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Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Leticia Blanchard ties her shoe during class. Seven SLBC dancers, ages 14-16, will compete in the Youth America Grand Prix in Denver.

As artistic director of the Salt Lake Ballet Conservatory, Cristobal Marquez has major goals for his students.

"The main thing I want them to learn is technique and passion," said Marquez during an interview at the school, 455 E. South Temple. "I combine Russian technique with Cuban passion. That's how I was trained, and that's what I want to give my dancers."

Marquez started dancing when he was in elementary school in his native Chile. By 4, he was dancing in competitions in Argentina and Brazil.

"I loved the music," he said, "and I wanted to learn more and more."

He trained professionally at the Teatro de Municipal de Chile and at the University of Chile. He came to the United States by invitation of the Houston Ballet and has since danced with the Nevada Ballet Theatre, the Colorado Ballet and the Columbia Classical Ballet.

"When I was growing up in dance, there weren't a lot of opportunities for me to compete because of funding," Marquez said. "The competitions I did compete in were such great chances for me to see other people my age dancing that I decided if I got to teach dance that I would give competition opportunities to my students. And that's what will happen this week."

Marquez will take seven students from the conservatory to compete in the Youth America Grand Prix in Denver. It runs Friday through Sunday.

The competition at the Teikyo Loretto Heights Theater is the only student ballet competition in the United States that awards scholarship to leading dance schools, Marquez said.

The seven dancers, ages 14-16, attending the competition are Isaac Aoki, Taylor Block, Tommy Burnett, Amy Fry, Katharine Nichols, Tessa Whiting and Rachel Winn.

"I'm excited for these dancers to participate in the competition," Marquez said. "They are very dedicated. In fact, Amy just had surgery to get a bone-spur removed from near her ankle. And she has been working hard in physical therapy and dancing to be able to go to the competition. She is an inspiration to all of us."

Marquez also wanted the students to have the opportunity to watch other dancers.

"There are dancers from all over the world who will compete," he said, "and it's important for our dancers to see what dancers their own ages are capable of doing and what they are doing. This is part of their education. And hopefully they will make some international friends."

The Salt Lake Ballet Conservatory, which features two dance studios at 900 square feet and 1100 square feet, opened in September. A third studio will measure about 1,700 square feet when it is added in a few weeks.

The conservatory has 200 students enrolled and offers classes for dancers ages 3 years old to adult. See www.saltlakeballetconservatory.com for more information.

Another aspect of the training incorporates music appreciation and dance history.

"When we teach we explain why the movements are done the way they are," Marquez said. "We give them historical background because romantic ballet is different than contemporary ballet. The movements are different. Even though there are same steps, the emotion is different.

"We also listen to music to help the students get used to classical music and the counting. Most young people are familiar with modern pop music and that steady beat. But classical music is different, and the students need to be able to dance to those counts."

Marquez knew he wanted to add to the city's rich artistic community.

"This place has a lot of artistic support," he said, "and that is evident in the parents who bring their children to our studio." The conservatory has students who travel from Ogden and Park City to the classes. " ... What we try to do is involve the whole family in the dancer's training."

Executive director DeAnn Caussyn said there is an open line of communication between the dancers' families and the artistic staff at the SLBC.

"It eliminates a lot of misunderstandings and drama," she said. "Parents can watch class and they can talk to us about any concerns. At the same time, we talk openly to them as well."

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