“No one was asking me to change how I was dancing, just asking me to let go and be more free. That’s what I loved,” Renee Castonguay, a member of Cincinnati Ballet’s newly formed Professional Training Division, said referring to her Summer Intensive experience.
Castonguay, originally from Huntington Beach, CA, joins students from around the country to train in Cincinnati Ballet’s new program, aimed at preparing students for their professional dance careers, and providing professional performance opportunities.
She began her training at Southland Ballet Academy in Fountain Valley, CA, a suburb of Huntington Beach, at the young age of five after her neighbor began taking classes.
“I looked up to her so much,” Castonguay said. “Although, at first, I did it more for the outfit. I just liked having fun.”
However, that quickly changed as she began to grow and evolve in her dance training. Particularly when it came time to prepare for pointe training.
“I fell in love with ballet more at that point. I was obsessed with pointe,” Castonguay said. “I didn’t want to just do it for fun anymore; I wanted to do it seriously.”Castonguay began training with an increased focus and even began participating in competitions, like Youth America Grand Prix, at 13 years old.
Halfway through her sophomore year of high school, that intense focus prompted her to say goodbye to traditional schooling and instead opt for homeschooling, in order to get the most out of her training.
“I knew what I wanted to do – to become a professional dancer,” Castonguay said, when asked if she was nervous to forgo traditional schooling. “I had to make that sacrifice.”
This focus also led her to begin researching ballet companies across the country and their respective Summer Intensive programs.
Having been a long-time fan and admirer of Cincinnati Ballet and their repertoire, Castonguay began delving more into what their Summer Intensive could offer her.
After training exclusively in the very strict, Russian Vaganova style, the foundation of Cincinnati Ballet’s summer program felt ideal for Castonguay to improve and perfect her technique.
However, it was the unfamiliar that really pushed Castonguay into the Cincinnati Ballet world.
“I saw Cincinnati Ballet’s website and saw we trained in the same method, which was familiar and good,” Castonguay said. “But I saw that we’d be studying some Balanchine and other styles during the summer. It was much freer.”
According to Castonguay, Vaganova-style does not allow for any improvisation from traditional and set rules in the world of ballet. Whereas the more American technical styles operate in a more fluid and free manner, allowing for some individual differences. Which she found incredibly appealing.
She ultimately decided on Cincinnati Ballet’s Summer Intensive program for the 2016-2017 Season and quickly fell in love with the range of choreographic and technical styles, as well as the ability to participate in an array of classes from ballet technique to choreography to yoga.
“This is good for keeping my foundation but adding that little bit of ‘freeness’,” Castonguay said. “No one was asking me to change how I danced, they’re just asking me to let go.”
After the first week of the summer program, this is where she knew she wanted to dance.
As luck would have it, Cincinnati Ballet invited her to participate in the inaugural year of their Professional Training Division program.
Castonguay leapt at the opportunity to join the PTD program at Cincinnati Ballet, knowing it would put her on the professional path she has been preparing for since she was young.
“This program is the perfect transition from student to professional,” Castonguay said. “Which is exactly what I feel I need at this point in my life.”
Castonguay knew she had to leave California to explore more opportunities, knowing that her options were limited if she stayed.
“I knew I couldn’t stay in California forever and there really aren’t any companies there except for San Francisco Ballet,” Castonguay said. “Which realistically I’m not ready for something that big.”
Castonguay said she is excited for the upcoming year in the program and wants to continue to grow, strengthen, and continue to improve. In fact, she has already learned and improved so much from the Summer Intensive and her few short weeks in the PTD program thus far.
“I just want to get stronger and I want to work on something different every day,” Castonguay said. “And not to obsess too much over tiny, little mistakes because I’m not going to be perfect.”
Enjoying the little moments and remaining in the present are some things Castonguay is trying to focus on during her time at Cincinnati Ballet.
“I want to be focused and present and dance in the moment,” Castonguay said. “This career is so short you have to be in the moment.”
Castonguay hopes to transfer all she’s learning and experiencing as an initial member of the Professional Training Division program, into her eventual career as a professional dancer, possibly even with Cincinnati Ballet.
“I would LOVE to be part of the company at Cincinnati Ballet,” Castonguay said. “I just admire their company so much and would be so honored to be part of it.”
Castonguay is well on her way and is even getting to live out some of her dance fantasies. As part of her training at Cincinnati Ballet, she has had the opportunity to train with former Cincinnati Ballet dancers as well as an array of renowned choreographers, including former Cincinnati Ballet Resident Choreographer Adam Hougland.
“The choreography was so cool and so different,” Castonguay said. “I didn’t want him to stop, I just wanted him to keep adding on and adding on!”
Castonguay has also had the opportunity to learn the Odette Variation from Swan Lake, an extremely controlled, slow, and quiet variation in which the dancer is acting out the White Swan.
“It’s a religious experience to dance [the Odette Variation],” Castonguay said. “It is so meaningful.”
Castonguay is looking forward to her time with the Professional Training Division, the things she will learn and experience, and the friendships she will continue to forge. In her spare time, she is an avid traveler, as well as an amateur cook and baker.
“This is my first year with Cincinnati Ballet,” Castonguay said. “And I am so honored to be part of the Professional Training Division!”