by Diane Claytor
Approximately 20 years ago, Amanda Farris was an 8 year old girl living in a small town nestled in the foothills of California’s central valley, asking her mother to please let her take ballet classes. Today she is the newest member of Diablo Ballet’s highly acclaimed dance company.
“We lived in a very small town and it wasn’t easy to find a dance studio,” Amanda remembers. But her mother, who was a violin teacher, had danced as a teenager and even trained with the San Diego Ballet for a short time, did as her daughter asked. After all, Amanda explains, “I loved anything having to do with dancing, classical music, dressing up in what I thought ballerinas would wear. I was all over it.” For the next 7 years, Amanda attended a small dance studio in the central valley. “The teacher there eventually pushed me out and said I needed to go train somewhere else, at a real ballet training school.”
Amanda began training at Juline School of Dance in Modesto at 15, for the first time taking classes every day. It was very intense and “many days I’d come home from a late class in tears because I could see how much further I needed to be for my age and my level,” she said. But she also knew it was what she really wanted and was willing to work as hard as she could to catch up.
The Juline School had a pre-professional program, Central West Ballet, and Amanda auditioned for – and was immediately accepted into — the program. “They did 4 or 5 productions a year which was a totally new experience for me. I really hadn’t experienced anything like this before and I loved every bit of it,” she noted. “Because I got into that environment later, I was more fascinated with everything that had to do with actually performing classical ballets than the other students.” Up to this point, Amanda had never even seen a live professional performance, let alone been featured in one. She still remembers the first time she saw a professional ballet performed live. “I was 17, it was Midsummer Night’s Dream and it was the most beautiful, amazing thing I had ever seen.”
She auditioned for Boston Ballet’s summer program and spent two summers there. “They must have seen raw talent in me – not just training – because I still had so much catching up to do,” she said.
Upon high school graduation, Amanda attended Cal State Long Beach on a full academic scholarship. She graduated with a BA in Cultural Anthropology and says, “I’m not exactly sure why I decided on that but I loved the subject, loved the world view of what people do. And I guess I wanted to do something completely different than dance.” Not that she didn’t continue dancing. She was very active in the university’s dance program, taking classes and performing. “I was exposed to a great faculty in a very nurturing environment.” She sped through her last semester at school because “I really wanted to dance.” Amanda admits that she wasn’t ready to join a professional company right out of high school, like many dancers do, but now, finishing college, she was more than ready.
Zippora Karz, a former NYC Ballet dancer, came to Cal State as a guest choreographer to set Balanchine’s Serenade, which featured Amanda as a soloist. She spent a lot of time with Amanda, rehearsing her, encouraging her and mentoring her. It was Zippora who recommended that Amanda audition for the Georgia Ballet Company upon her college graduation.
By this time, Amanda was married to her husband, Joshua, also from California, and together they decided to give Georgia a try. For the next 7 years, Amanda danced with the Georgia Ballet Company, a small regional company located in Marietta, Georgia. She started in the corps de ballet and quickly worked her way up to principal dancer. “It was a wonderful company and I had great opportunities,” she said. “Had I been with a larger company, I don’t know if I would have performed as much, been seen as much or had as much individual attention.” Gina Hyatt-Mazon, the company’s artistic director and a former principal with the Hamburg Ballet, worked very closely with Amanda. “She worked on refining my technique, improving my presence on state. She worked on all the little details – precisely how I stepped, exactly how I reached my fingers.” She also allowed Amanda to set several pieces, “something I’m not sure I would have been able to do in a bigger company.”
Amanda thoroughly enjoyed being able to choreograph pieces and finds that she likes working on more contemporary pieces. “I love classical ballet,” she said, “but as I was creating movement I found that contemporary movement comes more naturally when I’m listening or expressing music.”
Georgia Ballet also performed a lot of community outreach with shows for seniors and children, as well as going into the schools and teaching dance to second graders. As Amanda became more involved in this, she found that she loved it. “As a kid, I went to public schools and never had this exposure to classical dance.”
As the years went on, Amanda and her husband realized that although Georgia was great, they were ready to return to California. Amanda learned about a possible opening with Diablo Ballet and, as they say, the rest is history. She will make her debut with the opening of Diablo Ballet’s 21st season on November 14 in their new home – Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre.
Amanda is very excited about joining Diablo Ballet’s family; she’s equally excited about being active in the PEEK (Performing Arts Education & Enrichment for Kids) outreach program. “This program is so important,” she stated. “Had my mother not been a dancer when she was younger, I would have had no exposure to any classical dance as a kid. It’s so exciting to have programs like this in the schools.”
Amanda also loves teaching and just began teaching several classes at a dance academy in Dublin.
And what about that degree in cultural anthropology? Amanda knows she won’t be able to dance forever and figures she may put the degree to use when that time comes.
To meet Amanda and see her, as well as all the other incredible dancers in the Diablo Ballet company, perform, be sure to get your tickets to the first shows of the 21st season. A Swingin’ Holiday and More debuts on November 14 at 8 pm; additional shows are on November 15 at 2 pm & 8 pm at the Del Valle Theatre in Walnut Creek. For tickets, call 925-943-7469 or go to www.krissyg.sg-host.com.