RWB Spotlight - June / July

Jul 24 2019 | Posted in Spotlight


The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s milestone 80th season begins with Ballet in the Park, a treasured tradition that spans over four decades. This free, family-friendly event takes place at Assiniboine Park’s Lyric Theatre from July 24-26 at 7:30 pm daily and attracts thousands of Manitobans, along with summer tourists, to watch performances by the RWB School and Company dancers under the prairie sky.

Cheers from the Ballet in the Park audience will be more audible than ever as Septime Webre’s hit The Wizard of Oz returns. RWB Company dancers will perform excerpts of the five-star-reviewed hit ballet, including the Munchkin Land, Emerald City, and scenes with Dorothy and her beloved Toto.

Septime Webre’s modern choreography will be pleasantly juxtaposed by the RWB School Professional Division students’ performance of Le Jardin Animé, an excerpt from Marius Petipa’s Le Corsaire.

RWB School Recreational Division students will perform Alice, which is inspired by Alice in Wonderland, and choreographed by RWB School Recreational Division Principal Nicole Kepp and School Artistic Faculty Sara Goodman, featuring music by Fergie, The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, and Danny Elfman.

While dance is the highlight of the evening, the RWB is happy to offer pre-show activities for little ones. For the first time ever, the RWB School will host a Creative Movement class from 7-7:20 pm for the budding dancers in the pre-show kids’ area of Ballet in the Park.

Other activities include face painting, crafting, and pointe shoe tosses for prizes. This year, the ultimate prize is a three-pack 80th RWB season subscription valued at $300. Patrons can enter this contest at the CAA tent at Ballet in the Park.

Cancellations due to inclement weather will be issued by local radio stations as well as on the RWB website at Patrons may also contact the RWB reception desk for cancellation information at 204-956-0183 or visit their Facebook page.


The RWB has launched an Honour Roll of Distinguished Alumni in celebration of our 80th anniversary and we want to hear from you! The Honour Roll recognizes artists and builders who’ve made a significant contribution to the RWB, or the dance world in general. Fun fact: you don’t have to be an alumnus to nominate someone and you can nominate more than one person!

The call for nominations is open until September 30, 2019 and can be submitted by emailing, by calling 204.956.0183 ext. 2205 or clicking here.


The RWB proudly announces the promotion of four artists and the addition of eight for their upcoming 80th season.

RWB’s new roster features Elizabeth Lamont’s promotion from second soloist to soloist, Yue Shi’s promotion from second soloist to soloist, Katie Bonnell’s promotion from corps de ballet to second soloist, and Stephan Azulay’s promotion from corps de ballet to second soloist.

“I’m extremely grateful every day for this career- it is a real gift,” says Lamont. “My sense of belonging to the RWB audience has continued to encourage my creativity and development as an artist. I continue to dream big about what I can achieve, and I am so excited to continue creating memories on our prairie stage.”

“A promotion is a very important and meaningful step in the career of an artist,” says RWB Artistic Director and CEO André Lewis. “Promotions further recognize our dancers’ talent, growth, and increase sophistication and mastery of the art form and its technical demand. It is always gratifying to be recognized and I am delighted to reward these outstanding dancers.”

For their anniversary season, the RWB welcomes back Tristan Dobrowney as soloist while welcoming Sarah Joan Smith, formerly of Kansas City Ballet, Joshua Hidson, formerly of Ballet Kelowna, and recent RWB School Professional Division graduate Michel Lavoie to the corps de ballet. Lavoie will be the first RWB dancer in 8 years to skip apprentice and join straight into the RWB corps.

Recent RWB School Aspirants Jenna Burns, Amanda Solheim, and Bryce Taylor, along with Parker Long, formerly of Colorado Ballet, join as RWB apprentices.

Please click here for dancer biographies.


At the end of the season, the RWB will bid farewell to much-loved Principal dancer Jo-Ann Sundermeier and her husband, Company Soloist Josh Reynolds.

Jo-Ann has had a storied career with the RWB. Arriving in 1997 as a 14-year-old student in the RWB School Professional Division, she joined the Company as an Apprentice in 2003 and rose to the rank of Principal dancer in 2012. She has toured the world with the Company and danced many of the major roles in the RWB’s repertoire including the lead in Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty’s Princess Aurora and Tinkerbell in Peter Pan. Of all of her roles, the one she says she will remember most fondly is dancing Juliet in this season’s Romeo & Juliet opposite her husband Josh. The couple, who married in 2017, welcomed their daughter Ayla in 2018. Ayla’s arrival and the desire to be closer to family led to their decision to move back to the US this summer.

Josh and Jo-Ann are leaving the RWB with mixed emotions. While is difficult to leave the RWB and all of their friends within the organization, they are excited to be nearer to family and begin a new chapter in their careers. The couple accepted teaching positions with the Schramel Conservatory of Dance in New Orleans, where they will also have an opportunity to perform with the New Orleans Ballet Theater.

Second Soloist Saeka Shirai, RWB School grad and Varna International Ballet Competition silver-medal winner, will be fulfilling a lifelong dream by dancing in Europe.

We also bid adieu to Corps de Ballet dancers:
Erika Delponte and Tyler Carver, as well as Apprentices Erin Atkinson, Kolbie Edwards, and Peter-Nicholas Taylor. We thank you all for gracing our stage and wish you the very best in your future.


For many aspiring professional dancers, performing on a stage like the David H. Koch Theater in the Lincoln Center is a dream come true, and for Bridget Lee, the opportunity was an honour and an experience she will never forget.

Bridget Lee, a graduate from the RWB School Professional Division, has been making a name for herself in the dance community and has no plans of slowing down. This past April, Bridget attended the Youth American Grand Prix (YAGP), a prestigious dance competition held in New York City where she was able to perform on the esteemed stage in front of an audience of almost 2,586 people.

Among the audience and judges included faculty from the Paris Opera Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, English National Ballet School, Mariinsky Ballet, and the like.

Out of 12,000 dancers who performed in regional YAGP competitions, 1,200 of the most promising were chosen to attend Finals, but not all were chosen to perform. Selected dancers, including Bridget, spent a week taking classes and workshops. Bridget worked with a handful of RWB staff who helped her prepare for the final competition, which would take place at the Lincoln Center.

Bridget placed in the top 12 in the Solo Senior Women’s Category.

“I was shocked and so excited! It was an amazing end to a very tough, but fulfilling week,” Bridget said.

Vanessa Léonard, RWB Ballet Master and former Principal dancer, said Bridget was the one who initiated that she was interested in the competition.

“We felt that it would be a good opportunity for her based on her strong work ethic and level of talent. It’s a big challenge to be able to prepare for a competition while keeping up with the demands of the graduating year, but we felt that Bridget had the drive and commitment to succeed.”

After Bridget approached her teachers at the RWB School about the competition, she was met with a great team who helped to prepare her for the YAGP.

“Not only did the School give me so much support and encouragement, but they prepared me technically to keep up with the demands of the competition. I am so grateful for all the RWB School did for me leading up to the competition, and I was really lucky to have a strong support system in New York!”

Participating in YAGP allowed Bridget to meet and perform with some of the world’s top dancers. She said being surrounded by competitors and teachers was inspiring and being able to learn new styles of dance was amazing.

“One of the main things I learned from my week at YAGP is that every performance won’t be perfect!”

This September, Bridget is off to the Stuttgart Ballet, a leading German ballet company, where she was offered a job as an apprentice.

Final piece of career advice for aspiring dancers?

“I would say to never stop working hard; the work you do in quiet will show in your dancing. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help,” notes Bridget.


RWB Company dancers share what they were up to for May and June!

SOPHIA LEE Principal Dancer

“For this summer I plan to get as much mental and physical rest as possible. I spent two weeks with my family in Italy (most of our time was spent in Rome, but we also visited places such as Capri, Amalfi, Positano and Assisi). I would say the highlight was visiting all four of the major basilicas (churches) in Rome during my trip! I have returned to Canada and will be spending the rest of my summer vacation in Vancouver. I’m looking forward to doing lots of reading, sleeping in, spending time with my family, and enjoying some sun!”

KATIE BONNELL Second Soloist

“My summer has been jam-packed! I work part time as a Residence Advisor (RA) at the RWB School Residence, so I have spent a lot of time with our students, including getting to watch them perform during Spotlight. I also had the opportunity to teach some Recreational Division ballet classes, including the Intensive Training Program audition classes.

At the end of May, I went home to Burlington to visit my family and friends in the greater Toronto area. It was a much-needed trip; I always feel so rejuvenated after being at home for a little while.

While I was in Ontario, I travelled to the Ottawa area to teach some workshop ballet classes at St Mother Theresa High School in Nepean. My cousin runs their dance program and asked if I would be willing to come out and giver her students a crash course in ballet. I got to work with her students for an hour a day for 4 days. We worked on some basic ballet technique as well as 2 variations. It was wonderful to see the students working so hard and trying everything I taught them even though they did not have much ballet experience (some didn’t have any!).

It’s been a wonderful summer so far and I am very excited to start our 80th season!”

RYAN VETTER Second Soloist

“My husband Philippe and I took a ten-day trip with Intrepid Travel to Hungary, Slovenia, and Montenegro. They asked us to join them to take promotional photos for their 18-29-year-old brochure, so it was an all-expenses paid vacation-and we got some amazing photos! Philippe and I also did some renovations on our house this summer.”


“I was asked to perform the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz at the Benois De La Danse, one of the most prestigious ballet competitions in the world, that takes place at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre in May.

Septime Webre’s The Wizard of Oz was nominated for Benois in four different categories: choreography by Webre, music/composition by Matthew Pierce, costumes by Liz Vandal, and sets/scenography by Michael Raiford.

I was the only representative from RWB attending. My main job was to perform at the gala; my other job, which was just as important, was to bring the costumes for the main characters, and Toto! Barry Malenko from our wardrobe department packed everything we would need into a suitcase, with a checklist and instructions for makeup. He did a superb job and was an absolute lifesaver- I will explain why later!

My flight path was straight forward: Winnipeg to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Moscow. I landed in Moscow with next to no problems, although I got some funny looks from the airport staff when I sent Toto through the special luggage screenings. Toto was in a custom-made hard-shell suitcase with a special foam design, so he was comfy for his flight. Once I arrived, Benois staff organized a driver to take me to Hotel Metropol. This hotel was beyond stunning! When I arrived, I had the night free- this was my only chance to explore Moscow, so I took the opportunity to explore, walk to Red Square, and take as many photos as I could!

The next day, I met the other Oz dancers in the hotel’s breakfast hall. This room was like something out of a movie, equipped with a grand water fountain and a harp player. The buffet had an epic selection, with everything from red caviar and blinis (Russian pancakes you eat caviar with) to a build-your-own omelette station.

After, we headed over to The Bolshoi Theatre for class and rehearsal. This place was worse than a maze; we always needed someone to show us the way to our studios because one wrong turn and you would get completely lost! We were all thrilled to take class at the Bolshoi.

After class, we had our first rehearsal. This was the first time the five of us had danced together. Even though we all performed the same production, there are always slight changes between the companies and each person. That being said the five of us worked together very well and it didn’t take long for us to figure out lifts. Also, the stage is MASSIVE- it felt like running a marathon trying to get to the other side.

The next day was the performance. We all met for breakfast, took class, had a quick rehearsal in costumes, and a break before the show call.

Thankfully everyone had their dance shoes in their carry-on as some of the dancers’ luggage had not yet arrived, and, if it wasn’t for Barry from Wardrobe, we would have been screwed. He had absolutely everything covered for all the dancers- he was truly a life-saver!

It’s hard to describe a performance in words because it happens so fast and, before you know it, you are off stage with all the adrenaline in the world. I think we all did really well and were super happy with how we danced. Afterwards, we were able to watch all the world-class talent and ballet superstars perform. I was truly speechless- what we witnessed was incredible! After the gala finished, all the dancers took a last bow. We took group pictures and headed back to the change rooms to get ready for the reception!

Once we got to the reception, we had a couple glasses of champagne and spent some time with the other performers of the night as well as all the Benois nominees. I couldn’t believe how fast it was all over- it was such an amazing experience and a trip I will always remember.”