Sharing Charlotte Ballet Memories

A reflective piece from supporters, academy alumni and former company artists

In celebration of Charlotte Ballet’s 50th Anniversary, we’re reflecting back to honor our past as we move toward our future. There’s no better way to commemorate what has made Charlotte Ballet special over the years than to ask those who experienced it first-hand! Supporters who have donated or subscribed throughout the years, Academy alumni, and former company artists have affectionately shared their favorite Charlotte Ballet memories and moments with us. These memories leave no doubt that Charlotte Ballet and our community has been and will always be exceptional.

Keep reading to enjoy our donor, Academy and company alumni’s memories, which just might remind you of a fond role Charlotte Ballet has played in your life.

Marie & Michael O’Callaghan – Donors

“We first became fans of The North Carolina Dance Theatre (later renamed Charlotte Ballet) when we were living in Greenville, NC, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Michael and I had become enthusiasts of the nationally known Pilobolus Dance Company which we first saw as they participated in the American Dance Festival, regularly held summers at Duke University. So, when an NC dance group (NCDT) from Winston-Salem was scheduled as guest performers with the East Carolina University Community Concert Series, we were excited to attend their performances. We always were impressed with the professional skills of the NCDT troupe as well as their willingness to attempt major contemporary choreography.

We moved to Charlotte in 1984 and continued to attend the NCDT performances anytime they were here. When NCDT moved the company permanently to Charlotte in 1995 (I believe), we firmly committed to being annual Season Subscribers.”

Back in the 90s the NCDT artistic director and main choreographer was Sal Aiello and his creations for the NCDT were always breathtaking, especially “Belonging,” “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “The Rite of Spring.” There are many other Aiello creations that I cannot recall titles for, but we eagerly anticipated those early Charlotte performances of NCDT.”

Courtney Elizabeth Stewart – Academy Alumna

“In 1997 I was fortunate to be one of seven students in the inaugural advanced level of Dance Place. I credit the superior teaching of all the faculty-Patty, Jean-Pierre, Mark, Jerri-as well as the amazing professional opportunities and experiences I had at a young age, for my career at San Francisco Ballet.

NCDT felt like family-from laughing at the first Mad Nutcracker rehearsals to dressing up as Mark Diamond for Halloween, everyone was so personable and kind. Patty even let me wear her original Karinska Giselle costume for a school performance, that is the kind of person she is. They were just so generous-I had the chance to work with Jean-Pierre and Mark on world premieres, and with Patty on timeless Balanchine classics like Valse Fantasie and Pavane before I even finished high school. I adored Mia, Kati, and Anita and know that getting to watch professional dancers so closely day in and day out as a student really made a difference in my motivation and how I approached the work-they helped the tadpole see what a frog was supposed to be.

It was an embarrassment of riches in that teeny warehouse off of College Street, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Photo of Sarah with Patricia McBride

Sarah Galinski – Academy Alumna

“I joined Charlotte Ballet Academy in 2018. It shortly became a home away from home – the people the teachers and the space. Some of my favorite memories were taking class in sunglasses because the sun was so bright shining through the treehouse windows. Getting to work with such amazing and caring teachers! And performing amazing Balanchine ballets set by Patricia McBride and many pieces of contemporary ballet and jazz choreography.

I loved every second at Charlotte Ballet – it truly was a home to me! Being at Charlotte got me through some very tough times in my life, a death of a family member and Covid-19 and all its havoc, but it wasn’t just the dancing, it was the constant everyday love and support I got from the faculty and staff and my friends. And for all of this, I can never thank you enough Charlotte Ballet Academy, pre-professional division, Ayisha McMillan, Lazlo Berdo, Kati Mayo, and Patricia McBride! I love you all and thank you!”

Photo of Tara Winston Conrad’s son, Winston Patrick Conrad (1994 – 2022). 

Tara Winston Conrad – Donor and Academy Teacher

“Favorite moment, best memory…I have a million of them! The first time our beautiful son, Winston Patrick Conrad (1994-2022) stepped foot on the Belk stage as “The Christmas tree boy” that opened NCDT (CB) production of Nutcracker when he was only 5 years old! His younger brother Pennington joined him in the cast two years later. To watch both of my precious boys delight in dance as well as sports reminded me that, even with our little ones, diversity is the key to a well-rounded soul!”

Photo 1 by Jeff Cravotta, photo 2 by Mitchelle Kearney, Photo 3 by Charles and Mary Love

Kati Hanlon Mayo – Company Alumna and Academy Associate Director 

“On October 14, 1995 our director, Salvatore Aiello passed away hours before the opening of his Coppelia at the Belk Theatre. None of us knew of his passing until the curtain came down and the board of directors/company leadership came walking onto the stage as we finished our bows. We were heartbroken/shocked but woke up the next day for a matinee performance and managed to smile through the tears.

After only a day off we all got onto a tour bus for a six-week tour that took us up and down the East coast, (with the final performance scheduled in NYC). We were all still numb from the news of Sal’s death. Jerri Kumery, (Sal’s best friend and ballet mistress) was quickly named the Interim Artistic Director and she took the reigns over in what must have been an impossibly sad time for her. We performed many shows, had many nights out to dinner, we didn’t have cellphones so we had to settle on movies to watch all together on the bus, we cheered each other on while dancing, yelled at each other when we got into fights and laughed until our cheeks hurt. As the tour ended in NY we received glowing reviews from the NYTimes and Dance Magazine. We had succeeded in winning over NY critics in a program that Sal had designed: it included a Balanchine, Ailey and DeMille ballets along with Sal’s “Satto” (We were bold!)

At the time I don’t think I realized how that tour galvanized us as a ‘family’ and how I would be connected to these people long after my career ended…and it wasn’t just those dancers, wardrobe and technical crew on THAT tour, it was also the ones who came before us and those who joined us later. The family of NCDT is/was so important to me and I am grateful for the bond that we all share.”

Photo of Max Levy by Jubal Battisti 

Max Levy- Company Alumni 

“Though my time in Charlotte was short, I felt that I landed in a golden age of the company as it transitioned from the old studios in NoDa to the beautiful dance center where it exists today. I shared memories with older members and newcomers both, and I regard my time in Charlotte as something powerfully nostalgic that led me to (still) grow through the rest of my career. It was an important stepping stone for spreading my reach as a dancer and dive into the things I wanted as an artist and performer.

I think there are very few people there now that would remember or know me, but I often wonder what it would be like to return there as a dancer or choreographer and to be able to connect the strings of my past and future memories. Until that day, I sit with gratitude to the wonderful companions during my days in Charlotte, 2009-2011.”

Photo of Mia Cunningham and Hernan Justo in Dreamer by Alonzo King

Mia Cunningham – Company Alumna

“After dancing with the company for 18 years, it’s really difficult to narrow it down to one story. I guess the best way to put it is that being a member of NCDT, now Charlotte Ballet, were some of the best years of my life. I got to go to work every day with people that were talented, smart, hardworking, interesting, kind and above all, my friends. Being in the studio was what I always compared to the adult version of romper room, lol! We got to earn a living doing the things we loved and there were no shortages of funny and fun experiences almost every day.

I remember standing backstage getting ready to run on for my role in George Balanchine’s Who Cares. As the dancers were performing, the music stopped. All of the dancers had a brief moment of shock on their faces but they kept going. That was probably the longest two minutes of all of our lives, but when the music came back on, they were all dancing exactly at the right spot in the choreography as if nothing had happened!

Another time, I was dancing the role of Sugar Plum Fairy in Nutcracker. My tutu had gotten caught on a hook and eye on my partner’s tunic, so when he tried to put me down from a seat lift, my tulle started to tear and come unraveled. I had no idea how many linear feet of tulle went into the making of a tutu until the end of the pas de deux when the dangling tulle had wrapped around my legs so many times, I looked like a mummy, lol.

These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. Such wonderful times and never a dull moment!”

Photo 1 – Peter seen in the lower right corner.
Photo 2- Peter seen in the middle performing Esplanade by Paul Taylor

Peter Mueller – Company Alumni

“Congratulations to Charlotte Ballet for 50 years of excellence. I do not have any specific memory to share here, but I would like to say that the three years that I spent dancing with NCDT/Charlotte Ballet was incredibly significant to me.

There are several roles/ballets that I danced during that time that will always be memorable to me; however, I will most fondly remember all of my amazing fellow dancers, artistic staff and crew. I consider each and every one of them friends forever. They were/are such incredible people and so darn talented. I will always be grateful to them for the many laughs we shared and for their constant support of me while I danced in Charlotte.

Thank you. I wish all of the current dancers, staff and supporters of Charlotte Ballet continued artistic growth and financial success. I consider the performing arts to be a vital part of our well-being, so thank you Charlotte Ballet for keeping the art of ballet alive and well in the Queen City.”

Toby Parsons – Company Alumni

“Patty’s classes – Her infectious joy and kindness. Constant positivity and encouragement.

Jerry Kumery – Constant conscientious attention to the well-being and development of all dancers – Thoughtful casting.”

Sophie Mercure – Academy Alumna and Current Faculty

“[My favorite memory is] coming back to ballet after a few years of musical theater, taking open classes 2X a week & having Kati Mayo push me to join Ballet 4. I was the weakest & worst one. So behind. But she inspired me so much developping to her ears while pregnant with Declan. Made me fall in love with the process and intricacy of ballet.”

Candance Ricketts – Academy Alumna 

“[My favorite memory is] working with Patricia McBride and performing Balanchine’s Four Temperaments with the Company in my first show as a Trainee.”

Marley Poku-Kankam – Academy Alumna 

“Favorite memory was probably Friday nights in Ballet 3 and Ballet 4, or Thursdays with Ballet 5 with jazz. We either had Mr. Kyle or Mrs. Niamah and we would be doing anything and everything. No one else was in the building so it always felt so fun to be my classmates and just like let loose after a long day with some fun jazz!”

Madeline Jazz Harvey – Academy Alumna 

“During the formative years of my dance training, Charlotte Ballet Academy (at the time named “Dance Place”) was housed in a building with one large and one small dance studio. The large studio (where the company rehearsed) had no door. The architectural design was such that when you walked in, you were standing at the back of rehearsal with Dwight Rhoden, Alonzo King, Nicolo Fonte, Jacqulyn Buglisi, the list goes on. Observing incredible artists, many of whom are now Charlotte Ballet Academy faculty like Ayisha McMillian Cravotta, Heather Ferranti Ferguson, Anita Pacylowski Justo, Kati Hanlon Mayo, and more, in the throes of the creative process is what drove me to dance professionally. As for a memorable dance moment, I will never forget the first time I took class with Patricia McBride. The expressiveness and generosity that poured out from her was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Every time I teach, I try to pass forward the warmth and joy she exudes.”

Katie Zampini – Academy Alumna 

“There are truly so many to list. My time at Charlotte Ballet truly changed my life! I vividly remember a really sweet moment when the Apprentices and Trainees were dressing for our first performance of Stars and Stripes, and Patricia McBride came in to deliver a gift of beautiful sparkly earrings for each of us. It meant so much, and I still have mine!”

Alessa Rogers – Academy Alumna 

“I began dancing at age 4, but I wasn’t passionate about it until I was 11 and saw Sal Aiello’s The Rite of Spring with Kati Hanlon Mayo in the lead role. That’s when a fire was really lit inside me.”

Yanis Eric Pikieris – Academy Alumna 

“My favorite memory at Charlotte Ballet was being coached by Patti in George Balanchine’s Tarantella and getting the chance to dance it with one of my best friends. My most memorable dance moment was getting the opportunity to revisit Balanchine’s Tarantella at my current company, Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami, this time coached by Patti’s original partner – Edward Villella. Edward also coached my dad in this role during his time with Miami City Ballet in the 80s, so this was a full-circle experience for me in so many ways!”

Larissa Balestrero Machado – Academy Alumna 

“I decided I wanted to dance professionally quite early when I was 12 years old or so. One of my most memorable moments was when I danced my first solo, the Blue Bird variation from sleeping beauty. It is such a sweet memory.”

Sloan Pearson – Academy Alumna 

“Kathryn Moriarty, one of my teachers at an early age at Charlotte put me at my own barre to really challenge me daily to push myself. I was away from the mirror, and friends. These days alone gave me time to reflect and make choices. Some of my biggest moments of character building in my life to be frank. In these moments I knew that dance was going to take me onward in my life in a wholesome and full way with my own sense of self and direction.”

Lydia Green – Academy Alumna 

“I was very lucky to be part of the corps in Serenade, set by Patricia McBride, at Charlotte Ballet back in 2005. Indeed, many of my best memories from my time in Charlotte are those in the studio with Jerri Kumery, Kati Hanlon Mayo, Heather Ferranti, and Patti – all strong women and kind mentors.”

Mayreese Koraly – Donor 

“I was excited from the start when NC Dance Theatre announced that it was leaving Winston Salem and moving to Charlotte. My family and I have looked forward to the opening of every season since then and we treasured the performances as a family.

Personally, my favorite memories included sharing Charlotte Ballet with my own dance students. 3rd graders attended Nutcracker in December and my high school students attended these performances in the Fall and Spring. One of the most fun times was when our daughter Hannah’s 3rd-grade class saw her perform the role of the party girl in the green dress in Nutcracker.

I’m looking forward to making more memories.”

Till Schmidt Rimpler – Company Alumni 

“What I remember most of my time with Charlotte Ballet/North Carolina Dance Theater in the 90s, is the creative openness, dedication and humor of Salvadore Aiello and Jerry Kumery – and of course performing, working and laughing with a very motivated group of dancers including such wonderful artists like Kati Hanlon and Mia Cunningham. Today it is truly wonderful to see how successful the company is – and also how many of us oldies are still in contact with each other after close to 30 years.”

Hal & Kathryn Brown – Donors

“Kathy and I have attended many wonderful evenings watching Charlotte Ballet performances and marveling at the beauty and precision of the dances.  There were so many times we came away amazed and uplifted and we were often moved to email Meg afterward with our comments about the specific ballet and individual performances. …We particularly recall the Innovative Works performances as they always displayed inspiring beauty, creativity, and movement. …We are so thankful to have such magnificent entertainment available to us here in Charlotte.”

Bat Abbit – Company Alumni 

“I saw North Carolina Dance Theatre, now Charlotte Ballet, when I was a student and was so excited by the dancers and the rep. During my time with the company, I was always so proud of the work we did and what we were able to share with audiences. I don’t think I ever thanked Sal, Jerri, Jean-Pierre, or Patricia enough for the artistic home they provided. I hope younger dancers are able to have similar experiences in their careers.”

Ellen Rose Hummel – Academy Alumna 

“My coaches growing up are often in the back of my mind, Mark & Kathy Diamond and Patricia McBride. I also looked up to Kati Hanlon Mayo. Many moments I remember most on stage are the things that go wrong haha. You never know in live shows! Have to know how to adapt! But there are sweet moments, really my favorite, when we are in the theater having rehearsals late at night, about to open a ballet & the theater is just full of … a dancer’s life. People eating, resting, watching, dancing… something magical the audience doesn’t see.”

Julia Vinez – Academy Alumna 

“My time at Charlotte Ballet will always be so special to me. The teachers there are so supportive and knowledgeable, I truly owe them a lot. Getting to work with teachers who care so much and want to make you the best you can be is a very rare experience in the ballet world.”

Piper Rondero – Academy Alumna 

“[My favorite memory is] definitely being able to walk and get lunch with everyone in between classes on Saturdays!”

Riley Nelson – Academy Alumna 

“[My favorite memory is] when Lazlo, during summer intensive, called me pinkie, because I was wearing a pink leotard.”

Special thanks to all supporters and alumni who contributed to this reflective piece – we celebrate you!