St. Johnsbury Academy Dance students received personal instruction from John Gardner and Amanda McKerrow, two of the nation's foremost ballet dancers, during Master Classes Dec. 3-14.

Gardner, who also has won international acclaim as a choreographer, conducted Master classes for students in enrolled in the Academy's Advanced Dance Course. They will co-taught Advanced Dance and Introduction to Dance classes.

Both have conducted Master Classes at the Academy in previous years, including sessions offered as artists-in-residence.

Gardner has worked with choreographers Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille and George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Mark Morris, Lar Lubovitch and Martha Graham, as well as Mikail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project. He received a scholarship to the American Ballet Theatre's school at age 16, joined the Theatre's second company three months later, advanced to the main company in a year, and was later promoted to soloist.

In 1991, Gardner joined Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project, where he created numerous roles. He returned to the American Ballet Theatre in 1995 and danced a wide variety of roles with the company until 2002.

McKerrow, who is Gardner's wife, is the first American to receive a gold medal at the International Ballet Competition in Moscow, in 1981. Since then, she has received several other awards, including the Princess Grace Foundation Dance Fellowship.

She joined the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) under the direction of Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1982, was appointed to soloist in 1983, and became a principal dancer in 1987.

Her repertoire includes: the leading roles in Cinderella, Don Quixote, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, La Sylphide, and The Nutcracker. She has been acclaimed for performances of shorter works by George Balanchine, Antony Tudor, Sir Frederick Ashton, Jerome Robbins, and Juri Kilian. Ms. McKerrow has created roles in ballets by choreographers such as Twyla Tharp, Clark Tippet, James Kudelka, Agnes De Mille, Choo San Goh and Mark Morris. She has also appeared as a guest artist throughout the world.

In 2000, McKerrow and Gardner began working for the Antony Tudor Trust, staging and coaching his ballet The Leaves are Fading throughout the United States. She has also staged numerous other ballets for professional companies and schools across the United States.

During her last 10 years performing as a principal ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre, McKerrow worked extensively with students and young dancers. Since retiring from ABT in 2005, she has devoted the majority of her time to teaching and coaching ballet.

"The Academy Dance program is committed to providing top-tier professional training to its students," teacher Marianne Handy Hraibi said. "We want our students to be knowledgeably disciplined in dance, and we also want them to be knowledgeable and astute audience members."

"Both goals come from exposure to expert training, especially exposure to the nuances that make good dancing great," she added. "It is not enough to provide professional training. Our students need to be exposed to the fine subtleties that distinguish great performing artists."

"Training is not just about good technique," she continued. "It is about instilling an awareness of the qualities that make dance more than an activity. Dance is only an art form when attention is made to quality, not simply activity."

"Our master teachers, who are all from the top-tiers of professional dance, provide this exposure. Through them, our students gain a sensibility that cannot be taught -- a sensibility that is absorbed through non-verbal exposure, through osmosis. Something in the way a dancer holds a moment, finesses a stretch, fills the space with a dynamic that speaks of an eloquence that is timeless."

"This is what the master teachers bring. Our mission is that, if we cannot get our students to the top studios in New York City, we will bring the best of New York to the Academy. We do this through the generous donations to the Ned & Sarah Handy Fund for Dance at St. Johnsbury Academy."

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