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Local man goes to top ballet company

August 24, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Hagerstown ballet instructor Ray Russell vividly remembers Matt Powell's start in the ballet world.

Six-year-old Powell was waiting for his sister to finish lessons one day in the lobby when Russell asked the young boy if he wanted to give dancing a try.He did, and it led to a 10-year stint with the Hagerstown School of Ballet.

The Shepherdstown man showed unique stamina and dedication for ballet, and now he has joined one of the top ballet companies in the country.Powell, 19, has been offered a "corps contract" with the Pacific Northwest Ballet Co. in Seattle, Wash., meaning he will be a full-time paid member of the dance group for one year.

For about the last year, Powell has worked as an apprentice in the 50-member group, participating in a tour that took the group to Scotland and London.

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This year, Powell said the group will do about 100 performances, including 45 shows of the Nutcracker.

"It's pretty grueling. The people up there are just incredible," said Powell, who attended Jefferson High School and finished high school through a correspondence course while he attended the School of American Ballet in New York City.

After studying at the Hagerstown School of Ballet, Powell was awarded a two-year scholarship at the School of American Ballet.

In 1998, Powell auditioned for an apprenticeship at the Pacific Northwest Ballet Co. and was the only one chosen out of about 100 performers who auditioned in New York City.

Earlier this spring, Powell was informed that he would become a full-time member of the group.

"He is really quite a young fellow. He's a credit to this school, his family and friends," said Russell, who runs the local ballet school with his wife, Carolou.

The Pacific Northwest Ballet Co. is directed by Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, both former members of the New York City Ballet. They came to Seattle in the 1970's to take over Pacfic Northwest and turn it into a top-rated company, according to Powell.

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