Mikhail Baryshnikov. Misty Copeland. Even those who aren’t familiar with ballet recognize the names of these world-renowned dancers.
Now, thanks to Vanessa Bessler and the Children’s Ballet San Antonio (CBSA), an elite group of local dancers are on their way to becoming household names in the ballet art. They will be training and competing on some of the very same stages that turned out some of the greatest performers in the industry.
Soloists Mackenzie Kirsch (age 16), Lucy Hassmann (age 16), Kate Thomas (age 14), Arabela Alvarado (age 10) and Caroline Myers (age 10) have all been invited to compete in the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) on April 12 in New York City. These young ladies were selected from hundreds of dancers across the country for their talent and technique, honed after years of training with Bessler and the CBSA.
“This is the largest number of soloists from San Antonio to attend the competition,” says Bessler. “It is a very big deal because a dancer must receive a score of at least a 96 in regional competition in order to be invited. That’s not easy to do.”
These girls are no strangers to success. Even at their tender ages, they’ve garnered an impressive list of awards at local, regional and national levels. Hassmann, for example, is the only dancer from San Antonio to compete in the International Ballet Competition (IBC) in Jackson Mississippi, while Kirsch is the only dancer from Texas to be invited to the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland.
“These girls are the Ginobili and Parker of the Children’s Ballet,” says Bessler, using terminology all San Antonians can relate to. “They work super hard, they are extraordinary, and the world is now recognizing them as special.”
Putting San Antonio on The Culture Map
In just four short years, Bessler has elevated the arts scene in San Antonio through CBSA. The company serves as a gateway for young dancers with professional aspirations by offering them opportunities to participate in these competitions internationally recognized as the “best of the best.” Scouts flock to these competitions seeking talent and often offering scholarships right on the spot to some of the best dance programs in the world.
Once the youngest Prima Ballerina ever to dance with the National Ballet of Panama, Bessler fosters the talent of her young charges, nurturing and coaching them on skills that will serve them not only on stage but also in life. Her reputation for finding and honing young talent has placed Bessler and the CBSA in a prime position to catapult San Antonio into the next level of performance arts. It has also earned her an invitation to bring eight lucky students to St. Petersburg, Russia, to spend 15 days at the award-winning Vaganova Academy, a school that has turned out some of the greatest dancers the world has ever seen, including Baryshnikov.
“Our students will be living in the dorms and studying with the Vaganova Academy teachers,” says Bessler. “They will experience in-depth, one-on-one training in an exclusive program.”
“Our mission is to give them more than the ability to dance — we are preparing them for an extraordinary life,” Bessler adds. “We want them to excel at whatever they chose to do because they have received training that has established a strong work ethic based on discipline and values that transcend the studio and stage.”
Meet the Dancers
Caroline Myers, age 10
“I cannot imagine my life without ballet.”
Myers has been dancing since the age of three. After dancing in the 2017 CBSA production of “Swan Lake,” the eight-year-old decided to focus on classical ballet and is now in her second full year of pre-professional training with Bessler, whom she credits for her growth and the many opportunities she has had — including qualifying for the YAGP New York finals in her first year. “It feels like a dream,” she says happily.
Myers’ discipline as a dancer has extended to other areas of her life, including helping her become a better student. As a 4th grader at Northwood Elementary, she balances daily dance training with schoolwork and serving as a Student Council representative and a member of Safety Patrol. You can see Myers in the role of “Spring Fairy” in the CBSA production of “Cinderella” opening this May. This summer she will attend the Royal Ballet School Summer Intensive in London, England.
Arabela Alvarado, age 10
“I love performing, and being able to perform in such amazing productions at such a young age with Mrs. Bessler is awesome!”
Alvarado, a fifth-grader at Saint Mary’s Hall, has been dancing with Bessler for seven years, performing in several productions including, “The Children’s Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake,” and “Sleeping Beauty.” She took home first place in the Pre-competitive Classical Category of the Chicago YAGP and placed in the top 12 in Contemporary. “Qualifying for the YAGP Finals means that all my hard work and dedication has paid off,” she says. “Mrs. Bessler helps me by guiding me, believing in me, and gently pushing me to be the best that I can be.”
The precocious 10-year-old says that dance has helped her learn to be organized, efficient and smart about time management in all areas of her life. Her dream is to become a professional ballerina and she is confident that Bessler and CBSA will help her achieve that goal. This summer she will be attending the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Kate Thomas, age 14
“Performing in CBSA productions is definitely a confidence builder.”
This is the fourth consecutive year that Thomas has been invited to participate in the YAGP finals in New York. Last year, she advanced to the final round of competition and was awarded the opportunity to dance on stage at Lincoln Center, an experience she calls the highlight of her dance career thus far. Thomas has been dancing with Bessler since the age of seven, and in that time has received numerous scholarships and summer intensives all over the country.
This summer will find her traveling to London, England for a summer intensive with the Royal Ballet School. The strict discipline of ballet has paid off in terms of schoolwork success and in her role as captain of the Sports Council. She describes performing as a “confidence booster” and credits Bessler for her encouragement and training. “I thoroughly enjoy being on stage and expressing stories through dance,” she says. “I hope to continue through college and beyond.”
Lucy Hassmann, Age 16
“Mrs. Bessler has provided me with so many opportunities I would never have imagined could be so fulfilling to me as a student and an artist.”
At just 16 years old, Hassmann has won more than 30 awards and scholarships from major ballet schools and prestigious companies. She has been training with Bessler for the past nine years and performed in seven of the CBSA productions. In June 2018, Hassmann was selected to represent the USA at the International Ballet Competition (IBC) in Jackson, Mississippi. Known as the “Olympics of Ballet” as it occurs just once every four years, it is a high honor for any dancer. “Having so many performance experiences through the CBSA has allowed me to mature as an artist, to develop partnering technique, to with work with a team to be in sync on stage, to gain more confidence in myself, and to have awareness in the world around me through our community outreach,” she says.
Even with all her successes, Hassmann doesn’t let anything go to her head — a trait she learned from Bessler. “She gives us tips on how to be respectful and humble,” Hassmann explains. “Getting up and trying again when you don’t think you can anymore, being early and being prepared, and choosing the more challenging path because it is the smarter thing to do are concepts Mrs. Bessler has taught me that I know I will use for the rest of my life.”
Lucy will be traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia, this summer to train at the Vaganova Academy.
Mackenzie Kirsch, Age 16
“Being a CBSA company member has helped me with competitions by giving me numerous performance opportunities.”
Kirsch has been dancing with Bessler since the age of seven and, like the other dancers, she has received numerous awards, scholarships and summer intensive programs. “From the very beginning, I dreamed of becoming a prima ballerina just like Mrs. Bessler,” she recalls. “Throughout the years, her teaching technique has prepared me to perform and compete both nationally and internationally.”
This year will mark the third time that Kirsch has qualified for the YAGP NYC Finals as a soloist, and she is the only student from Texas to be selected to compete in the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland. “For me, the Prix de Lausanne has always been a lifelong goal,” she describes. “It’s not just a competition, it is a life-changing experience.”
In May, Kirsch will dance in “Cinderella,” her eighth performance with the CBSA. “I have gained so much experience and confidence performing in front of live audiences with the CBSA,” she says. “I’ve been allowed to perform numerous principal roles which will help me to achieve my dreams of becoming a principal ballerina.”
Kirsch will spend the summer training at the Royal Ballet in England.
About the Children’s Ballet of San Antonio
The award-winning Children’s Ballet of San Antonio (CBSA) is a professional-level ballet company that showcase San Antonio’s most talented children. Dancers are selected by invitation or audition. The Children’s Ballet of San Antonio is a nonprofit organization 501(c)3. For more information, visit childrensballetofsanantonio.org or call (210) 462-7660.
The Children’s Ballet of San Antonio (CBSA) seeks to inspire the pursuit of excellence and prepare children for productive and creative lives through dance by offering extensive training and performance opportunities for talented children from all backgrounds.