For decades, Westside Ballet has bid farewell to graduating seniors during its annual Spring Performance, but with the recent pandemic, the performance was cancelled for the first time in nearly five decades.
The popular Santa Monica ballet studio has five young artists who are graduating from schools throughout the Westside this year, and while they are surely disappointed with the lost time they had with their peers this year, they are ready for the future.
“This year’s Spring Performance had dancers that had trained since early childhood for coveted roles in some of classical ballet’s most cherished works,” according to Artistic Director and Westside Ballet alumna Martine Harley, who noted the group was more readily prepared for the performance than in previous seasons. “Their strength and achievements in the first weeks of the rehearsal process is what makes this situation even more heartbreaking. As we congratulate our amazing graduating seniors, it is bittersweet to see them go without the triumph of a final Spring Performance which is their familiar rite of passage.”
The group of seniors added this week that they are unsure knowing if classes will be online, or in person classrooms, or hybrids between the two – and have come to accept that they leave the legacy ballet school with no final performance or cast party to say goodbye to their peers, teachers, and ballet community of over a decade.
Olivia Polite, who recently graduated from Palisades Charter High School, danced at Westside Ballet for nearly 11 years. She said her future plans include attending the University of California Santa Barbara and double-majoring in dance and psychology.
“Completing my senior year during this global pandemic is a difficult experience,” Polite said. “It’s really disappointing that this is happening but I’ve been trying to focus on staying safe and healthy. Despite all of the trouble we’re going through right now, I have future plans that I’m excited about and cannot wait to experience. I’ve also spent some time working on new skills like painting, knitting, and baking sourdough bread.”
Fellow Pali High graduate and Venice resident Stefan Goy said things happen that you can’t control so he’s tried not to get too upset about the situation.
“Graduating now means I’ll always have a story to tell about this time. It’s almost a point of pride, and I feel that those of us going through it are bonded together in this unique experience,” said Goy, who intends to join the UC Santa Barbara dance department and double major in linguistics.
Brentwood School senior Mirabelle Weinbach, who was set to star and dance in Tchaikovsky’s renowned Pas de Deux, agreed with Goy’s sentiment, before sharing her appreciation for all that she has learned while at Westside Ballet.
“It’s taught me how to be a good person. I’ve been inspired by the amazing teachers who have become mentors and have taught me respect, hard work, diligence and dedication,” said Weinbach, a future Princeton student.
Weinbach’s classmate Rose Abarbane, who graduated Cum Laude from Brentwood, said she is excited to continue her studies this fall at Washington University in St. Louis.
Rose danced at Westside Ballet since she was eight years old, and said this week, “Graduating from high school during the global coronavirus pandemic has been unique, but my community has found ways to make it special and celebrated. While I am sad I will not be able to see my Westside community in person as I graduate, I know that they will continue to support me throughout my life.”
Piper St. Regis is the last of her peers to graduate this year since El Segundo High School will hold their drive-through ceremony on Friday June 12th.
St. Regis was awarded early acceptance last December to Duke University and has recently received several local scholarships thanks to the 4.0+ grade point average she maintained throughout her four years of high school.
“I certainly never expected that most of my senior year would be spent at home, let alone not having a graduation ceremony,” St. Regis said. “However these disappointing circumstances have made me all the more grateful for what I still have, like my health, my family, and my friends. I might not get the traditional graduation experience, but I am still excited for what the future holds. I am looking forward to starting college at Duke in the Fall and I will always be grateful for my time at Westside Ballet.”
Piper performed in Westside Ballet of Santa Monica’s 47th season of ‘The Nutcracker’ the solo role of Lead Angel, a Mirliton, Side Spanish, and in the Snow corps de ballet. She said this week that she decided to make the long commute to the prestigious ballet school six days a week because there weren’t a lot of options for her in the South Bay.
But she has really grown as a dancer, she said, “and truly found a home and community of like-minded, serious ballet students and faculty to support my training.”
Owner of the 53-year-old school Allegra Clegg said she isn’t surprised to hear statements like St. Regis’ because dancers learn discipline, hard work and grace at Westside.
“They learn that nothing comes easy – you have to work hard for things and there are disappointments in life,” and Westside teaches these life lessons through the rigor of ballet, according to Clegg. Perhaps ballet has also taught them how to carry on, despite a drastically changing world ahead.