AJ Abrams is a native of Long Beach, Ca. He began his training with Terri and Anthony Sellars of Orange County Dance Center and Keith and Linda Clifton of Clifton Dance Project. He continued his training in schools all over the United States including Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, and School of American Ballet. At age 19, Mr. Abrams was discovered by Mark Bush and began his professional career at Ballet Austin under the direction of Stephen Mills. His credits while dancing with Ballet Austin include original works by Stephen Mills, a featured role in the ballet Touch, The Taming of the Shrew, Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project, and Dreams. He has performed a solo role in Septime Webers’ Fluctuating Hemlines and principal roles including Sugar Plum (Nutcracker), Ablrecht (Giselle), and principal male in Balanchine’s “Who Cares?”. Since leaving Ballet Austin, Mr. Abrams has performed in musicals, music videos and movies which include White Swan #1 in The Inappropriate Comedy Movie and a music video for Florence and the Machine directed by David LaChapelle. In 2011, he was named “Best Male Dancer in Los Angeles” by The Beverly Hills Outlook. He is currently a member of the Luminario Ballet of Los Angeles, Festival Ballet Theater, and works as a freelance artist. Freelance credits include Aurora’s Wedding Pas De Deux and The Bluebird Pas De Deux in Sleeping Beauty, the principal male in George Balanchine’s Valse Fantasie, Espada in Don Quixote and original works by choreographers Josie Walsh and Jamal Story.
Mariana Carrillo started dancing at the age of 5 in Cabo San Lucas, México at El Estudio del Angel and Danza Tellez under the direction of Lourdes Tellez. When she was 17, she received a scholarship to continue her training at Ballet Austin Academy. As soon as she graduated high school, Mariana moved to Orange County to train with former American Ballet Theatre dancer and founder of Gala de Danza México, Christina Lyon. In California, she also trained under the direction of Salwa Rizkalla at Southland Ballet Academy and was invited to perform with Festival Ballet Theatre. As a dancer with FBT, she has had the opportunity to perform in The Nutcracker, Firebird, Giselle, Le Corsaire Suite, and mixed repertoire including Valse Fantasie and an excerpt from Laurencia set by the Acting Director of the Mariinsky Theatre, Yuri Fateyev. Mariana has been invited to perform at Christina Lyon’s Gala de Danza México since 2013, dancing alongside of some of the dance world’s greatest at only 18 years old. She was also invited to perform in the International Dance Festival of Miami and Youth America Grand Prix Tampa Gala, Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow. In Orange County, Mariana has danced for Festival Ballet Theatre and performed with Josie Walsh’s newly founded company Ballet Red dancing Texture of Time, Urban Angels, Eternity, Convergence, Transmutation and Invocation. She also had the opportunity to dance for Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora at the MTV “Video Music Awards” as well as in the Ellen DeGeneres Show Season 12 Premieres. Mariana currently attends the University of Southern California working towards a dance major and a minor in business.
Brandon Forrest is a former student of Los Angeles county high school of the arts, Colburn Ballet Academy and San Francisco Ballet School. At 18 he joined Los Angeles Ballet as a company member and concluded a classical season performing Sirens under the direction of Josie Walsh. Brandon spent two years as a personal trainer for LA Fitness transitioning into performing for Ballet Magique, Long Beach Ballet, Santa Clarita ballet, Pacific Festival Ballet and Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre. Brandon has also appeared in Glee, USA’s The Moment, Cosmopolitan Las Vegas Commercial, and Ray Ban 50th Anniversary International Print Campaign. Additionally, he continues to write and record original music based on the culturally diverse life he explores via bicycle, health, and nutrition. Brandon can be found at UpliftLA where he instructs foam rolling/circuit training and teaching dance with Shiva Bagheri.
William Geary was born in Chicago, IL and began studying classical ballet at the age of 16. After one year of training, William competed at the YAGP competition in Chicago. He received 3rd place and was the highest scoring male in the Senior Division. He was also awarded 1st place for his pas de deux from La Fille Mal Gardee. He subsequently competed at the NYC finals and was awarded a handful of scholarships. In 2011, William came to Festival Ballet Theatre and performed leading roles in The Nutcrackerunder the direction of Salwa Rizkalla. In 2014, he joined the Joffrey Ballet Trainee Program on full scholarship.
Tara Ghassemieh began her training in Huntington Beach, California at Orange County Dance Center. There she trained in ballet, jazz, tap, lyrical, hip hop, and contemporary, but Tara’s main focus and love was for ballet. Through her 10 years of training at Orange County Dance Center she achieved many honors, titles and awards, including first all-around soloist at Showstoppers Nationals, Finalist at Youth American Grand Prix Nationals in New York City, Teen Miss Dance of America 2004 for Dance Masters of America, and National Training Scholar for American Ballet Theatre for 3 years. At age 16 Tara was offered a full scholarship to join the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre in New York City, as well as an apprenticeship with Washington Ballet. She chose to move to New York and start her career with the number one ballet company in the nation, American Ballet Theatre. Soon after moving to New York she was offered the part as a lead ballet dancer in the popular film “Step Up”. She performed Le’ Corsair, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty with ABT at the Metropolitan Opera House along with many other various ballets. While in New York she worked on Broadway for the internationally renowned show ‘Movin Out’, and was a featured actress on Law and Order SVU, CSI, and Gossip Girl. Tara also started and ran her own dancewear line ‘Tata’s Dancewear’ from 2004-2012. Currently Tara is living in Southern California where she is a principle dancer with Festival ballet Theatre. In her 6 years with the company Tara has danced principle roles in many ballets. Recently performing “The Slave Pas De Duex” as Medora with partner Vitor Luiz, principle dancer with San Francisico Baller. Tara is a guest artist to ballet companies nationwide, contemporary choreographer to the students of Southland Ballet Academy, along with teaching and choreographing for numerous students in California and throughout the nation.
Greyson Hanson began his classical ballet training at age 9 and expanded into many other dance styles at age 12. Greyson started performing with Festival Ballet Theatre in December 2015. He is an award winning competitor in a variety of dance competitions from his youth. Greyson is currently attending UCI as a double major in both Dance and Exercise Sciences. While at UCI, Greyson has received scholarships for both his academic achievements and his artistic abilities as a dancer. Greyson has been accepted into the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and was awarded the William J. Gillespie Fund for Ballet Studies. He has performed in many classical ballets such as Don Quixote, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker. This will be Greyson’s second time performing in Festival Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker.
Renee Kester was born and raised in Seal Beach, California. She began her classical training at the age of 14 at Southland Ballet Academy. In 2012, she competed in World Ballet Competition in Florida where she was asked to be a trainee with The Washington Ballet. She spent the year 2013 at The Washington Ballet and went on to be an apprentice with Houston Ballet in the year 2014. Renee has performed several ballets from Balanchine’s ‘Stars and Stripes’ with The Washington Ballet, to Stanton Welch’s ‘Swan Lake’ with Houston Ballet. In 2014, she toured with Houston Ballet performing David Bintley’s ‘Aladdin’ in Chicago and Welch’s ‘Marie’ in Montreal, Canada. Aside from ballet, Renee has had a lot of experience in other styles of dance including hip hop, break-dancing, modern, and contemporary. She has worked with and performed for choreographers such as Sonya Tayeh, Lillian Barbeito, Billy Bell, and Jessie Hartley. When Renee was just 15 she performed with Quest Crew, the winners of America’s Best Dance Crew season 3, at Harvest Moon Festival. She has won several awards from 2nd place Youth America Grand Prix, San Francisco to Music Center Spotlight Awards, Honorable Mention. Renee has also done some commercial work including an episode of Dancing with the Stars and a Florence and the Machine music video.
Alex Laya grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and began his dance training in b-boying at the age of 17. He later attended Western Michigan University, where he thoroughly trained in modern, jazz and ballet. Alex has since been living in Los Angeles, California, where he has been fortunate enough to learn from some of the world’s best teachers and teachers and choreographers, and has had amazing opportunities. Alex performed with the world famous DJ/Producer DIPLO, while being featured in his music video “Set Me Free”, as well as performing with Soul Fresh Fam, directed by Ricky Cole of Mos Wanted Cru, at many venues all over the world, including World of Dance. Because of his eclectic training, Alex’s dance style has become a fusion of urban and contemporary styles, strongly influenced by b-boying. Some of Alex’s credits include Gala de Danza, Youth America Grand Prix, Establish Your Empire, Dance Stellar Productions, Chicago Dance Crash and Culture Shock Chicago.
Natalie Matsuura began her training with Mrs. Hanna Karacic at the age of six and came to Southland Ballet Academy at the age of fourteen. She completed her BFA in dance performance and choreography with a minor in Spanish at the University of California, Irvine, graduating with honors and awards that included Excellence in Dance Performance (2015); Medici Circle Award (2015); William J. Gillespie Scholarship in Ballet Studies (2013-15); Phi Beta Kappa (2015); and Campuswide Honors (2015). As a dancer with Festival Ballet Theatre, Natalie has performed numerous principal and soloist roles, including Queen of the Dryads in Don Quixote; Sugar Plum Fairy, Dew Drop, and Snow Queen in Nutcracker; and Monya in Giselle. As a choreographer, Natalie has staged work at the University of California, Irvine; Azusa Pacific University; and Youth America Grand Prix. Natalie has been teaching at Southland Ballet Academy since 2011.
Hannah Schiller started her ballet training at the age of eight. Early on in her training, she received many awards at world-class competitions including The Youth America Grand Prix Award in 2006 and 2009; and gold medals for pas de deux and solo work in Berlin, Germany. She also received the silver medal at the 2009 Moscow International Ballet Competition in Moscow, Russia. Hannah is pleased to be performing with Festival Ballet Theatre.
Skye Schmidt, a native of California, began her ballet training under Salwa Rizkalla in 1998 at Southland Ballet Academy where she learned from numerous world renowned ballet masters including Tatiana Legat; acting head of the Mariinsky Ballet, Yuri Fateyev; Vladimir Malakhov; and Alexei Ratmansky. Skye joined Festival Ballet Theatre in 2012 and has since performed principal, soloist, and corps de ballet roles in The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Giselle, and Emmy Award-winning Robert Sund’s Alice in Wonderland among other ballets, and has originated roles in works by exceptional choreographers Lillian Barbeito of Bodytraffic, Andrea Schermoly, Tong Wang, and Josie Walsh. Skye graduated from University of California, Irvine with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Dance Performance. In 2016, she received the prestigious merit-based William J. Gillespie Foundation Scholarship for her outstanding efforts in classical ballet at UCI as well as an award for excellence in dance performance. Skye is also an avid photographer and photographs for the Laguna Dance Festival, FBT, and UCI, where her work is often used for major marketing campaigns.
Cameron Schwanz began his ballet training at age eight and continued his studies with the National Ballet School of Canada and the Houston Ballet Academy. In 2005, he joined Texas Ballet Theater, working with Director Ben Stevenson. In 2007, he began dancing with several companies in Southern California, including Ballet Pacifica/Festival Ballet Theater and Los Angeles Ballet. These experiences led him to dance with Ballet San Jose from 2009 to 2011. Cameron’s repertoire includes Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, Swan Lake, La Sylphide, Gaite Parisian and Carmen. He has danced several Balanchine ballets including Violin Concerto, Square Dance, Prodigal Son, and Agon.
Evan Swenson, a California native, began dancing and performing at the age of seven. He completed his professional training at the Houston Ballet Academy, while at the same time being given the opportunity to work with the company. Evan then joined Atlanta Ballet in 2004 and NY Theater Ballet in 2007. While in New York, he began free lancing around the city and along the East Coast. In 2008, Evan moved to Los Angeles where he has continued to freelance, working both in concert and commercial dance. He currently works with several different companies and schools throughout the greater Southern California area. Evan has been a model on the SyFy show, FaceOff for five seasons, is featured as the character Dillon in Barbie in the Pink Shoes, as well as working with Coldplay on their True Love music video. In 2011 and 2013 he instructed and toured with Long Beach Ballet, assisting with the ‘Ambassadors to China’ summer program. Throughout his career Evan has had the opportunity to work with choreographers such as; Ben Stevenson, Stanton Welch, Trey McIntyre, Michael Pink, Christopher Hampson, Nicolas Blanc, Norbert de la Cruz III, Philip Neal, Tom Gold, Lila York and many more.
Tiffany Yamasaki started her training at Southland Ballet Academy at the age of six. She became a member of FBTII in 2007 and a FBT company member in 2010. Tiffany has participated in many competitions and has performed with Festival Ballet Theatre as a soloist and in corps roles in The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty, and Giselle. Tiffany currently attends CSU Long Beach and is working towards majors in dance and kinesiology.
Megan Yamashita attends University of Southern California. She has been at Southland Ballet Academy, under the direction of Salwa Rizkalla, since the age of three. Some of her accomplishments include garnering 2nd place in the Junior Division at the 2007 YAGP International Competition in Faenza, Italy; Semifinalist in classical as well as nonclassical dance at the 2008 Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards, with honorable mention in classical dance. Yamashita is also a grand prize winner of 2008 Orange County Performing Arts Center’s “Tomorrow’s Stars at the Center” in classical dance discipline.