Interim Director &
Children's Division Principal Teacher
Sarah Jones began her ballet training under the direction of Heidy Ballance at a very young age. At sixteen she began her apprenticeship with the California Ballet Company and was promoted to Corps de Ballet shortly after. Ms. Jones performed in many full-length classic ballets including Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, and Coppélia. She had a featured role in Wayne Davis’ Souvenir de Florence, performed as a Guest Artist in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in Juneau, Alaska, and danced the Swan Lake Pas de Trois as her final performance.
Since leaving the stage, Ms. Jones has been able to devote more time to her true passion of teaching. She graduated from New York University, earning a Master of Arts in Dance Education, with an emphasis on the American Ballet Theatre Pedagogy. She is certified in American Ballet Theatre's National Training Curriculum in Pre-Primary through Level 7, and recently joined the ABT NTC Student Board of Examiners. Ms. Jones has served as the Children’s Ballet Mistress for ABT’s Nutcracker since 2016 and currently holds the title of Principal Teacher and Coordinator for the Children’s Division at the ABT Gillespie School at Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Zach began seriously training when he was accepted into the Academy for the Performing Arts in Huntington Beach, where he focused primarily on modern and ballet technique, and competed in the Youth American Grand Prix and New Prague Dance Festival. After graduating high school, he joined a semi-professional dance company based in Los Angeles, where he gained more performance experience in a professional environment. In college he studied Kinesiology and Dance at Orange Coast College, where he was awarded a scholarship for student choreography. He joined UC Irvine’s inaugural Certificate in Arts Management program in Winter 2017, which ignited his passion for Arts Administration & Management. In Fall of 2019 he graduated OCC with his AA in Dance, and transferred to the University of Massachusetts, where he graduated in Spring 2021 with his BA in Arts Management.
Zach has worked in the arts since 2014, first as Assistant to the Artistic Director of the HB APA program, then as Assistant Director of the APA Kids summer program for over 6 years. In 2018 he began touring with Kids Artistic Revue, where he was promoted to Lead Stage Manager and Social Media Coordinator.
Zach joined the ABT Gillespie School in Fall 2021, and has been dedicated to facilitating enriching and exciting dance opportunities for its students.
Pre-Professional Division Principal Teacher
Kenneth Easter trained and performed with San Francisco Ballet and the Boston Ballet early in his career. He was a principal dancer with Miami City Ballet prior to joining ABT in 2003. His repertory with the Company include a Step-Sister in Frederick Ashton's Cinderella, Bottom in The Dream, the Young Soldier and the Old Soldier in The Green Table, Mother Ginger in Alexei Ratmansky's The Nutcracker, Puss-in-Boots and a Fairy Knight in The Sleeping Beauty, Trinculo in The Tempest and roles in Black Tuesday, Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, Sechs Tänze, Siinfonietta, Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison and workwinthinwork. He was featured in two ABT film projects, Swan Lake and Don Quixote and appeared in the movie Black Swan with Natalie Portman. Easter guest teaches throughout the world and has been a guest instructor for ABT’s Summer Program. Easter recently retired from ABT after dancing with the company for 13 years. During that time, he appeared in nearly every ballet in the company’s repertory. Easter has been the Children's Ballet Master for ABT's The Nutcracker since 2016 and has also served as the Children's Ballet Master for ABT's productions of Whipped Cream and Harlequinade. He is certified in the ABT National Training Curriculum.
Kelly Alvarez is a native of Los Angeles and received her early ballet training from Rei Aoo, Monica Carnewal, and Sallie Whalen. She later continued her studies at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia under the tutelage of Scott Jovovich, Eva Szabo, Andrew Pap, and Suzanne Slenn. During her time at UArts, Alvarez also fell in love with modern dance and has since performed many modern and contemporary works throughout the U.S. She received a Master of Fine Arts in Dance from The University of California, Irvine, where she was the proud recipient of the Medici Scholar Award, The Elizabeth and Thomas Tierney Scholarship, and The Claire Trevor School of the Arts Travel and Research Grant.
As a choreographer, Alvarez's work has been presented at numerous festivals and venues throughout the country. An avid teacher since 1996, she has taught dance and Pilates throughout the U.S. and was an on-set Pilates instructor to Michael Jackson's dancers in preparation for the famed "This Is It" world tour. She has taught at Loyola Marymount University, Cypress College, and The University California, Irvine and The Edge. Alvarez is certified in the ABT® National Training Curriculum
Jenny Asseff began her professional dance career with the California Ballet Company (CBC) in 2001. During her decade-long tenure with the company, she performed in a diverse array of roles and received Dancer of the Year honors for the 2005-06 season. Since then she has taught students of all ages and experience levels, ranging from young children to adult enthusiasts to professionals. She was a faculty member with the CBC and the California Ballet School, Golden State Ballet (GSB) and the GSB Academy as well as at local studios around Southern California. In addition, she has taught ballet to military family members at the US Naval Station Yokosuka, Japan and most recently, she served as rehearsal director for the GSB’s inaugural production of The Nutcracker.
Jenny has presented her original works in multiple productions, including CBC’s Beyond the Barre and Beer & Ballet; Performing Arts Workshop’s Shared Spaces; PGK Dance Project’s The San Diego Dance Showcase; and the premiere of Devil's Trill and Surreality in Tokyo, Japan. In 2020 Jenny co-founded the project group Ballet Collective SD to provide a platform for artistic expression and exploration for local artists during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the Collective she co-produced two productions in 2021: Open Notes and Reconnect. She holds a B.A. in Dance from Catholic University of Daegu, South Korea and is certified in the American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum through Level 7 and in Progressing Ballet Technique (PBT).
Amanda Cobb began as a gymnast attending the Junior Olympics for floor and beam. She started ballet training at age 12 under Mary-Beth Cabana at Ballet Tucson in Tucson, Arizona. Summers were spent at the School of American Ballet, Gus Giordano, and in France with Alexandra Wells. At 15, she moved to New York on a special full scholarship to study with Alvin Ailey. Cobb returned to Arizona to continue her education at the University of Arizona, receiving her B.F.A., focusing on Dance and Exercise Science.
Cobb’s professional dance career spanned over twenty years. She was a principal with Ohio Ballet, and Ballet Tucson before appearing with American Ballet Theatre where she toured nationally and internationally performing in some of the most prestigious theatres. She later joined The Washington Ballet. Some of her principal roles included Kick Girl in Balanchine’s Rubies, Choleric in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, Partisan Woman in Jooss’s The Green Table, Leto in Balanchine’s Apollo, Queen in ABT’s Swan Lake, Juliet in Jörgen’s Romeo and Juliet, The Chosen One in Aiello’s Rite of Spring, and featured in the ABT film of Swan Lake. Cobb danced the ABT classical repertory and worked with or performed works by many legendary choreographers, including Makarova, Agnes De Mille, Anthony Tudor, Kevin McKenzie, Petipa, Michael Fokine, Balanchine, Lar Lubovitch, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Gelsey Kirkland, Twyla Tharp, Choo San Goh, Mark Morris, Nicole Fonte, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, Anna-Marie Holmes, Kurt Jooss, Frederic Franklin, Christopher Wheeldon, Cynthia Gregory, Wayne Eagling, Annemarie DeAngelo, and more. In addition to an impressive professional career, Cobb has taught ballet, dance, GYROTONIC® and Pilates since 1997. She is also certified in the ABT National Training Curriculum, is on faculty for ABT's summer intensives, and has been on faculty at the ABT Gillespie school since 2015.
Anh Dillon began her classical ballet education at the Conservatoire Niedermeyer in Paris, France. Continuing in Brussels, Belgium, she had the great opportunity to train under Nicole Karys, a former dancer with Maurice Bejart's Ballet du XXième Siècle, and Menia Marinez of the Cuban National Ballet and Ballet du XXième Siècle. She later expanded her training to contemporary dance forms, giving her the versatility to professionally join contemporary ballet and contemporary jazz companies as a Soloist and Principal dancer. Dillon is the recipient of a Lester Horton Award for best performance.
Dillon's teaching experience spans over two decades. She has been a teacher for the Joffrey Ballet School summer intensives and audition tours since 2013. She has taught at Loyola Marymount University, The EDGE PAC, and travels worldwide for masterclasses. She is certified in the American Ballet Theatre's Training Curriculum through Level 7.
Brendali Espiritu began dance at age 4. As a pre-professional scholarship student at the School of American Ballet, she danced the principal role in George Balanchine’s Gounod Symphony, staged by Suzanne Farrell. Soon after, she received a corps contract with the American Ballet Theatre, where she performed corps and soloist roles in the ABT classical and mixed repertory. Ms. Espiritu worked with or was choreographed on by Agnes De Mille, Rudolph Nureyev, Kevin McKenzie, Natalia Makarova, Gelsey Kirkland, Freddie Franklin, Glen Tetley, Lar Lubovich, Rob Marshall, among many others. She has choreographed, danced and/or acted in international galas, opera, commercials, music videos, and movies. She appeared in the ABT documentary Ballet, by Fredrick Wiseman. For over 2 decades, she taught classical Pilates and was certified by Joseph Pilates’ protégé, Romana Kryzanowaska. She appeared in dozens of Winsor Pilates workouts as well features in Glamour, Shape, Fit magazines and Discount Dance ads. She served as ambassador and consultant for Bloch dance shoes. By invitation, she teaches master classes and guest performs ballroom and adagio dance. Espiritu is certified in the ABT National Training Curriculum and is on faculty for the pre-professional division of the ABT Gillespie School and the ABT Summer Intensive.
Melanie Hawkes Seeley is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. She attended intensive summer programs with American Ballet Theatre, Ballet West, Princeton Ballet, Contra Costa Ballet, and Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. After completing a B.F.A. in Ballet at The University of Utah, she danced professionally with Columbia City Ballet, Ballet Tucson, The Montgomery Ballet, and the Mark Foehringer Dance Project/SF. She earned an M.F.A. in Dance in 2014 from University of California, Irvine on a full-tuition scholarship. Her research focused on updating the Swan Lake for the digital age audience using current digital technologies. She then spent a year as visiting faculty at BYU-Idaho’s Department of Theatre and Dance. She has extensive experience over the past two decades teaching, choreographing, re-staging, and directing. Her choreography has been presented at Bay Area Dance Week, the Laguna Dance Festival, internationally with Eastern Artists, and in student showcases. She began working for the ABT William J. Gillespie school in the spring of its first year. In addition to teaching technique and pointe, Melanie has also created and taught a unique course on dance and film for ABT Gillespie students to fully produce their own short dance films during quarantine. She is certified in the ABT National Training Curriculum.
Kelly Leonardi trained with Joffrey Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and Ballet West. She was a Principal Dancer at Hartford Ballet under the direction of Kirk Peterson and worked with Raymond Lukens and Franco De Vita, co-creators of the ABT National Training Curriculum, along with the world-renown Alla Osipenko. Her repertoire included ballets such as Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, La Sylphide, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, Raymonda, Coppelia, La Fille mal Garde, Firebird and A Midsummers Night Dream, including works staged by Peterson, Osipenko, and David Allan along with many ballet’s by George Balanchine, Anthony Tudor, Choo San Goh, Nijinsky, and Martha Grahm. Choreographers such as Kirk Peterson, Jean Grand Maitre, Rick McCullough, Robert Sund, and Graham Lustig have also created several original roles on her. Leonardi has been a guest artist in ballets, competitions, musicals, and operas in the United States and abroad and has worked as a ballet mistress, coach, and director, staging such ballets as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. Leonardi is certified in the ABT National Training Curriculum, NCPT, ACE, and the Ki-Hara stretching technique. She has been a certified Pilates instructor for over 30 years and is the owner of Blue Moon Pilates & Wellness, named Balanced Body’s Southern California flagship studio for Pilates education located in Mission Viejo. Kelly is a Master Instructor for Balanced Body education training the next generation of instructors and has been with the American Ballet Theatre William J Gillespie School teaching the Upper and Children’s Division since its opening in 2015.
Shannon Overley studied classical ballet at Long Beach Ballet Arts Center and continued at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School. She has performed roles in ballets such as Swan Lake, Coppelia, and The Nutcracker, as well as Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, Western Symphony and Raymonda. Overley has choreographed at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, with high school dance teams, solos for the national Young Americans Grand Prix [YAGP] dance competition as well as pieces appearing at Regional Dance America.
Shannon has over 20 years of teaching experience. She was certified in ABT’s National Training Curriculum in 2012 for primary ballet and Levels 1-3. She continued her certification for Levels 4 and 5 in 2013. Shannon had the pleasure of teaching for ABT’s Young Dancer summer program in Orange County in 2015. That same year Shannon joined the faculty of the ABT William J. Gillespie School for its inaugural season. It has been her privilege to work with the students here at the school and assist in ushering in the next generation of well trained, expressive, and joyful dancers to the stage.
Mindy Ramirez began her early training with Lois Ellyn of the New York City Ballet and continued her training with Lori Eckenweiler, Janek Schergen, Tanya Durbin and Alaine Haubert. She went on to dance, perform, and graduate from the Orange County High School of the Arts Classical Contemporary Dance Department under the direction of Sophie Monat.
Ramirez attended summer intensives at San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Joffrey Ballet, Ballet Pacifica, and Ballet Austin. She has performed in The Glory of Christmas at The Crystal Cathedral and danced with the Los Angeles Classical Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet, and Nouveau Chamber Ballet. She started teaching in 2010 and is certified in the ABT National Training Curriculum.
Chloe Saalsaa is originally from Sacramento, CA. She trained at Deane Dance Center under Barbara Crockett and Allyson Deane, former dancers with San Francisco Ballet. Saalsaa attended summer programs with Sacramento Ballet, Lines Ballet, and Joffrey Ballet on full scholarships. In 2017, Saalsaa graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Performance from the University of California, Irvine. At UCI, Saalsaa expanded her technical training in ballet, modern, jazz, and Pilates from numerous professors including Diane Diefenderfer, Molly Lynch, Tong Wang, Sheron Wray, and Lar Lubovitch. Saalsaa is certified in the American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum in Pre Primary through Level 5, and attended Boston Ballet's Adaptive Dance Teacher Training.
In addition to teaching, Saalsaa also manages Segerstrom Center's Studio D: Arts School for All Abilities.
Modern Technique Faculty
Rachel Berman has had a diverse career in all aspects of the field of dance. Originally from Hawaii, she trained at the San Francisco Ballet School, and discovered modern dance in College. She performed with Ballet Hispanico, May O’Donnell, The American Repertory Dance Company, the Joyce Trisler Danscompany, and the hula companies of Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu and Pua Aliʻi ʻIlima O Nuioka. The bulk of her career was a decade performing principal roles with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, appearing in numerous television productions, and featured in the Academy Award nominated documentary DANCEMAKER about the company. Ms. Berman stages Mr. Taylor's work around the country and has taught Modern, Ballet and Hula around the world.
She has served as Associate Producer for Dancers Responding to AIDS, Company Manager for Company C Contemporary Ballet, Development Officer for the Taylor Company, and Programs Manager for Dance/NYC. Ms. Berman has been on faculty at several universities and is currently the chair of the Orange Coast College dance department. She holds a BFA from Purchase College and an MFA from Hollins University, is certified in Pre-Primary through Level 5 of the ABT ® National Training Curriculum and a 200-Hour Certified Yoga instructor.
Rochelle Mapes earned a Master of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance, both from Cal State University, Long Beach. She is currently the Director of Dance at Mater Dei High School and was previously on faculty at the Orange County School of the Arts where she was a Facilitator for the Commercial Dance Conservatory teaching contemporary, jazz, and dance history. Professional commercial credits include dancing on the FX show “Nip/Tuck” and performing with Gladys Knight and Wayne Brady. She has danced with several contemporary and jazz companies, notably, BARE Dance Company under the direction of Mike Esperanza and RhetOracle Dance Company with Nate Hodges. Rochelle also performed with several regional modern companies including Bodytalk Dance and Benita Bike’s DanceArt Company. Her diverse choreography has been presented on the professional concert stage, in college dance departments, studios, and extensively with competitive high school dance teams. As a master class teacher, she has taught for the Dizzy Feet Foundation's National Dance Day, Dance aTAK convention, United Spirit Association, KAR convention, numerous studios/schools, and she was a member of the USA Dance Staff for 17 years. In addition, she judges for UDA College Nationals, USA Dance, USA Japan Nationals, and the Dance Worlds.
Body Conditioning Faculty
Alicia Head has been teaching ballet, Pilates, and the GYROTONIC® Method for 25 years. Ms. Head is the creator of the Inner Life of Ballet™, which specializes in applying the principles of mind-body exercise to classical ballet technique. Her approach allows dancers to learn more about themselves and use that knowledge to prevent injuries, improve technique and enhance artistry. Alicia received her early dance training at the American School of Dance in Hollywood, CA with Sallie Whalen and went on to train at the Stanley Holden Dance Center, where her teachers included Mr. Holden and Margaret Hills. She also trained at the Academy of Ballet in San Francisco, CA under the direction of Richard Gibson and Zory Karah. Other influential teachers include Colleen O'Callaghan, Lorin Johnson, Diane Lauridsen, and Mario Nugara. Guest teaching engagements have included the LINES summer intensive in San Francisco, and the American Ballet Theatre summer intensives in Orange County. Her former students include members of American Ballet Theatre, Louisville Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet, Oklahoma Ballet, Los Angeles Ballet, and Ballet Austin
Victoria Leonard-Blakley began ballet training at age 6 in Phoenix, AZ. She has performed with Ballet West, Ballet USIU, Ballet Pacifica, Ballet Guadalajara and Long Beach Ballet. Miss Victoria received her teaching certificate from the Cecchetti Council of America in 1977, and has taught ballet, dance conditioning, kinesiology and modern dance in the United States and Mexico. She holds a BFA from the United States International University and an MFA in dance pedagogy from UC Irvine. She studied Pilates throughout the 1980’s and 90’s with Diane Defenderfer and Rael Isacowitz and earned her BASI Pilates certification in 1999. In 2000 Victoria was selected as an ambassador to Russia and had the joyful experience of studying the dance schools in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. Victoria is also a certified pre-trainer of the GYROTONIC method, a graduate of Perfect Form Physiology, Dance Medicine Education Initiative, Pilates Therapeutics Foot Management, Progressing Ballet Technique, ABT National Training Curriculum, and a member in good standing with the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science. In 1998 Ms. Leonard opened Beau Corps Studio in Tustin, CA where she trains dancers, elite athletes and seniors utilizing Pilates and Gyrotonic equipment. She has worked for the ABT Gillespie School since 2015 and is a proud member of the Pas de Deux Guild to support scholarships for those in need.
Character / Historical Dance Faculty
Nina Kolesnikov was born in St. Peterburg, Russia to a family of classical dancers and ballet masters working for the Imperial Russian Ballet, and later for the Kirov Ballet. Kolesnikov trained at the Vaganova Ballet Academy. She began her professional career as a dancer in the Kirov Ballet and Opera Theatre (now the Mariinsky Theatre). During her twenty-year work with the Kirov Ballet, Kolesnikov performed in Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Israel, Holland, Mongolia, and Greece. In 1970, she became the Laureate of the International Youth Festival in Berlin, Germany. The Advanced Degree in Ballet Pedagogy from the Vaganova Ballet Academy allowed her to launch an extensive pedagogical career. She has taught at the Vaganova Ballet Academy and was also invited to teach as a guest instructor to the Dance Academy in Brahant, Netherlands. After moving to the United States in 1992, Kolesnikov worked at the Kintz-Mejia Ballet Academy in Washington D.C. and later trained students and dancers of the Boston Ballet. Mrs. Kolesnikov teaches historical dance classes for the ABT Gillespie School upper level students. Her vast knowledge is much appreciated.
Vladimir Kolesnikov is the Character teacher for the ABT Gillespie School. He was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and trained at the renowned Vaganova Ballet Academy. After joining the Kirov Ballet, Kolesnikov was promoted to Principal Dancer, touring with the company throughout the world. He holds a Master’s degree in ballet pedagogy from the Vaganova. In 1992, Kolesnikov was invited to join the faculty of the Universal Ballet Academy in Washington, DC and then to Boston Ballet, where he taught graduate level classical and character dance. He was on the faculty of Debbie Allen Dance Academy from 2001-2008 and is currently the Artistic Director of the Pacific Coast Academy of Dance in San Clemente. In addition to teaching, Kolesnikov has participated in staging many projects around the U.S., including working as an assistant choreographer to American Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie.
The ABT Gillespie School frequently invites our illustrious Guest Faculty members into the studio to provide supplementary training to our dancers.
These instructors include:
- David Allan - University of California: Irvine, National Ballet of Canada
- Roberto Almaguer - Joffrey Ballet, State Street Ballet, English National Ballet School
- Leslie Carothers - Colburn School of Performing Arts, Joffrey Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet
- Steven Hyde - Orange County School of the Arts, American Ballet Theatre, Royal Winnipeg Ballet
- Lorin Johnson - California State University: Long Beach, American Ballet Theatre
- Marie France Levesque - Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, American Ballet Theatre, Los Angeles Dance Company
- Colleen O'Callaghan - American Ballet Theatre, Orange County School of the Arts, Colburn School of Performing Arts
- Sharon Savoy - Eglevsky Ballet, NJ Ballet, New World Ballet
- Carla Stallings - American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet
Each class at the ABT William J. Gillespie School is accompanied by one of our accomplished musicians.
These accompanists include:
- Kevin Bowers
- Doug Gurwell
- Yoshi Gurwell
- Dieter Jacobs
- Satomi Kanazawa
- Phillip Matsuura
- Eddie Nazarro
- Alla Plotkin
- Eric Ruskin
- Rebecca Wong-Burdett