Angelina Sansone: Grace and Fire

The Kansas City Ballet dancer has captivated audiences for more than a decade.

“Elegant,” “stunning,” “fluid” and “magnificent” are just some of the words critics have used to describe Kansas City Ballet dancer Angelina Sansone in performance. Last year, KC Metropolis reviewer Lee Hartman lauded her “magnetic stage presence” as Queen Anne in the Ballet’s production of The Three Musketeers.

“It is not just her stature that sets her apart,” says critic and KC Studio contributor Libby Hanssen, in reference to Sansone’s tall, willowy frame. “Her core emanates a grace that extends to her limbs; her considerable acting ability is fueled from an internal fire stoked by complex emotions. It is this balance of grace and fire, movement and emotion, that makes her presence on stage so captivating.”

The legendary Martha Graham once said, “Think of the magic of that foot, comparatively small, upon which your whole weight rests. It’s a miracle, and the dance is a celebration of that miracle.”

 “I dance to add beauty to the world.”
— Angelina Sansone

As a toddler, Angelina Sansone did not have magic feet.

“When I was little, my feet hurt constantly, so I had strong feelings about walking for any length of time,” Sansone recalls. “My mom, with three children under the age of five, had to find a solution.”

Sansone’s mother found one. Ballet. A pediatrician advised that dance might strengthen Sansone’s feet and help alleviate the pain she had when walking. Sansone’s mother signed her up immediately.

But ballet did more than help Sansone walk. Ballet helped Sansone find a path and a purpose.

“My father was in the Marine Corps and we moved around quite a bit. Ballet became my one constant,” Sansone says. “My parents did everything they could to keep dance available to us, and my sister and I lived at the dance studios while we were growing up.”

Sansone loved ballet, and ballet seemed to love her back; as she studied, her skill began to match her natural talent.

“When I was 13, my body seemed to be getting longer and my flat arches were a problem of the past,” Sansone recalls. “My love and inclination for ballet grew even more. Then we took a long shot and I auditioned for the Harid Conservatory. And I got in!”

Sansone left her parents’ home in Charlotte, North Carolina and enrolled at Harid Conservatory, a tuition-free boarding school in Boca Raton, Florida. Harid’s four-year curriculum includes ballet, character, modern, jazz, Spanish dance, Pilates, music studies, dance and music history, nutrition, kinesiology, ballet methodology, career-related seminars and dance performance. Academic studies are included, too. It is Harid’s goal to produce dancers with artistic qualifications that make them superior candidates for employment by professional ballet companies as well as academic qualifications that make them superior candidates for higher education at a college or university.

“It was four wonderfully eye-opening years of mornings at the public school and then a full syllabus of ballet, art, dance and music back at the Harid campus,” Sansone recalls.

After Harid, Sansone joined the apprentice program at Joffrey Ballet. She spent two years in Chicago, dancing with the company.

“It was incredibly inspiring, and dancing with a company with such amazing history was so humbling,” Sansone says.

While she was in Chicago, Sansone was part of the cast for Robert Altman’s film The Company. For a year, the screenwriters interviewed the dancers of the Joffrey ballet and used the stories they gathered to format the film.

“One of the scenes I was in showed the hardships of the young dancers in a company; dirt poor, living five to a tiny studio,” Sansone recalls. “My big line was when one of my many roommates wakes me up in the middle of the night to see if I have a condom. I told Robert Altman my mother was going to love that I was the girl in the condom scene. He laughed and poked fun at me for the rest of the shoot.”

After her two-year apprenticeship she was not hired to be a part of the regular company. She was devastated. Without a job for the next season, or any other plans, she fell back on a deferment she had to Indiana University and began to pursue a B.S. in ballet.

Sansone took advantage of her time in the university system. She studied with famous ballerina Violette Verdy, as well as Julie Kent, a dancer who had long been an inspiration to her. She took Italian, rock history, mythology and religion. She had private lessons with a piano major and continued her studies in music theory, which she had begun at Harid.

“And I made great lifelong friends,” she says. “I will never be unhappy that I got to experience college life.”

But after two years, Sansone was ready to throw herself into the world of auditions again.

“I was determined to get into a company,” she says. “I auditioned everywhere. Then William Whitener found me in a cattle call in Chicago and my fate was sealed.”

Whitener was the artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet from 1996 until 2013. He is credited for the company’s heightened national reputation, commissioned 17 new works, and presented numerous works of historical significance. Over his career, Whitener launched and developed the careers of many talented dancers, including Sansone.

“After initial hesitation about the location, I settled down in a city I now love and am very proud to call home,” Sansone says.

Last season, she had one of those experiences that brings so much meaning to an artist; she danced the role of The Chosen One in Adam Hougland’s Rite of Spring, after having danced the original 1913 Nijinsky choreography for Rite of Spring while she was an apprentice at Joffrey.

“Adam’s version played with themes of good and evil and the impurities the world can leave on a soul,” Sansone says. The Chosen One was the only soul free from scars of evil, and in the end she fights to her death to protect it. It was the perfect role for me to express myself during a personally challenging time in my life. And that familiar ‘pinch me is this real?’ moment happened. My art form, my career, this part — they all became the vehicle that allowed me to be vulnerable and deal with real emotions through dance. Doing this ballet again on the other side of my career was truly magical. To think how much I’ve learned since the first time, from my first year as a professional until now. How all my life’s ups and downs have only added layers to what I am capable of as an artist. There’s not much that is more affirming and fulfilling than that.”

Libby Hanssen wrote in The Kansas City Star that Sansone’s The Chosen One  was “. . . a fantastic performance as ritual sacrifice. She’s stopped at every avenue of escape, whether by the aggressive, zombie-like corps, her own terror, or even, in one instance, a monstrous chord from the orchestra.”

But nothing is stopping Sansone now. In October, she danced the role of Hermia in the Kansas City Ballet’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“I’m so grateful to Kansas City,” Sansone says. “I’ve had a fulfilling career in a company that gave me access to a wonderful range of styles, choreographers, and inspiring fellow dancers. I am honored to be a part of a city, and company, that put so much passion and love into the arts. At a time in our world when the simple beauty of art is so important, I couldn’t be happier to be a dancer. That’s why I dance: to add beauty to the world.”

And all because her feet hurt when she was a kid.

“I often think about finding out who that doctor was,” Sansone says. “I’d like to thank him.”

About The Author: Krista Lang Blackwood

Krista Lang Blackwood

Krista Lang Blackwood is an award-winning educator, performer and freelance writer. When she's not teaching or performing, she combs the greater Kansas City region for off-the-beaten-path arts and culture offerings, usually in the company of her husband and precocious, French-speaking son. 

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  • Reply Desiree LeFebvre

    I am so proud to say she was my student for years! Love you, Angie! So happy I got to be a small part of your dance training!

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