Strength and persistence: Three Florence siblings trained in ballet in Holyoke are ascending into the world of dance

  • Liam as Cupid in “Coppelia 2” with East Street Ballet in 2004, age 7.  Photo courtesy of Loran Saito

  • Nolan Saito  Photo courtesy of Loran Saito

  • Liam Saito  Photo courtesy of Loran Saito

  • Nolan Saito in Russian Variation at Massachusetts Academy of Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” in 2013, age 10. Photo courtesy of Loran Saito

  • May Saito in a Massachusetts Academy of Ballet performance at about age 10.  Photo courtesy of Loran Saito

  • Then 5-year-old May Saito was already dreaming of being a professional ballerina.  Photo courtesy of Loran Saito

  • Liam Saito  Photo by Ruth Peters/ Courtesy of Loran Saito

Staff Writer 
Published: 10/23/2019 9:32:59 AM

Three teen and young adult siblings from Florence have trained most of their lives in ballet and now have gone on to train and be part of professional ballet companies across the United States and Canada, due in no small part to the education they received attending the Massachusetts Academy of Ballet in Holyoke throughout the years. 

Loran Saito, whose children have been taking ballet since ages 3 to 5, said her son Liam, 21, trained with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet before joining the company, her 18-year-old daughter May is training with Tulsa Ballet in Oklahoma, and her youngest son Nolan, 16, is attending the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, a professional training school for young dancers.

She and her husband Max Saito also have a 20-year-old son named Evan who took ballet until he was 13 years old and is now in India exploring Tibetan studies abroad in India through coursework with Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. 

“Liam started as a 5-year-old and loved it immediately,” she added. “He started talking about being a professional dancer when he was 7 … They all did the same activities together and they were homeschooled.”

Liam was 8 years old attending a ballet school in western Massachusetts that closed. That’s when he and his other siblings started taking classes at the Massachusetts Academy of Ballet, which opened more than 15 years ago, in Holyoke directed by Rose and Charles Flachs.

“It’s an amazing small school that’s turning out a lot of high level professional dancers,” Loran noted. 

She said as her children became more advanced dancers they’d rehearse or take ballet classes six days a week. 

She added that after more than a decade of her children dancing, she and her husband have deep respect for the art form. 

“[My husband and I] are so awed and impressed by the discipline of ballet, by the strength of the dancers and their persistence,” Loran explained. “They really have to persist because it hurts their body. It’s very painful and very grueling daily practice, but they stick with it. They get discouraged sometimes, but they always come back and keep with it. It’s something you can really only stick with if you love it.” 

May, who spoke with the Gazette in a phone interview, said she’s involved with the Tulsa Ballet training program, which serves as a bridge between student life and working with a ballet company. 

“It’s new this year, so we’re the first class to be doing this,” she noted. “All of us auditioned for the summer program where some of us were offered a slot in the year round program.” 

She added that as part of the training program, she and other students are working alongside members of the main company on a production of the two-act romantic classical ballet, “Giselle,” which will be staged this month. 

May said the shared experience of learning ballet alongside her siblings was a positive one. 

“You kind of live and breathe ballet,” she added. “The people who you’re with, you form close connections with them … Somehow, even as a classical art form, it’s a really personal thing. We’re all emotionally invested in this all day and every day and it’s difficult not to form really close bonds.” 

May said part of the challenge with ballet and other forms of dance is that your body is essentially an instrument. 

“You want to take care of yourself, but also push yourself as hard as you can go,” she explained. 

She said one of the things that they were able to learn about from one another was the discovery that they all have long Achilles tendons, which allow them to train to jump high into the air. 

“We have this similar physicality and jumping is a very important part of it and being able to train yourself to do that,” May explained. “With this discovery, we all kind of pushed towards the side of jumping. I guess that’s kind of the family specialty.” 

Loran said her oldest son Liam became a finalist in the Youth America Grand Prix, an international ballet competition, in which he advanced to a New York City competition. While attending the competition, he was recruited by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, leaving home as a sophomore in high school at 15 years old to study ballet full-time. 

“He was hired by the company, first as an apprentice,” she explained. “So, ballet is really ranked. He was an apprentice in the company and then he was promoted and he’s in his second year in the Corps de Ballet.” 

Nolan said in a phone interview that the Harid Conservatory in Florida focuses on traditional Russian ballet teaching, which has produced dancers who’ve performed across the world. 

“My daily life consists of online school through Florida Virtual School and then we have dance classes in the afternoon and then rehearsals after that,” he explained. 

He added he never felt competitive with his other siblings, but having his brothers and sister as his peers helped him to grow as a dancer. 

“Watching them, I always felt like I wanted to be like them,” Nolan explained. “And so, it really helped push me towards greater growth and achievement.” 

But what drives Nolan’s passion for ballet is expressing himself through the classical form of dance and sharing that personal artistic experience with audiences. 

“I think it’s really something special that not many people really get to experience in their life,” he added. “I feel really fortunate to have that.”

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.




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