Ellis performs with The Sarasota Ballet in Ashton tribute

by Kate Evans

A professional dancer with Morgan County roots has been living the dream of being a professional dancer and dancing with The Sarasota Ballet in Florida since 2022. Israel Ellis has performed in their tribute to legendary choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton — founder of The Royal Ballet — recently in London and also in Sarasota.

Ellis joined The Sarasota Ballet in 2022 as an apprentice and was promoted to the company’s Corps de Ballet in 2023.  Ellis has trained in The Sarasota Ballet Studio Company, The Margaret Barbieri Conservatory, The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School and Arts Triumphant Dance Theatre near Berkeley Springs. Ellis is the son of Rich and Jenny Ellis.

The Sarasota Ballet is considered to be one of the leading ballet companies in the United States and is renowned for their vast repertoire of Frederick Ashton’s works.  The Sarasota Ballet director Iain Webb and assistant director Margaret Barbieri are former Royal Ballet dancers.

Ashton works included in the June 4-8 tribute in London that were performed by The Sarasota Ballet with Ellis dancing were Dante Sonata, Sinfonietta and Facade.  The company performed other Ashton works as well.  It was joined by members of The Royal Ballet during the June 8 gala performance.

Ellis also performed in those three Ashton ballets in Sarasota.  The tribute to Sir Frederick Ashton is a five-year international celebration of his ballets and legacy.  Ellis was excited to travel to London with The Sarasota Ballet to dance in the Ashton tribute.

Ellis said that all of the Ashton ballets they brought to the stage are less well-known and are like lost ballets.

“We’re trying to keep them alive,” he said.

Israel said what drew him to dance was seeing his brother and sister dance with Arts Triumphant Dance Theatre, led by artistic director Yvonne Salcedo Williams.

“I fell in love with it,” Ellis said of dance.

Israel Ellis

Ellis started taking dance lessons with Williams when he was 10 years old.   He studied classical ballet, tap, jazz, modern dance, contemporary dance and musical theater under her wings until he was 17 years old.

Williams was formerly a dancer with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and has been a mentor to Ellis in his dance career.

When he was 17, Ellis participate in a one-year training at the Pittsburgh Ballet School.  He returned to Berkeley Springs for his senior year and again trained at Arts Triumphant Dance Theatre.  Ellis, who was home-schooled, said he would do his schoolwork  until 1 p.m. and then would take dance with Williams from 1:30 until 7:30 p.m.

Almost every summer Ellis would go to a summer dance intensive for around five or six weeks.

“They were super great experiences,” Ellis said.

Ellis attended The Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, The Cincinnati Ballet School and The School of American Ballet in New York during those summer studies.

When he graduated in 2020, it was the year of the COVID pandemic.  Competitions, job fairs and auditions were canceled because of the pandemic.

Through an online competition, Ellis received a trainee-ship with The Sarasota Ballet. He said the company is known for their extensive repertoire and they do a lot of historical ballets.  Ellis said he’s very glad to be with The Sarasota Ballet and really loves the company.

Ellis loves that The Sarasota Ballet also does George Balanchine ballets.   He said he really enjoyed performing in Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations” and “Who Cares?”  “Who Cares” is especially fun and has old George Gershwin music, Ellis said.  It’s one of his very favorite ballets in which he’s  performed.

Another favorite is “Elite Syncopation,” a ballet by Sir Kenneth MacMillan.  The dancers and the orchestra are on stage together and all are wearing honky-tonk ragtime costumes, he said.

The main thing that Ellis loves about dance is being able to become the character on stage, perform with his colleagues and let the audience take a break from reality and enter the world they’re creating.

His routine

Ellis said that with ballet they work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day and on Saturdays with shows.  The first thing in the morning the company has a warm-up class where they’re all together.

Dancers really stretch it out and strengthen their muscles in the warm-up.  It’s one of Ellis’ favorite things — to take that time, work hard and see how his body is feeling that day.

Ellis said he also cross-trains –lifting weights and cardio exercise.  He’ll run on the treadmill or around the neighborhood.  But he said it isn’t necessary if you do your morning class with intention and focus.

Ballet is an interesting art form as an artist and also an athlete, he said.  Finding the balance between your artistry and physical performance is key.

Ellis has also trained in classical piano since he was four years old.  Pat Springer was his  piano teacher and also taught him voice.  Ellis’ dad  is very musical and taught him guitar.  Besides dancing, Ellis loves singing, writing songs and playing guitar.

Ellis said he is very grateful for all the people in the community that supported him and for all that he’s been given. Williams taught him everything she knows, his parents let him pursue his dream and the community   supported fundraisers that helped with summer intensives and competitions.

When told the community is rooting for him in his dance career, Ellis said, “I feel the love. I’m so glad that I have people that believe in me.  I have a dream.”

Arts Triumphant Dance Theatre artistic director Yvonne Salcedo Williams said that the whole community has been invested in Ellis, who is now age 22.

Williams said that as a 35-year dance teacher, she saw every fiber of Ellis’ being connected to dance. He’d found what he wanted to do and it was a dream with wings.

Williams told Ellis that being a professional dancer was a lot of hard work and commitment.

“He already had that in him.  He was unstoppable,” Williams said.

Ellis was very talented and got merit scholarships to go to top United States summer intensives, she said.  He was also accepted into the Kennedy Center’s professional artist series two years in a row and qualified for an international company competition. Then COVID hit and the world shut down.

Some ballet company directors tried to keep going on Zoom while other companies closed, she said. The Sarasota Ballet remained open.    Ellis chose it because he loved the company and their repertoire.

Dedicated, impressive dancer

Williams said that Ellis is a very dedicated, self-motivated young man who loves to give back to the community.

What Williams finds impressive about Ellis as a dancer is his artistry, musicality, technique, form, fluidity and attention to detail.  His ability to deliver the choreography,  communicate and connect with the audience and become one with the music is amazing.

Williams said that she is so very proud of Ellis and that his being part of the Sir Ashton tribute is such an honor.

“Every professional ballet dancer aspires to learn any of Ashton’s repertoire,” she said.