Madeline Cantarella Culpo
Director-Founder and Artistic Director of the Albany Berkshire Ballet, is an alumna of the Juilliard School where she studied ballet with Margaret Craske, Antony Tudor and Alfredo Corvino and modern dance with Martha Graham. She is a nationally recognized teacher of dance, having taught throughout the United States, including at Jacob’s Pillow. She was featured in the November 1996 issue of “Dance Magazine” in an article entitled “Great Starts American Teachers Series” – “A Tribute To Teachers Who Have Produced Outstanding Results.” In addition, Mrs. Culpo has received three choreography fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Ballet Instructor, Ballet Mistress
Deirdre Duffin-Swindlehurst started dancing at age five under Madeline Cantarella Culpo and went on to be a principal dancer with Albany Berkshire Ballet. She joined the Pennsylvania Ballet in 1980, and rose to soloist in The Nutcracker, Coppelia, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Les Sylphides, and The Four Temperaments. Deirdre has appeared as a guest artist at Jacob’s Pillow and has toured the United States with Leonid and Valentina Kaslov and with Cynthia Gregory and her “Celebration Tour.” Miss Dede teaches advanced levels of ballet and is Ballet Mistress to the Junior Company in Albany.
Ballet, Pilates Instructor
Christine Geren began her training with The Northeast Ballet Company. Supported by dance and academic scholarships, she earned a BA in Dance from Mercyhurst College while also performing lead roles with The Lake Erie Ballet in The Nutcracker, Balanchine’s Serenade, and Alice in Wonderland. Ms. Geren is currently a principal dancer with the Albany Berkshire Ballet and guest artist with the Ajkun Ballet Theatre. Her repertoire includes Carmina Burana, and The Rockwell Suites, as well as principal roles in Caprice, Nocturnes, Our Town and The Nutcracker with ABB and Chiara Ajkun’s Le Corsaire and Giselle pas de deux. Ms. Geren teaches ballet and is certified under POWER PILATES® for Pilates Mat classes.
Ballet & Modern Instructor, Ballet Mistress
Alicia Hornicek is a graduate of the School of The Albany Berkshire Ballet and has performed extensively with their professional company, notably in The Nutcracker, Cinderella and Carmina Burana. Ms. Hornicek has been teaching at the School for a number of years and teaches modern dance, and ballet for the Pre-Ballet levels through Advanced and Adult. She is also ballet mistress for the Academy Program. She holds a MA degree from Russell Sage College and is a practicing Physical Therapist.
Nancy Ropelewski King
Ballet Instructor, Ballet Mistress
Nancy Ropelewski King is a graduate of the Cantarella School. Mrs. King was a principal dancer and ballet mistress with the Albany Berkshire Ballet for many years. At Jacob’s Pillow she taught classes and also performed in Coppelia with the ABB. Her choreography “Peter and the Wolf” has been performed extensively throughout the Northeast. Mrs. King along with Artistic Director Madeline Cantarella Culpo choreographed the popular “Cinderella” and “Mother Goose” ballets.
Ballet & Modern Instructor, Ballet Mistress
Kerry Piaggione is a graduate of the School of The Albany Berkshire Ballet and has performed extensively with their professional company in The Nutcracker, Les Sylphides, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Mother Goose, and Madeline Cantarella Culpo’s Girl at the Mirror. She recently performed the role of Juliet for SPAC’s Classical Kids program, promoting classical dance in local schools. Ms. Piaggione minored in Dance at Hofstra University and holds an MA in Teaching from Union College. Ms. Piaggione teaches at the school and assists in rehearsals for both The Nutcracker and the school’s annual recital.
Anastasia Mihalovna Welsh
Anastasia Welsh is from Albany, NY, began her studies under Madeline Cantarella Culpo at the School of the Albany Berkshire Ballet. She spent summers training at Boston Ballet, Briansky Saratoga Ballet Center, New York State Summer School of the Arts Ballet (NYSSSA), Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive/SSDI-Vail and also returned to some of them as a counselor and teacher. Graduating as a member of the Nu Delta Alpha Dance Honors Society, she received her B.A. at Mercyhurst University with a concentration in Dance- Choreography/Performance and minor in Business Arts Administration. Her choreography has been performed at the Youth American Grand Prix Competition, American College Dance Festival, Regional Dance of America Northeast, and the Erie Festival of Dance. She has performed with the prestigious Moscow Ballet and has danced with the Albany Berkshire Ballet, Lake Erie Ballet Company, Mercyhurst Ballet Theatre, and Company Danzante. She recently moved back to the Albany area after spending three seasons dancing and choreographing with the Manassas Ballet Theatre accompanied by the Manassas Ballet Theatre Orchestra.
Anna Acker was born and raised in Albany, NY, where she began her ballet training at The School of the Albany Berkshire Ballet. She spent summers studying at the Boston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, and on scholarship to the Milwaukee Ballet. After graduating from ABB, Anna was offered academic and dance scholarships to study at the University of Missouri at Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance. There, under the tutelage of Professor Paula Weber, she performed principal roles in Raymonda, Les Sylphides, and Swan Lake, and danced in George Balanchine’s Serenade. She also trained extensively in the Horton modern technique. In 2006, Anna graduated summa cum laude with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. The same year, she became a trainee for the Milwaukee Ballet, where she joined the company in performances of Don Quixote, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Nutcracker, and La Bayadere. In 2008, Anna joined the Minnesota Ballet, where she enjoyed 3 seasons performing Antony Tudor’s Little Improvisations, Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra Suite, George Balanchine’s “The Man I Love” pas de deux, excerpted from Who Cares?, and leading roles in Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, among others. Anna is also a certified pilates instructor, and has enjoyed teaching at various ballet and pilates studios throughout her performing career. She has been thrilled to join the faculty of the Albany Berkshire Ballet after returning to Albany in 2011 to take on her newest role as Mom to Ethan, who was born in January of 2012.
Christopher Amato began his dance training as a scholarship student at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City and at the School of the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Mr. Amato continued his ballet training with Wilhelm Burmann, Elena Kunikova, and Michael Vernon at Steps on Broadway in New York City, and also trained in modern dance at the Merce Cunningham Studio. Mr. Amato danced professionally with several ballet and modern dance companies in New York City. He has also choreographed contemporary ballet and modern dance works which have been performed at various venues in New York City, including the Merce Cunningham Studio, Nikolais Louis Dance Theater, the Abrons Arts Center and the Theater of the Riverside Church.
Benjamin Biswell began his career with the Kansas City Lyric Opera under the direction of Dorothy Danner. While in Kansas City he also worked with the Kansas Regional Ballet performing such roles as Prince Agnok in Snow White, and dancing in Paula Weber’s White and Intermezzo. Under the direction of Wiliam Whitener, he performed in Kansas City Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet. Ben worked with the New Theater Restaurant performing in productions such as Oklahoma! by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II and All Shook Up by Joe DiPietro. In 2006, Mr. Biswell joined the Albany Berkshire Ballet for it’s annual tour of The Nutcracker, performing the roles of the Snow King and the Trepak. During this time, Mr. Biswell earned his BFA from the University of Missouri Kansas City under the direction of Paula Weber. While at UMKC, his repertory included George Balanchine’s Serenade, Marius Petipa’s Le Corsaire Pas de Deux and Swan Lake Pas de Deux, the Sylvia Pas de Deux by Sir Fredrick Ashton and Les Sylphides by Michel Fokine. Upon graduating, Ben accepted a contract with the Minnesota Ballet, under the direction of Robert Gardner. While at Minnesota Ballet, he performed in a variety of works- Who Cares? by George Balanchine, Coppelia, Cinderella and The Nutcracker by Allen Fields, The Sleeping Beauty, A Midsummer Nights’ Dream and Carnival of the Animals by Robert Gardner, and Little Improvisations by Antony Tudor. Mr. Biswell has most recently moved to the Albany area to join the Albany Berkshire Ballet for its current season of The Nutcracker.
Tap, Jazz, Hip Hop
Laura Racht is a dancer and choreographer from Saratoga County. She earned her Music Theatre degree with a Minor in dance from Rider University’s Westminster Choir College. The Princeton Ballet School, home to American Repertory Ballet, facilitated the dance program there. During her time there, she had the privilege of studying Theatre Jazz with Marymount Manhattan College’s Geoffrey Doig-Marx for Theatre Jazz. Mr. Doig-Marx was also a choreographer for years with Albany Park Playhouse.
Some of her credits at Westminster Choir College include choreographing for Light in the Piazza, being the dance captain (under choreographer Ginger Thatcher) for Oklahoma!, as well as a lead dancer in a showcase at Shetler Studios Penthouse in NYC. Laura interned at Steps on Broadway and rediscovered her passion for the classroom. This interest to expand her own education in many styles of dance also branched into a strong desire to share her passion with others.
Since her return to the Capital Region, Laura has been teaching dance technique to the team gymnasts at World Class Gymnastics in Latham. She has had the opportunity to choreograph for the Shenendehowa Central Schools, including their productions of Camp Rock, Bye Bye Birdie, and The Lion King. She has also choreographed for the Saratoga Children’s Theatre for their production of The Addams Family. Ms. Racht is excited to join the faculty at the SABB.
Lisa Iannacito McBride
School of the Albany Berkshire Ballet graduate, Lisa Iannacito McBride, received her BFA Degree from the Conservatory of Dance at SUNY Purchase, where she also won the Academic Achievement Award. She has studied at the Boston Ballet, and at Skidmore College with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, and attended Walnut Hill and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Danceon scholarship. Lisa was also a member of The Juilliard School’s first summer program. Following college, Lisa went on to perform with a number of New York City based companies, including Dances Patrelle, Lydia Johnson Dance, and Riedel Dance Theatre, where she also served as Associate Artistic Director. With the Purchase Dance Corps, she performed works by Paul Taylor, Jose Limon, and Mark Morris, and served as a rehearsal assistant for the company’s Nutcracker. Miss Lisa, who has served on the faculty at Pace University, Ballet Academy East, Mark Morris Dance Center, The Yard, and NYSSSA, is also certified in Pilates and yoga.