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.
Alexander Fost competed as a young dancer and was awarded Mr. Dance USA (2006), and Mr. Dance International (2007) in Tokyo, Japan. After high school, Alexander focused on classical training, was recognized as one of the Top 10 Finalists in International Youth America Grand Prix (2008). Since his early successes, Alexander has been dancing ballet professionally on a national scale. Aside from live theater and ballet, he has also appeared as an actor and dancer on multiple TV shows on Disney and ABC. He was also a finalist on the eighth season of FOX’s hit dance show So You Think You Can Dance. Alexander is now teaching and choreographing in addition to dancing.
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 joined the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and was awarded the William J. Gillespie Scholarship for Ballet Studies. He has performed in many classical ballets such as Don Quixote, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadère, Valse Fantaisie, and The Nutcracker. Greyson has also performed in other contemporary works, such as “The Secret Garden,” Choreographed by Josie Walsh, and “Alice in Wonderland,” Choreographed by Robert Sund.
Olivia Harrigan began her ballet training at the age of three at Southland Ballet Academy, under the guidance of Salwa Rizkalla. She has performed in numerous Festival Ballet Theatre ballets including Giselle, Coppélia, Don Quixote, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and various mixed repertoire pieces. Ms. Harrigan is currently attending California State University, Long Beach as a health science major. She is an intern at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Long Beach and has her EMT license. She is the public health chair for The Flying Samaritans, a club that sets up a health clinic every month in Valle de las Palmas, Mexico to help the underserved communities. She aspires to become a pathologist.
Joseph Hetzer is a California native who started his classical training at South Bay Ballet in 2012. He went on to attend the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and USC Marshall School of Business, to further develop his artistic and administrative ambitions. While in school, he has been mentored by William Forsythe, Desmond Richardson, Zippora Karz, and a number of other notable individuals who have helped strengthen his technique and artistry. He has further trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School, Jacobs Pillow Ballet Program, Joffrey Ballet Chicago, and the Art-of programs. He prides himself on his work ethic, ability to learn choreography fast, and professional attitude inside and outside of the studio. Joseph is very honored to participate in this year’s Nutcracker and wishes everyone a happy holiday season.
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.
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.