CFB Alumna: Meredith Harrill
Photo by Michael Cairns
Meredith Harrill began her ballet studies at the Central Florida Ballet and later studied at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C. on scholarship. She competed in the Finals of the Youth America Grand Prix in New York City, was a finalist in the World Ballet Competition, and a trainee with the Joffrey Ballet and BalletMet Columbus. Since joining State Street Ballet in 2013, Meredith has toured nationally and internationally with the company and has been a featured soloist in numerous ballets by resident choreographers William Soleau and Robert Sund.
We sat down with Meredith to discuss her time at the Central Florida Ballet, her recent engagement, and what it has been like to become a professional ballet dancer.
At what age did you start training at the Ballet Academy of Central Florida (BACF)?
I started at BACF when I was eleven years old
How did BACF help you transition into being a professional dancer?
Before training at BACF I had been a competitive gymnast and lacked basic knowledge and technique in ballet. BACF provided a solid foundation to build on and then push even farther. Whether it be an extra pirouette, longer balance, or more expression, the instructors at BACF always encouraged you to push past your comfort level and do more than the day before (while maintaining cleanliness).
Meredith competing at a Gymnastic Competition
What performances did you enjoy dancing the most with the Central Florida Ballet?
I enjoyed performing 9/11 An American Moment while with the Studio Company. It has a really powerful message and the choreography allows a certain amount of individual expression and interpretation. I also always looked forward to Nutcracker each year. It was inspiring to watch the dancers you looked up perform certain roles and then as the years went by have the opportunity to perform them yourself. It was also a treat to perform in the Linda Chapin Theater and be a part of such a large scale performance (with so many amazing professional dancers) as a student.
How did you receive your scholarship offer to Kirov and your first company offer with the Joffrey Ballet? Was it tough to leave your family and friends? How did you keep in contact with them?
I attended two summer intensives at Kirov Academy in Washington, D.C. and each time was offered a scholarship to attend year round. The second year, when I was fourteen, I felt I was ready to make that commitment and leave home to pursue training there. It was very difficult to leave my family and my second family at BACF. I was so excited initially, I don't think it really hit me until I moved into the dorm and had to say goodbye to my parents. I made some really close friends at the school, and since we were all in the same situation we provided a great support system for each other. After my Junior year at Kirov I auditioned for the Joffrey Ballet's Summer Intensive in Chicago and received a letter I had been accepted in to their year round Trainee program. Since Joffrey was a company I always aspired to and their program had strong contemporary training as well as ballet, I decided to attend there my last year of school. With Facebook and other forms of social media, it has been fairly easy to keep in contact with my friends from BACF as well as the other schools I attended.
Meredith with fellow classmates at the
Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C.
Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C.
You have been a member of several companies - describe some of the differences between the companies. How was a "typical day" different from each company?
After being a Trainee with Joffrey and BalletMet and a company member at State Street Ballet, I've had several different experiences of company life. All three companies are the same in that we start the day with a technique class, followed by a short break and then about four to five hours of rehearsal. Because I was a trainee at the first two companies rehearsals usually involved a lot of understudying and learning from the back, which was sometimes more stressful since you had to be prepared to step into any spot at any given time. Joffrey and BalletMet were also larger in numbers and therefore there would be some rehearsal periods you weren't called to. State Street only has about twenty company members including apprentices, so were usually being used at all times and there aren't enough people for understudies, or even a second cast. It allows for a lot of opportunities and stage time I might not have received at a larger company.
How were the cultures/daily life of the cities different or the same?
The cultures of each city I've lived in have been very different. Chicago (my personal favorite) allowed for a city life, but with a midwest attitude. There was always something going on and a lot of dance and art to experience. If you weren't performing there was always another company that was. The dance community was also very connected there, so there was a good chance you would know someone in the performance. Columbus was a bit of a slower pace. Once I settled in and found my way around it had some really awesome areas, and things to see. Now I live in a total change of scenery in Santa Barbara, CA. It's about as close to paradise as you can get, but we are one of very few dance companies in the area, so you have to keep yourself motivated and inspired and not get too lost in the laid back lifestyle.
Meredith with her father, Don Harrill, in Chicago
What did you learn from the Ballet Academy of Central Florida that has helped you as a professional dancer at these professional companies?
One of the most important things I learned at BACF that has helped with my professional career is proper etiquette and demeanor in class. The determination to stay focused and work on bettering yourself will get you farther in a company than you might think. The way rehearsals were run is similar to how it is in company life and those long Satudays and Sundays, were a great preparation for what was to come in the future. I remember there was one time when I was worried I wasn't ready for a competition and I wanted more time to rehearse and Vasile told me it didn't matter how much rehearsal I had, if I was confident in my technique I should be able to perform anything the day I learn it. I still think of that whenever we're learning a new piece of rep. It's a great reminder, especially now when we typically have about three weeks to learn and clean a ballet before opening.
What is a typical day like at State Street Ballet?
My typical day begins with arriving to the studio at 8:30am to warm up for 9:00am class. We have a fifteen minute break after class and then a two hour rehearsal period followed by another half hour break and two more hours of rehearsal. I'm currently working on five different pieces of choreography for some of the students in our school, so recently I've been in the studio a bit more.
Meredith performed the Doll in
State Street Ballet's 2015 Nutcracker production
What have been some of your favorites roles/productions/experiences with State Street Ballet?
My favorite productions at State Street thus far have been Tango Rain, Scheherezade, and Common Ground. Tango Rain by William Soleau was my first opportunity to have a pas de deux at State Street and Bill's choreography is always so fulfilling to perform. Scheherezade is one of my favorite scores and we had to opportunity to work with Autumn Eckman, which made it an extra special experience. Common Ground closed our season last year and it opened with another one of William Soleaus pieces, which was made of three different pas de deuxs each one representing a different relationship. It was a technical and artistic challenge and made me develop a new idea of storytelling and interacting onstage. The other part of the program, a contemporary piece by Edgar Zendejas, was a collaboration with two other companies and experimented with our physical limits.
Meredith performing with the State Street Ballet
Have you started any wedding planning?
I haven't started any actual wedding planning, we're going to take our time and enjoy being engaged, but I haven't been able to help myself from browsing wedding dress sites.
Meredith with fiancé Kyle Peete
What is the next performance you are working on and what can we expect from you in the future?
We're about to start working on Don Quixote, which has always been one of my favorite ballets and will be very exciting. Recently I've been choreographing a lot more and have some exciting endeavors coming up involving both choreography and dancing. Currently, I'm just focusing on improving and continuing to push myself to develop every aspect of my dancing.
*For information on classes at the Ballet Academy of Central Florida, please visit http://www.centralfloridaballet.com or call 407.849.9942 ext 10.