Teenaged Philly native lands in corps of PA Ballet

Sydney Dolan, a former resident of Bella Vista, was also recently recognized by the Princess Grace Foundation.

Pennsylvania Ballet corps de ballet member Sydney Dolan and artists of Pennsylvania Ballet rehearsing for George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. (Arian Molina Soca/Photo Courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet)

On the stage of the Prince Music Theatre last year, 16-year-old Sydney Dolan, at the time, a member of Pennsylvania Ballet’s second company, twirled to the recorded voice of poet Shel Silverstein as he read aloud his timeless work, “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

For her, the verses didn’t soley resonate around the theater’s red velour seats, as the poem’s themes of dwindling childhood was something Dolan knew well.

After the curtain fell that evening, she was asked by former American Ballet Theatre principal and world-renowned dancer Ángel Corella, artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet, to be an apprentice with the main company.

“I think about that night, and it’s just one of the best days of my life,” she recalled. “I think it wasn’t until later that night where I kind of realized how parallel that is and how doing that piece was a sign for everything.”

Now 17 years old, Dolan, a Philadelphia native and former resident of Bella Vista, is not only beginning her first season in the company’s corps de ballet but was also recently named a 2018 Princess Grace award winner by the Princess Grace Foundation — a national organization that strives to identify and assist emerging artists of many mediums.

Receiving both a dance fellowship and the Chris Hellman Dance Award, Dolan was only one of six artists from across the country to be selected for the dance category, impressively clumped among esteemed recipients, such as current and former soloists of American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet.

Pennsylvania Ballet corps de ballet member Sydney Dolan in George Balanchine’s Rubies. (Arian Molina Soca/Photo Courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet)

“Princess Grace founded it because she wanted to help and assist young artists and help their dreams come true,” Dolan said. “That’s all she wanted, and the arts, I think, are so underappreciated in society, especially in modern society…(The foundation) sees things in artists, and they make it happen.”

The Princess Grace Foundation was hardly the first to see something in Dolan, as the ballerina has caught the eye of several companies, conservatories and famed dancers from across the Eastern seaboard since she was a child.

After relocating to Cary, N.C., from Philly when she was 3 years old, Dolan dabbled in a slew of arts and athletics, including swimming, gymnastics, singing and acting.

While she flourished in several of these avocations, her purpose seemed to boil down to ballet, as she started training privately with Cuban dancer and choreographer Miguel Campaneria, who has graced the stages of many companies, including American Ballet Theatre, Pennsylvania Ballet and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

“When I met him, he really opened my eyes to the fact that (ballet) could be a career,” Dolan said.

Campaneria, who had Dolan training on pointe when she was 10 years old, encouraged her to start taking her talent to the competitive level, specifically showcasing solo and pas de deux pieces both in classical and contemporary styles for numerous contests around the country through the Youth America Grand Prix and World Ballet Competition.

From 2012 to 2016, Dolan was a finalist in both dance tournaments, including placing first, second and third in solo pieces, as well as in the top 12 for duets, in regionals around the East Coast and eventually finals in New York City, tackling major performances from ballets, like La Esmerelda, Coppélia and La Fille mal gardé.

Eventually, Dolan was faced with a decision. Still growing, not only mentally but physically, she needed to shift her focus on one activity, as the physicality of swimmers’ bodies do not align with the physique of ballet. So, she decided to stop swimming and concentrate on ballet.

“After I went to competition and saw how the environment is and how the world is outside of my little town — that was when I made my decision,” Dolan said.

Dolan, who was middle school-aged at this time, also started homeschooling, as now, looking at the horizon, she was paving the way toward blossoming into a prima ballerina.

After sustaining a dance-related injury in early 2016, Dolan took a brief hiatus from competition when she, along with a few dancer friends, ventured to Philly to see, under the vision of newly-appointed artistic director Corella, the revamped company’s rendition of Don Quixote.

“We saw the ballet, and we were just kind of in awe,” she said. “We didn’t know that Pennsylvania Ballet was making this kind of progress. It was really amazing. And it was one of the first real ballet companies I had seen that was in my area. And that was when we first kind of recognized Pennsylvania Ballet.”

Little did Dolan know, in less than a year, she’d be dancing with the company.

While performing in Orlando, Fla., sometime later, she and her dancing partner connected with the new directors of the Philly troupe who offered them the opportunity to engage in its company experience week, which simulated the life of a full-time professional dancer.

It was then, while taking routine morning classes with Corella, that the director was thunderstruck by Dolan and her partner, offering them both positions with PB II — the second company — when she was just 15 years old.

Relocating to the Philly area and leaving her family behind in North Carolina, she spent nearly half a year dancing with the second company, performing as understudies to the main group, along with several outreach shows, before Corella offered her a position as an apprentice following her Shel Silverstein performance.

“It’s a dream come true…(Corella is) just someone who gives so many opportunities, and you can see it all the time,” she said. “Every dancer gets their moment, and I think that’s beautiful, because that’s what we want to do. Every dancer — he sees something. He sees a light at the end of the tunnel — always.”

Pennsylvania Ballet corps de ballet members Sydney Dolan and Federico D’Ortenzi in Swan Lake. (Arian Molina Soca/Photo Courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet)

As she kicked off her apprenticeship in fall of 2017, she wasn’t even on the stage yet as a main company member before landing understudy positions for principal dancers in the company’s production of Sleeping Beauty, including substituting principal dancer Dayesi Torriente’s role of the Lilac Fairy.

She says things became especially surreal when a couple months later, she also performed the role of Dewdrop in the company’s 2017 production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, which landed her a featured segment on CBS 3.

After an exhilarating performance as Dewdrop with her family watching from the seats of the Academy of Music, Corella, once again, saw the sensational potential in Dolan, offering her an official position in the corps de ballet just after she danced off stage.

“I was having that feeling where it was like euphoria for me. It was like I wasn’t a human. I was literally in a dream,” she said. “Doing something like that — I had danced on stage before, but I had never felt this feeling before….this was different. It was like nothing, nobody was there. Nothing was there. It was just myself. It was just me in Candyland, living my dream.”

For now, Dolan, who recently relocated to Center City, is focused on her inaugural year in the world-renowned ballet ensemble, rehearsals for the company’s Romeo and Juliet and simply earning her high school diploma.

While her adolescence has been a whirlwind of unexpectedness, the Princess Grace award, she says, is especially momentous.

“Just to be nominated in your company or in your school or even just to enter is a huge deal. It’s a huge deal,” Dolan said. “And, I mean, Grace Kelly — all of it, just the foundation…it’s just so humbling really. It’s one of the great accomplishments I’ve ever had. It is the greatest accomplishment.”