplishments as an African American in the Arts. A National Achievement Scholarship Finalist, Cravotta studied at Rice University and most recently at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She lives in Charlotte with husband Jeff Cravotta and their son, Luca.
Audrey Ipapo Baran
Audrey Ipapo Baran graduated Magna cum Laude from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a BA in Dance in 2003. Since then she has danced with the KINETYX Dance Ensemble, Queen City Jazz Company, Kim Robards Dance, project Incite, and EE Motion. In addition to the School of NCDT, Audrey teaches at Open Door Studios and Sullivan Dance Centre, and is an Adjunct Lecturer in Dance at UNC Charlotte. She has performed several times in the Charlotte Dance Festival and the North Carolina Dance Festival, and also at Piccolo Spoleto. Mrs. Baran has presented work in the NCDF Charlotte concert (2011) and NCDF Audience Choice Show (2012), and her choreography has received recognition at the CDF's Charlotte Emerging Dance Awards three times. In 2012 she founded Baran Dance, a Contemporary dance company which seeks to make dance more accessible and inspiring in the Charlotte area. Audrey is also a Registered Yoga Teacher, and continues to share her love of movement and mindfulness throughout the Queen City and North Carolina. Mrs. Baran is honored and excited to be a part of the faculty at the School of NCDT!
Tara Winston-Conrad’s dance training began as a young girl in Washington, DC. She studied at The Bolshoi School of Ballet in Bethesda, MD, and then later at The Bethesda School of Ballet. Conrad continued her dance education at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro where she worked towards a major in drama and a minor in dance. After two years she transferred to Catholic University in Washington, DC. While studying drama and teaching dance she commuted to New York where she performed in an Off Broadway Showcase. Later that year she traveled to the Middle East and abroad as a featured dancer in the 1982 USO tour. Conrad graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree from the prestigious Drama program at Catholic University and moved to New York City. While in New York, Conrad studied and later taught at many major dance studios, including Broadway Dance Center, Steps, and David Howard. She also performed as a Zigfield Folly dancer and was featured in several VH1 music videos. Conrad’s dance training led her to the fitness industry where she became National Spokesperson for The Body Bar and presented at many national and international fitness expos. During this time she was a member of “Team Danskin” and appeared on several talk shows as a fitness expert. Conrad has worked extensively in television, appearing in TV films, soap operas and national commercials.
Duane Cyrus is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro and the Artistic Director of Cyrus Art Production LLC. He has performed with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Martha Graham Dance Company, The Lion King (original London cast), Carousel (U.S. Tour) as well as domestic and international touring with Cyrus Art Production. Mr. Cyrus is the co-author and editor of the book Vital Grace- The Black Male Dancer a photographic celebration of black men in dance. A graduate of the Juilliard School (BFA) and the University of Illinois (MFA) Mr. Cyrus is also a recipient of the Princess Grace Foundation award for emerging artists. Duane Cyrus choreographs, performs and teaches extensively throughout the U.S. and abroad. He has served as faculty for the Joffrey Ballet School/New School BFA Program, The Hartt School Actor’s Training Program, American Ballet Theatre’s Summer Intensive, AileyCamp, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where he was a Visiting Lecturer. Duane Cyrus was awarded the 2009 University Dance Educator of the Year honor by the North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. He also wrote a grant for the National Endowment for the Arts that was awarded to the dance department at UNCG. In 2010 Mr. Cyrus was the first place winner for the Anne Fulton Carter Business Plan Competition. With his award winning plan he opened the Access to Art Academy that provides professional level training for performing artists in the Greensboro Triad Region. Duane Cyrus continues to produce performances, outreach programs, and collaborative projects around the country. His recent projects include The Vital Grace Project that includes performances and collaborations with notable artists. For more information visit: www.cyrusartproduction.com
Mark Diamond has choreographed and taught in Europe, Japan and the US since retiring from the Hamburg Staatsoper in Germany in 1983. He has choreographed more than 30 ballets for North Carolina Dance Theatre and is program director for NC Dance Theatre 2. In the summer he serves as associate artistic director and resident choreographer for Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux at the Chautauqua Institution. Before joining Dance Theatre, Diamond was resident choreographer for the Cincinnati Opera, founded Ballet Artists Cincinnati, and received grants from the Ohio Arts Council, the New England Foundation for the Arts and others. Diamond was a principal dancer with the Milwaukee Ballet Company, danced with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and the Tamburitzans Slavic Folk ensemble. He trained with Edward Caton and attended Duquesne University and Point Park College (BA), where he studied music, history and dance.
Katarina M. Dimitrijevic is a graduate of The State Ballet Academy of Belgrade, Serbia. Dimitrijevic danced with the Simionov Ensemble and instructed classical ballet at three different ballet institutions in Belgrade. She then spent several years in Italy as a ballet instructor, choreographer and dancer at ballet schools in Ragusa, Comiso, Acate and Grammichele. In 1997, Dimitrijevic opened her own dance school, KAYA, in Belgrade. She also completed a four-year course in Ballet Pedagogy at the University of High Culture and Arts in Rome, Italy, where she improved her knowledge in the Vaganova method. She served as assistant to Professor Ivan Goliandin in the Character Dance Department. While studying in Rome, Dimitrijevic taught classical and character dances at several dance studios and also worked as a dancer. Dimitrijevic immigrated to the United States in 2003 and obtained a position as a classical ballet instructor with the Fort Wayne Ballet Academy. She and her family moved to Charlotte in July 2005.
Silas Farley is a member of the New York City Ballet. He started dance training with Sal and Barbara Messina at the King David Christian Conservatory in Charlotte, NC, at age 7. At the age of 9, he was accepted into Charlotte Ballet Academy, where his teachers were NYCB alumna Patricia McBride, Kathryn Moriarty and Mark Diamond. At the age of 14, Mr. Farley attended the summer course at the School of American Ballet (SAB), the official school of NYCB, and was then invited to enroll as a full-time student. Mr. Farley has also choreographed for SAB Choreography Workshops, the SAB Winter Ball and the New York Choreographic Institute. In 2012 he was one of two advanced SAB students selected by Peter Martins for a student teaching pilot program at SAB. In August 2012, Mr. Farley became an apprentice with NYCB and joined the Company as a member of the corps de ballet in August 2013. He is a recipient of SAB's 2012 Mae L. Wien Award and Lincoln Center's 2015 Martin E. Segal Award.
Heather Ferranti Ferguson
Heather Ferranti Ferguson is a native of Rochester, NY, where she studied with Luba Gulaeva at the Botsford School of Dance, and later with Timothy Draper at the Rochester City Ballet. She has danced professionally with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Colorado Ballet, and Chautauqua Ballet Company. While at Dance Theatre Heather has danced featured roles in ballets such as Alonzo King’s MAP, Alvin Ailey’s The River, Mark Diamond’s Cyrano de Bergerac, Salvatore Aiello’s The Nutcracker and many Balanchine ballets. Ferguson spent five seasons with North Carolina Dance Theatre.
Sophie started her dance education at Charlotte Ballet and pursued musical theatre at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. There she took musical theater classes, performed in a number of plays and musicals, and joined their Performance Company her freshman year of high school. She also studied ballet with Melissa Hale Coyle while doing community theatre. Sophie trained in Charlotte Ballet’s Pre-Professional Division under teachers Patricia McBride, Mark Diamond, Kathryn Moriarty, Kati Hanlon Mayo, Jeanene Russell Perry, and Sarkis Kaltakhtchian. She trained for four years on full scholarship at Gelsey Kirkland Academy’s year round training program in New York City. Sophie’s training at GKA was under teachers Gelsey Kirkland, Lybov Fominich, Vera Soloveyva, Liudmila Polonskya and Alexandra Lawler. She performed in Gelsey Kirkland Ballet’s full length classical ballets, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, La Bayadere, and Le Corsaire as well as GKB’s performance excerpts from Giselle, and August Bournenville’s Enchainements. Sophie joined the faculty at Miller Street Dance Academy in 2015. In 2016 Sophie attended ABT’s National Teacher Training program for levels Pre-Primary to level 3. Charlotte Ballet Academy celebrates Sophie’s return to the organization as a faculty member in the 2016/2017 School Year.
Gretchen Jax graduated from Winthrop University with a BA in Dance Performance. She performed in Meredith Monk’s Obie Award winning Quarry at the 2003 Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. She has also studied and performed the works of Sandra Neels, David Parsons, Marjorie Palmer Perry, Mary Beth Thompson and Duke Young. She was the recipient of the 2000, 2001 and 2002 Alpha Psi Omega Best Choreography Award from Winthrop University. In 2006 she was one of eight selected to study at the School of Jacob’s Pillow Choreographer’s Lab. Jax is the co-founder of Sinergismo, a group of dancers, artists, poets, and musicians using collaboration as a means to produce choreographic works. Sinergismo has performed at venues throughout the southeast including the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, Sumter Museum of Art, Southern Holiday, NC Dance Festival Saturday Series, Winthrop University and the Charlotte Dance Festival. Jax currently teaches modern at Davidson College and choreographs for their dance company The Gamut. Jax has been a faculty member at the School of Dance since 2003.
A native New Yorker, Naimah began her dance training at age 8 at Ballet Tech - formerly known as The New Ballet School - in New York City, under the direction of Eliot Feld. After becoming a member of the Ballet Tech professional company, Naimah was invited to join the Dance Theatre of Harlem company under the direction of Arthur Mitchell where she had the pleasure to perform works by Sir Frederic Franklin, Goeffrey Holder, Michael Smuin and resident choreographer Robert Garland. In addition, Naimah has performed repertory by George Balanchine including: The Four Temperaments, Serenade, Concerto Barocco, Agon and Apollo. In 2007, she became a member of the Gazelle national touring cast of the Broadway production The Lion King. Naimah is very excited to be teaching beginner ballet, level 4 Jazz, Pre-Professional Jazz and Adult Ballet classes in the Open division. She and her husband Yani moved to Charlotte June 2015.
Kati Hanlon Mayo
Kati Hanlon Mayo began her dance training at The Boston School of Ballet and went on to study as a scholarship student at The Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and The School of American Ballet. At the age of 15, she became a member of Boston Ballet 2 and performed regularly with The Boston Ballet. Kati attended The University of Massachusetts/Amherst as a Chancellor’s Award Scholarship recipient for two years before moving back to Boston to dance soloist roles with Jose Mateo's Ballet Theatre. In 1992 Kati began working at Charlotte Ballet, (formerly North Carolina Dance Theatre) as a principal dancer. Throughout her career Mayo had many ballets created on her including the female lead in Mateo's “Schubert Adagio” and Salvatore Aiello's ‘Chosen One’ in “The Rite of Spring.” She performed principal roles in ballets choreographed by George Balanchine, Alvin Ailey, Jean- Pierre Bonnefoux, William Forsythe, Violette Verdy, Agnes DeMille, Jacqueline Buglisi, Dwight Rhoden and Alonzo King. In 2000 and 2004 Kati was named Best Performing Artist by Charlotte Magazine. The New York Times reviewed that Miss Hanlon “ruled the stage with benign classical authority” and Dance Magazine heralded her as a “performer of stunning versatility and dramatic power.” Mayo began teaching at the Charlotte Ballet Academy upon its inception in 1993. She is currently an instructor for the Advanced and Pre-Professional Division as well as the main company of Charlotte Ballet. Kati has been a guest teacher for The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a repetiteur for the Salvatore Aiello Trust and she is a certified instructor of Dance for Parkinson’s Disease through The Mark Morris Dance Group.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, PA, Yaqshaan Medan’s journey to the stage began at the age of 16. He trained with Freedom Theatre and Dance Kidz in Jazz, Modern, Tap, Ballet, and African. He went on to attend Marymount Manhattan College in New York City and later transitioned to University of the Arts, where he received his BFA in Jazz Performance. During his attendance in college, Yaqshaan toured internationally with Dance Theatre X in Lithuania for their 14th International Modern Dance Festival and became a union performer with the Philadelphia Opera Company in Aida. Yaqshaan’s career took flight in Donn Arden’s Jubilee in Las Vegas, NV. From there he went on to dance Cameron Mackintosh’s Hey Mr. Producer with Jean Ann Ryan’s Production aboard Norwegian Cruise Line. Since returning to Philadelphia, Yaqshaan found love in choreographing and teaching. While working and performing with local dance companies he received numerous awards such as Outstanding Choreography and Contemporary Ensemble 1st Place in the Semi-Finals of Youth America Grand Prix. For the past several years his choreography has been seen on stages in the (Northeast) Regional Dance America. Yaqshaan’s joy comes from inspiring and instructing youth to succeed in all aspects of life, no matter where their journey leads them. If you can dream it, you can become it. –William Arthur Ward
Jeanene Russell Perry
Jeanene Russell Perry trained at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia, under the direction of Sofia Golovkina, Director of the Institute. She was the first American to receive a Diploma of Completion of Studies from the prestigious institution. She danced for two years with Ballet Arizona in Phoenix, Arizona, The Chautauqua Ballet Company in Chautauqua, New York for five seasons and with the North Carolina Dance Theatre in Charlotte for five seasons. Perry has lived and toured all over the globe performing hundreds of ballets. She has had numerous roles created for her by well known choreographers including “The Soul” in Dreamer by Alonzo King. She has performed principal roles in Giselle, the Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, In the Middle Somewhat Elevated, Tango and many others. She has choreographed several ballets and plans to continue developing this talent. She is now using her talents to nurture and train the next generation of dancers. She is on staff at NC Dance Theatre School of Dance. She has been both a guest instructor and speaker at UNC Charlotte. In addition to dance accomplishment, she is a certified Pilates Instructor and Master Teacher. Her home is Charlotte, North Carolina.
Vivienne Ramsey began her ballet training at an early age in Sydney, Australia. She completed her RAD syllabus with honors and was awarded the Solo Seal at age 16. A silver medal performance during the Peter Stuyvesant Competition at the famed Sydney Opera House let to a stipend to the John Cranko School in Stuttgart, West Germany. It was in Stuttgart under the influence of Marcia Haydee that Vivienne learned the ultimate importance of integrating passion and dance. She went on to become a soloist with John Neumeier's Hamburg Ballet and traveled the world, dancing in such capitals as Paris, Berlin, Leningrad, New York, Montreal, Buenos Aires, and Salzburg. Ramsey began her experience in Exhibition Ballroom Dancing in 1992. Very quickly she and her partner, David Howland, began to challenge the best couples in the word. Since 1995 they have dominated Exhibition Ballroom Dancing by repeatedly taking the World and British Exhibition titles as well as winning four United States Championships. As an experienced teacher of all levels ranging from adult beginners to accomplished professionals, Ramsey’s ballet class is presented with kindness yet clear disciplined instruction.
Kyle Garrison Shawell
Kyle Garrison Shawell received his training at the University of the Arts, Theatre West Virginia, Winthrop University and the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts. His training includes the dance styles of Lester Horton, Martha Graham, Paul Taylor and jazz taught by renowned teachers such as Ruth Adrien, Ronen Koresh, Milton Myers and Pat Thomas. He brings together a wide breadth of knowledge, expertise and experience in a diverse style of movement for the community. Shawell has been a teaching artist for North Carolina Dance Theatre and North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, and a dance educator for the Governor's Award-winning Janice Wyatt Summer Arts Institute at Delta State University in Cleveland, MS. His choreography has been seen at Gaston Dance Theatre, Girl Talk Foundation of Charlotte, NC, KAOS Dance Company, SCDA, SCAHPERD, Winthrop Dance Theatre and Valley Forge Dance Theatre, and he choreographed the summer musical production of Once on this Island at Delta State University. He has been a guest teaching artist in several Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, most recently at Northwest School of the Arts. As a Lecturer of dance, Shawell taught modern, jazz, hip-hop and musical theatre for several years at Winthrop University. Shawell’s performance career includes such classic works as: Doris Humphrey’s Life of the Bee, David Parson’s The Parson Etude, Charles Weidman’s Christmas Oratorio, and he was a soloist for Donald McKayle's Rainbow Etude. He has been a member of KAOS dance company of Charlotte, Martha Connerton/Kinetic Works, Theater West Virginia, Philadanco II and the Valley Forge Dance Theater, and has performed for the American Dance Festival, Charlotte Dance Festival and North Carolina Dance Festival. He has appeared in performances for Opera Carolina and in musical theatre productions of Anything Goes, Bye Bye Birdie, Bubbling Brown Sugar and West Side Story.
Lauren E. Skrabalak
Lauren Suflita Skrabalak graduated cum laude and earned her BFA in Ballet (Performing and Teaching Emphases) from the University of Utah in 2002. While on scholarship, her undergraduate performing career included a guest artist role with Ballet West and dancing with the Utah Ballet. This allowed for an opportunity to travel abroad to Taipei, Taiwan performing a soloist role in Balanchine’s famed ballet Concerto Barocco. She also danced on the Medals Plaza stage during the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics. After graduation, Skrabalak danced professionally, choreographed and taught for Bodiography Contemporary Ballet in Pittsburgh. As a principal dancer, she was privileged to have worked with choreographers like Ze'eva Cohen, Emeritus Chair of Princeton University’s Dance Department, Tony nominated Lynne Taylor-Corbett, and former principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre Johan Renvall, among others. During her tenure with the company she held multiple roles as Rehearsal Director and the Assistant Director of the conservatory. Her works have appeared at the Byham Theater, Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, as well as Johnson Theatre, and she has extended her teaching talents to the following schools: University of Utah, Point Park University, Carnegie Mellon University, West Virginia University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Washington & Jefferson College, McDaniel College, La Roche College, and now Winthrop University where she is an Adjunct Professor within the Department of Theatre and Dance. Skrabalak earned her MFA in Dance (Performing Arts) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and graduated Spring 2013 with honors. She is a certified Pilates mat teacher and is currently working towards her apparatus certification as well. Presently, Skrabalak also sits on the Board for the Charlotte Dance Festival as Treasurer.
Alyce Cristina Vallejo
Alyce Cristina Vallejo began her training at North Carolina Dance Theater and The Charlotte School of Ballet. In her senior year at Northwest School of the Arts, Vallejo was an invited guest artist with the Moving Poets Theater of Dance; Providing her with the footing to guide her to a professional career in dance as she entered Florida State University. While at FSU she had the honor of working with and performing in original works by Alex Ketley, Rick McCullough, and many more. Vallejo also performed as a soloist in Pas de Quarte, restaged by Richard Sias and Balanchine’s Western Symphony, restaged by Suzanne Farrell. Vallejo was invited to dance with Suzanne Farrell at the Kennedy Center, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, and did a four month internship with Ballet Hispanico in NYC. Graduating Cum Laude in 2006 she moved to San Francisco to dance with the SF Conservatory of Dance. Upon moving back to Charlotte in 2007, Vallejo joined Martha Connerton’s Kinetic Works Dance Company- Currently in her seventh season and now acting as rehearsal and administrative assistant. In her professional career in Charlotte she has performed original works by E.E. Balcos, Martha Connerton, Duane Cyrus, Bridget Morris and Edward and Christina Winslow. Vallejo has also performed with CPCC Theater in the Will Rogers Follies, Cabaret, Guys and Dolls and Legally Blonde. For 5 years she has performed as a guest artist with the Charlotte Youth Ballet in the Nutcracker and most recently as the ‘Fairy Godmother’ in Cinderella. In December 2012, she delivered her greatest ongoing role as mother to her baby girl, Amelia Jean. This year Vallejo is excited to return to the stage as a ‘Moving Poet’. Her artistic journey is never ending and she looks forward to the adventures that await but couldn’t do it without the amazing love and support from her Family!