Chatting with a dP Friend Joni Petre-Scholz
Dances Patrelle recently caught up with Dances Patrelle Alum and current Associate Chair of the Dance Department at the Governor School of the Arts in Norfolk Virginia, Joni Petre-Scholz. Enjoy this wonderful interview where Joni discusses her role at the Governor School of the Arts, reflects on her time as a lead dancer and ballet mistress at DP, and what continues to inspire her.
dP - Tell us about your (new) role?
Joni - My official title is Associate Chair of the Dance Department at The Governor's School for the Arts (GSA) in Norfolk, Virginia. My first year as dance faculty was in 2004 when I first arrived in Virginia. I was promoted in 2014 to the Associate Chair, which is a full-time position. The Governor's School for the Arts is a center for innovation that develops excellence, nurtures creativity, inspires artistic vision and builds communities with a passion for the arts. We have six different departments. Dance, Theatre & Film, Musical Theatre, Instrumental Music, Vocal Music, and Visual Arts.
I am fortunate that one of my primary jobs is teaching the students. I teach ballet & pointe technique, variations, floor technique and alignment, ballet vocabulary, repertory, choreography & performance, dance criticism, as well as others.
I work on creating curriculum content, balancing the schedule for students, helping to shape the overall experience of all of our dance students. I have really enjoyed working as a choreographer with the students. I have to date created about 15 pieces of the original choreography as well as re-staging excerpts of the classics (Coppelia, Giselle, Les Sylphides, etc.) for the students. We are incredibly fortunate that one of our partners in the area is the Virginia Arts Festival. Through this association, we have worked directly with The Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Royal Birmingham Ballet. I have re-staged parts of their ballets (The Ball Scene from Romeo & Juliet, The Mazurka from Swan Lake) for our students to perform with those companies while here in town.
One of the things that I have really explored in my role as Associate Chair, is how to work more collaboratively with the other departments in our school. Finding ways to incorporate dance with the other art forms is something I am really excited about.
dP - Can you tell us how your time at Dances Patrelle as a Principal Dancer, Ballet Mistress, and Administrator helped you to prepare for a career in dance education?
Joni - Working in such a fun and creative environment as Dances Patrelle really helped solidify for me that work should be positive. All of the dancers and creative and administrative personnel cared very deeply about making an excellent product, but the environment was enjoyable, not stressful. Every day in rehearsal there was something to look forward to and feel excited about. I have really tried to bring that sense of joy and excitement into the arena of dance education.
Being able to work in a field that you are passionate about is an incredible gift (something Francis talked about often). The daily rewards are so vast and keep you motivated far beyond the paycheck! I am fortunate to have amazing and talented colleagues who are just as passionate about their art forms as I am and have so many diverse ways of bringing that information into the classroom. I continue to learn from my association with fellow colleagues. Artists as educators are motivated and energized.
My work as a lead dancer really helped me understand quality. Quality of the work ethic and of bringing your best into the studio every day. As a teacher, I try to really help the students understand that it is the daily work every day that propels you forward. You can't really enjoy being a dancer if you don't like the daily work. As a dancer that worked as part of the creation process many times, I learned how much I liked discovery. Discovering the trajectory of a role and how to develop a character. Discovering new or old composers. Working with the beautiful array of dancers who have found themselves at Dances Patrelle was a wonderfully broadening experience.
My work as a ballet mistress and an administrator truly helped me discover all of my organizational skills. I actually found out that I was good at keeping track of lots of details while still being able to see the big picture. Scheduling was a big part of my job as a ballet mistress (it's where I discovered my love of the big calendar!). Figuring out how many rehearsals you needed to re-stage a work when some dancers were not available or you didn't have studio time really helped me learn how to think outside the box in terms of problem-solving. This is a skill that I use every day in my role as Associate Chair. Solving the puzzle of how do we accomplish all that we want to in the limited time frame allotted is a real dilemma at times. Creative problem solving is something that I began exploring while working at Dances Patrelle.
dP - Francis has spoken highly about your performances, and I know you were very involved in the creative process on many of his ballets, can you share your favorite moments?
Joni - I have so many memories that I cherish from my time at DP. Being an official understudy for Come Rain/Come Shine with Cynthia Gregory, Judith Fugate, Louise Nadeau, Medhi Bahiri and others was quite an experience in the early days. Being a part of the cast during the creation of Adieu with a Handshake with Peter Boal was tremendous. Helping re-stage Romeo & Juliet with Jenifer Ringer & James Fayette was my first foray into being an official ballet mistress. No small task! Rhapsody in Blue is a ballet that I loved dancing. Having done it years earlier in my work with Manhattan Ballet, it was a pleasure to re-visit that crowd-pleaser as the leading lady. Being cast as Lady Macbeth was certainly a highlight of my performing career. Getting to portray such a complicated woman was a delight.
But, one of my most favorite and interesting times was the creation of POP!
We began the process of creating POP! a whole year before we would ultimately perform the completed ballet. It started as a workshop with six dancers. As Francis was shaping the ballet, relationships of the characters were shifting and coming into focus, songs were added or scrapped. There was a time somewhere in the creation process where it was largely Francis and myself in a studio and we were using all kinds of props to represent the other dancers (sometimes he would ask, who are you now?) It was a very intimate time in the studio where we were exploring where we were going and then we would get everyone in the room and make the imagined dance come to life. In some ways, it was incredibly challenging, (keeping track of who was where when) but ultimately it was incredible. Watching Francis make the ballet largely in his imagination was pretty amazing. I tried really hard to be all of the other dancers besides myself as well as I could, even the men.
Being a part of the creative process on so many occasions made me feel much more confident when beginning to explore choreography. A true gift.
dP - What are you looking forward to most in your new position? And congrats from all of us at Dances Patrelle!
Joni - The thing that I really look forward to in my job is creating connections. Connecting young dancers to the foundations of classical technique every day in class and discovering where it can take them. Connecting those classical forms to new dance languages such as Gaga. Connecting dance to the other art forms and to the world at large. Watching a whole new generation of kids explore dance in a fresh way, seeing where dance is headed now and in the future, and watching the students learn and grow into young professionals is inspiring on a daily basis.
Photo © 2017 Eduardo PATINO.NYC From Glad to Be Unhappy choreographed by Francis Patrelle