Ballet Bound

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By April Wright, Reporter

It was one of the most important events of Tino Sauter's life, and he was about to miss it.

On Jan. 17, Tino, his dad Bob and brother Jaisen — all of Galax — headed to Charlotte, N.C., where the 15-year-old ballet dancer was to audition for the prestigious Joffrey Ballet of New York City.

But when their car broke down a mile away from the audition venue and only a few minutes before he was to perform, Tino thought he would never make it.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I was going to miss it,” he thought.

Tino grabbed his dance bag, and they started walking.

When Tino and his family ended up in front of the venue, the parking lot was empty.

He thought he was too late, but instead, he was relieved to find out he was the first one there.

During audition, a nervous Tino — the only boy in attendance — was the only one called to the front of the class by the audition judge to perform a routine. He was shaking as he performed technical jumps and turns.

“I nailed it,” he said. “But then, when the judge told me I was free to go and told the girls to put their shoes on, I had my doubts that I made it.”

Two weeks later, Tino — a student at Galax's Conservatory of Dance & Theatre — got the call.

He was accepted.

“I'm just touched that they picked me,” he said of the Joffrey Ballet, which only accepts 130 students. “I'm excited I will be dancing with premier ballet students.”

Tino will leave for the Joffrey Ballet on July 8 to train intensively at the four-week summer program, costing $3,200 for tuition, room and board — and not including other expenses.

A letter Tino received just two weeks ago notified him that meals weren't included in the tuition fee, either.

Just a few short days before Tino heads off, he and his family are selling day lilies and hostas at the Galax Farmers' Market and taking orders to raise $1,000 for his meals.

As of Friday, he still had quite a way to go.

In New York, Tino will be located near 5th Avenue, one of the richest parts of the city.

“Just a subway pass was $90, and food can be pretty expensive there,” he said. “So we're trying to raise as much as possible.”

Barbara Johnson, the founder of the Conservatory of Dance & Theatre, has also been preparing Tino for his journey.

“Mrs. Barbara has been making sure I get as much out of it as possible, and it wouldn't be possible without her,” he said.

While at Joffrey, Tino will intensively study ballet technique, modern and jazz dance, yoga, improv and acting for dancers. At the end of the program, Joffrey students will perform excerpts of ballets.

Tino is excited about his upcoming adventure, but is becoming a little more nervous each day as the time to leave approaches.

“I'm just a little-town kid going to New York City,” said Tino. “It's kind of scary.”

Tino has only studied dance for about two years, but is ahead of many people that have been dancing their whole lives.

Tino wasn’t even interested in dance at the beginning. He only joined the jazz class because his dad signed him up for it.

But after performing a small role in 2007's “The Nutcracker,” he fell in love with ballet. And the more he danced, the stronger his passion grew, landing him a role in the Conservatory and Galax Theater Guild's co-production of “Cats,” followed by the lead roles in two Conservatory productions — “Nutcracker” last Christmas and “Pirates of Tortuga” this spring.

Now, he can't see his life without dance and can't even go a day without it. He spends at least 15 hours a week in the studio. At home, he rolls the carpet back and uses the piano as his bar, and when he's in the kitchen he breaks out in random dance, holding on to the countertop for balance.

“When I'm at the bar, I can be having the worst day, but as soon as I start doing movement, I have no worry in the world,” he said. “I feel like I can do anything when I dance. I feel like a different person.”

Tino, a rising sophomore at Galax High School, hopes to finish his junior and senior years at North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, but he'll have to audition to get into the boarding school, too.

He also plans to continue intensive training in summer dance programs. Next year, he's already looking at auditioning for the Houston Ballet.

But the ultimate goal, as it is for most serious dancers, is to be accepted at The Julliard School, the prestigious performing arts conservatory in New York City and one of the most difficult to get into. It receives thousands of applications each year, but admits less than 200.

“I know it's out there. It's the top school for a dancer,” said the ambitious Tino. “But it's more than a name. They really teach you, and you learn a lot there.”

After school, Tino plans to pursue ballet professionally.

Tino will provide updates at twitter.com/tinoxdancerx while he is attending Joffrey. He will also blog at tinosauter.blogspot.com each day, telling of his experiences at the program.

Also, see the Conservatory's MySpace at myspace.com/galaxballet for updates.

To order day lilies and hostas, e-mail rlsauter@yahoo.com, or pick some up at the Galax Farmers' Market on July 3 and 4.  Plants are $6 each or three for $15.

All repeat blooming.

Plants include aztec gold, Chinese scholar, dragon lore, eenie weenie (dwarf), cranberry baby, black eyed stella oro, tiny pumpkin, little business and albomarginata hosta.