One sunny day in early September, I met Megan Yackovich for coffee at Koko’s.
The cafe is close to Megan’s studio and made it (relatively), easy for her to escape her unrelenting schedule for a moment.
She arrived minutes after I did, saw me at an outside table, and said hello before going inside to order a cup of coffee. She soon returned, cup in hand; cool, calm and incredibly chic in that way dancers naturally are, as she sat across from me in the bright sunlight, looking far younger than her actual age.
Megan is the founder of Ballet Taos, a professional contemporary ballet company and training academy located right here in Taos.
“I worked around the clock,” she laughed, “when you’re raising kids, you do what you have to do.”
Her two children now grown and off following their own dreams, allowed Megan to make a long time dream come true; a Ballet Company of her own, aqui en Taos.
Her career as a professional ballet dancer, began at the age of seventeen, but in actuality, Megan started dancing as a child, studying with Russian teachers who taught her the fundamentals of the Art.
Teaching came naturally to her after she began focusing on restaging classical ballets (for professional companies across the United States), and discovered her passion for working with aspiring, young dancers.
Combining elements of both the Vaganova and Royal Ballet syllabi, gives her a unique approach in her teaching methods, marrying the tried and true discipline of the Russian School with the more modernist aspects of the British branch.
Yet her ethic is rooted firmly in the Eastern birthplace of the dance. (Ballet spread from the Italian Renaissance courts to France and Russia simultaneously, via the direct influence of Catherine de Medici.)
“Maybe it’s my Eastern European heritage,” she opined.
I mentioned my dear friend, the former Kirov ballerina, Ludmilla Hart who is currently featured in the Red Shoes Exhibition highlighting her career (at the Kirov Ballet) and her move to the US after defecting from the former Soviet Union, at the Wende Museum of the Cold War in Los Angeles.
Megan brightened at the mention of Ludmilla.
“I love Ludmilla,” she said. “I first met her when she was my teacher at the San Francisco Ballet.”
Once again, all roads lead to Taos.
Early in the summer, my grand-daughter Natalya spent the night with me and expressed a longing to return to ballet after two years away. Natalya began dancing with Amber when she was just three years old, and after ten years taking classes at Taos Youth Ballet, decided to drop out and focus on sports instead. A gifted athlete, Natalya is also a natural dancer and I was not surprised by her late night confession (which I imagined may have also had something to do with one of her best friends, Jamie Jensen, with whom she once shared the role of Thumbelina.)
I encouraged her to talk to Megan, who had been her teacher during her last two years at TYB, and left it at that.
A week later my daughter Angelica informed me that Natalya (second on the right, above), was taking some private classes with Megan. A few weeks after that, Natalya was headed to Colorado with her mother, to be fitted for new pointe shoes.
Although she still struggles to find a balance between sports and ballet, Natalya is happier and more confident than I’ve seen her in ages, but as I sat chatting with Megan, I found myself wondering, where on earth she found the time to give kids like Natalya, private lessons, while running a flourishing Ballet School and Company.
Evidently she thrives on challenges like the one Natalya presents her with.
She mentioned Zac Bigbee, a former student (at TYB), who began studying with her as a senior in High School.
“He had a background in Martial Arts,” she explained, “but had never studied dance.”
At the age of 24, Bigbee is now a professional dancer with a promising career ahead of him. He is currently dancing with Cocodaco.
Clearly, as a teacher, Megan has the magic touch as well as a genuine love for her students and a strong instinct regarding innate talent.
She cites one of the young dancers currently studying with her, as having the potential to go far beyond the corps de Ballet.
“You never know if they are going to follow through, or drop out along the way,” she mused. “But this child, if she takes it all the way, has it.”
And for others (like Natalya) who love the music and the movement, but are not seriously considering choosing dance as a vocation or career, ballet is still a valuable tool that will serve them well throughout their lives.
“The discipline and focus, not to mention the athletic aspect of dance,” Megan notes,” will always stay with them, no matter what they choose to do.”
Many athletes study ballet knowing it makes for stronger and more agile movement, but the strict discipline is probably the most helpful aspect of the practice, and also the one that stops more kids from staying with it.
Megan’s approach to teaching emphasizes a strong work ethic, as well as implementing injury prevention techniques. Her philosophy “ is to inspire the whole artist through the mastery of classical ballet and artistic refinement, which will ready her students for higher education and professional careers in dance.”
After retiring from the stage, she served as the Artistic Director of The Peak Ballet Theatre and The Peak Ballet Theatre II (PBT II) for ten years. The contacts she made during that time have proved invaluable, enabling her to not only introduce students like Zac to the ballet community at large, but also to bring professional dancers and teachers to Taos, for intensive summer workshops with her students.
Her students in turn enjoy the success of receiving recognition, acceptance to and scholarships from, professional ballet companies, year-round schools and summer intensives worldwide.
Along with Megan who is the Director of Classical Dance (and the various guest teachers she brings to Ballet Taos), C.J. Bernal is the School’s Director of Contemporary Dance.
“I was transfixed when I first saw C.J. dance.” Megan recalled. “I had never seen anyone move the way he did, with such powerful charisma.”
C.J.’s mother, Rose Bernal is a talented Native singer-songwriter who is from the Northwest Coast of America, His father is Carpio Bernal, from the same family who negotiated with Richard Nixon for the return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo. I met Rose and Carpio when I first relocated to Taos, and I’ve known C.J. since he was a small child.
Born in British Columbia, he spent his formative years growing up on Taos Pueblo, where he was first exposed to music and dance which inspired his passion for composition and movement.
After High School, he attended the Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, majoring in performing arts and psychology. He focused on several techniques and genres of dance, ranging from modern and contemporary, to Suzuki Method Acting and Butoh.
C.J’s musical talent and love of choreography has enabled him to create an innovative and prolific body of work. His own deep cultural roots combined with classical and modern forms of dance give him an edgy and unique approach to the form.
(C.J. and Laryssa Short performed an original piece he choreographed, inside the Space Cloud, during the recent Paseo Festival.)
Both women are super excited about the project which Rita will direct.
“When I was approached, it was an immediate yes!” Rita told me. Even though, she like Megan has a million balls in the air, she was thrilled by not only the opportunity to direct a show, but also the fact “that it’s a show about bad ass women – with great roles for bad ass women!”
Time was ticking by, we’d covered a lot of ground, far and beyond Ballet Taos – our coffee cups emptied, Megan had a class to teach and I was headed to another appointment.
As we parted ways, I found myself time travelling back to my own childhood, where twice weekly ballet lessons had been part and parcel of my life for almost a decade. Perhaps if I’d had a teacher like Megan, I’d have enjoyed the hours spent at the barre, rather than trying to avoid them, but now I see how well those hours served me throughout my life, in a myriad of ways.
Being a bit of a rebel and a tomboy to boot, I’d not taken kindly to the discipline and regularity (read interference in my life), but now I think of them as having been among the greatest gifts I was ever given, which I continue to remind Natalya of, even as the tomboy in her, threatens to rebel against the ballerina within.
I will also continue to remind her how very lucky she is to have the opportunity to study ballet at a level of professionalism rarely seen outside of major metropolitan areas, right here, in Taos.
As Autumn closes in and Fall Arts is celebrated this weekend, our most magical season quickly approaches. Ballet Taos gets ready to present “The Adventures of Alice” (featuring Bodhi Fogden as Alice), next weekend, Friday Sept 28th – Sunday the 30th at the TCA. This show promises to be spectacular and will sell out, so do get your tickets early!
September 28th TCA @ 7:00 P.M.
September 29th TCA @ 2:00 P.M. & 7:00 P.M. The 2:00 P.M. matinée will have a Mad Hatter Tea Party from tea.o.graphy and a cosplay costume competition with prizes.
September 30th TCA @ 6:00 P.M.
For more information on Megan Yackovich, Ballet Taos (the School and Company),”The Adventures of Alice at the TCA as well as an upcoming Holiday production of a very New Mexican flavoured version of”The Nutcracker” and everything else they are doing, please visit their site linked below.
Also from Ballet Taos in October:
Tickets for Zikr Dance Ensemble’s performance/master class will be available on their Web Site for October 7:
Master Class to be held at Ballet Taos 1037 Calle Del Sol Sunday October 7 from 1:00 – 3:00 P.M.
“Runes” Zikr Dance Ensemble performance at TCA Sunday October 7 @ 6:00 P.M.
Master Class with David Taylor and Zikr Ensemble professional dancers $35.00
Performance at TCA $20.00
Masterclass + one ticket $50.00
For more information on this event and the Master Class please visit the site linked below.
All images thanks to Ballet Taos