A Mom En Pointe: ABT’s Karin Ellis-Wentz

How does a dancer with an international company like American Ballet Theatre manage to fit marriage and motherhood into her demanding career?

Just like every working mother, except a little more intensely, according to Karin Ellis-Wentz, 40, who is one of the four cygnets in the company’s upcoming production of “Swan Lake.”

ABT is in residence at the Civic Opera House in Chicago April 14 through 18, and “Swan Lake” is being danced April 15 through 18.

“It’s my 11th season with the company,” said Ellis-Wentz, in a telephone interview. “ABT is based in Manhattan and it’s easy to get there from our (New Jersey) home”.

She’s married to Winnetka native and New Trier High School graduate Kipley Wentz, a theater major at University of Southern California, a composer and member of the family-friendly East Coast band Fuzzy Lemons. They met when he was a performer and sometime street musician in Amsterdam and she was dancing with the Dutch National Ballet.

The couple have two children: son August, three and a half, and daughter Madeleine, just over a year old. ” When August was born the company had a one-month layoff, so I was home with him at first,” Ellis-Wentz said, “My husband works from home, so that was a great help.”

ABT tours about 10 weeks a year and when her son was almost two and she was pregnant for the second time, the company embarked for Paris and London. Her husband brought August along and cared for him during the tour.

For domestic tours she received help from both sides of the family. “I’m from Saratoga, California,” she said, “so when we danced in Los Angeles, My mother took care of August. And when we danced in Detroit, my in-laws from Winnetka came to help.”

The Chicago engagement is no problem. “The whole family will stay with us in Winnetka for the entire week,” said Wentz.

Ellis-Wentz danced throughout both her pregnancies. “I was in a tutu until I was about five and a half months along,” she said. “Then I did character roles, like the mother in ‘Giselle’ and the nurse maid in “Petroucka. The costumes had high waists. The doctor didn’t want me to be en pointe for fear of falling.”

Her daughter was born on a Thursday and she taught an adult ballet class until the Monday before. “The ballet barre was a good gentle workout,” she explained. But don’t even ask how she managed when she was nursing!

In Chicago, in addition to the role of a cygnet in “Swan Lake,” Ellis-Wentz is also dancing the part of an aristocrat, she is the lead czardas dancer, and finally a swan in the fourth act. She will also dance in the April 14 all-American program in Paul Taylor’s “Company B.”

She began ballet lessons when she was five. “My sister was taking classes and my mother brought me along,” she said. “I started watching and doing the moves, so she put me in class too. By the time I was 10  I was taking five classes a week and knew ballet was what I wanted to do.”

Her ballet training included a year in a school in Munich, Germany, followed by a season at the Atlanta Ballet. She then spent seven years at the Dutch National Ballet and four at the Boston Ballet.

Since she joined ABT in 1999 she has danced as Aya in “La Bayadère,”  the Mazurka Lady in “Coppélia,” an Odalisque in “Le Corsaire,” Helena in “The Dream,”  the lead Hungarian dancer in “Raymonda,”  nurse in “Romeo and Juliet,” Silver in “The Sleeping Beauty,” and plus roles in “La Bayadère,”  “Cinderella,”  “Company B,” “Don Quixote,” “The Merry Widow,” “Theme and Variations” and “workwithinwork,”  and others.

“She wanted to dance with ABT, so she started taking classes there,” said her mother-in-law, “and when they saw her, they invited her into the company.”

In July, however, Ellis-Wentz will retire after 23 years. “I’ve already taken the ABT teacher certification,” she said,” which is all about training healthy dancers, and I have been teaching an adult class at the Hoboken YMCA.”

Forty usually marks outer edge of a ballerina’s performing years and that birthday has past. Ellis-Wentz paused, and then added. “It’s time, especially now that we have two children.”

For information on American Ballet Theatre’s 2010 spring program at the Civic Opera House, April 14-18, 2010, visit www.abt.org.

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