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A Dinner Conversation with Franco De Vita and Raymond Lukens of ABT's JKO School of Ballet
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A Dinner Conversation with Franco De Vita and Raymond Lukens of ABT's JKO School of Ballet

- Offstage with the Dancers: Arts and Education

San Domenico NY
Tony May's
San Domenico NY

240 Central Park South
(59th St. & Broadway)
New York City, NY 10019


American Ballet Theatre
The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School
(ABT/JKO School Website)

A Conversation with
Franco De Vita, JKO School Principal
Raymond Lukens, Artistic Assoc., ABT/NYU Masters Program

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 22, 2008

(See ABT’s National Training Curriculum Launch)
(See Candids at ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School)

I was joined tonight at the renowned Italian restaurant, Tony May’s San Domenico NY, across Central Park and Columbus Circle (212.265.5959), by Raymond Lukens and Franco De Vita, of American Ballet Theatre’s JKO School of Ballet and ABT’s National Training Curriculum and ABT’s Masters Program at NYU.

We dined on hot soup with fine herbs, and Piero poured Vernaccia di San Gimignano white wine (Raymond and Franco had traveled to San Gimignano in Italy, and the wine was well received). As an appetizer, Raymond chose one of Chef Odette Fada’s Uovo in Raviolo, and Franco and I chose Insalata arugula, tomatoes, and parmigiano. Raymond then dined on Fillet of Chilean Sea Bass, Franco chose the special Risotto of the day, and I chose my favorite Raviolini Caprese (in the style of Capri). After this fine and elegant dinner, we did not plan on dessert, but Piero surprised us with a Tiramisu and cookies to share. The cappuccino and espresso were hot, strong, and authentically Italian.

Our conversation follows:

REZ – Raymond, please tell me something of your background.

RL – I’m from Manhattan and went to St. Luke’s School in the Village and The High School of Music and Art, where I studied painting and sculpture. I also studied dramatic arts at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. My main ballet teachers were Richard Thomas and Barbara Fallis and I also got a scholarship for ABT when it was on 57th Street. I was invited to become a Harkness Ballet trainee. I then toured Europe with The American Classical Company (also called The Niagara Frontier Ballet); that was in 1970-71. While in Europe I was invited to join Le Ballet Royale de Wallonie. I stayed in Europe dancing and then teaching 26 years. When I retired from dancing I was living in Florence, where I danced with The Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Florentine Opera House.

REZ – Franco, is that where you met Raymond?

FDV – No, I met Raymond in Belgium in 1971, when I was with Le Ballet Royale de Wallonie. We were both dancing with the Belgian company. I performed in many ballets, such as Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, The Sleeping Beauty, and also in many contemporary ballets. My teacher was Hannah Voos, Director and founder of Le Ballet Royale de Wallonie. Raymond and I then lived in Germany, France, and Italy. In Italy we took over a studio in Florence, The Hamlyn School of Dance, which we directed for 14 years.

RL - Then Kirk Peterson invited us to join Hartford Ballet in Connecticut, where I was Ballet Master and Franco faculty member of the school. Later ABT Artistic Director, Kevin McKenzie, upon a recommendation of Georgina Parkinson, asked me to teach company class for ABT. In New York I also taught for the Juilliard School, Alvin Ailey, and Peridance. At the same time, I was working as a freelance ballet master and staged ballets by Kirk Peterson and Stanton Welch for a few US companies. Franco became a teacher for the Ailey School. We then moved to Boston Ballet at the invitation of Mikko Nissinen, Franco as Dean of Faculty and Curriculum of the Boston Ballet School and me, as Director of Boston Ballet II and Ballet Master for Boston Ballet.

While we were working in Boston, John Meehan asked Franco to teach the ABT Studio Company and the new school being created, The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. Kevin McKenzie observed Franco’s classes and asked him to teach the company and then offered him the position of Principal of the JKO School. I was brought into ABT to teach at JKO School. A year later we proposed a Masters Degree in ABT ballet pedagogy to NYU and they accepted. I created the ballet syllabi for the new Masters Program. And finally under the direction of Kevin McKenzie and in collaboration with ABT’s artistic staff and a medical advisory board we designed and authored ABT’s National Training Curriculum.

REZ – Tell me about the upcoming student Spring Performance for the JKO/ABT School of Ballet. (WATCH FOR UPCOMING REVIEW).

FDV - On March 22 at the Alvin Ailey Citicorp Theater, to honor the Centennial of Tudor, we will perform his Little Improvisations, staged by Amanda McKerrow; also ABT II will perform Tudor’s Continuo, staged by Donald Mahler. And I say with pride that 5 of the 6 ABT II dancers are JKO alumni. The program will also include the Act I pas de trios from Kevin McKenzie’s Swan Lake, a variation from Flower Festival in Genzano for David Alvarez, both the above staged by Kirk Peterson, Renaissance Suite, a world premier, choreographed by Kirk Peterson, the friends’ dance from Coppélia Act I, choreographed by Frederic Franklin and staged by Lupe Serrano, Inspired by…, choreographed by Jessica Lang, Raymond’s Grieg, a world premier, and Primo Duetto.

REZ – How old are the students, who will perform?

RL – They range from 12 to18 years of age, and all 45 students will perform as well as 6 ABT II dancers.

REZ – What else do you two have planned in the coming months?

RL – Besides teaching, at this moment we are still traveling judging for the ballet competition YAGP (Youth America Grand Prix), going to Japan, Mexico, Long Beach California, Italy, Chicago, Philadelphia and Torrington, CT. We are looking for talented students to continue on to the New York City Finals in April; and we have many, many other projects.

REZ – What is your biggest joy in working with ballet students?

RL – Seeing them grow, develop and realize their potential. It’s exciting to work with talented, musical, young dancers who have a natural feeling for performing. Also, we are looking forward to working with the students who will be doing the new ABT/NYU Masters Program. We are excited to teach the ABT National Training Curriculum to the ABT alumni in the next few weeks. There will be 60 attending this special course in New York City. Later the ABT National Training Curriculum will be taught to teachers wishing to learn it. We are confident that the ABT National Training Curriculum will help teachers prepare students in a safe and healthy way. All ballet students deserve the best and safest training possible. The Training Guidelines are designed with age and developmentally appropriate goals and milestones and the Guidelines for Dancer Health are an invaluable resource of information. At ABT, we want the learning experience to be a positive one for all young dance students. Teaching children is indeed a beautiful thing.

REZ – You certainly are both lucky to have work that you love and to be working together on these common programs and projects. ABT is lucky to have you both. Meanwhile, it’s time for more espresso. Thank you both so much for joining me tonight.

Hot Soup with Fine Herbs
Photo Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Piero Serves Vernaccia di San Gimignano Wine
Photo Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Raymond's Uovo in Raviolo
with Soft Egg Yolk and Truffled Butter
Photo Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Arugula, Tomatoes, and Parmigiano
Photo Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Roberta's Raviolini Caprese with Caciotta Cheese
and Tomato Sauce
Photo Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Raymond's Fillet of Chilean Sea Bass in
Tomato-Zucchini Broth with Couscous
Photo Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Franco's Risotto with Savoy Cabbage and Cumin
Photo Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Franco, Roberta, Raymond
Photo Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Franco and the San Domenico Wait Staff
Photo Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Surprise Tiramisu
Photo Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Raymond Lukens and Franco De Vita
Photo Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at