Kyndall Walton, a recent graduate of The Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre and Dance at Southeast Missouri State University, will soon attend a Cirque du Soleil training program at the San Diego Circus Center.
Cirque du Soleil’s talent development program NexGen is a collaboration between Cirque du Soleil and select talent training centers to share expertise and best practices in the field of human performance and provide high calibre training opportunities to emerging talent.
Performing in a circus wasn’t always a dream Walton had, but the Florissant, Missouri, native became interested in aerial dance during her sophomore year at Southeast. She said she “was fascinated with the beautiful shapes that were made and how much it related to dance.”
After seeing the aerial theater company Paper Doll Militia perform at the University in 2019, she was hooked.
“I instantly knew that was what I wanted to do for my career,” Walton said. “I love being able to have different characters to portray on stage.”
Walton, who will earn her Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance this summer, will be the only student entering San Diego Circus Center’s NexGen training program with a strength in contemporary dance, according to Hilary Peterson, associate professor of dance.
“Kyndall’s acceptance into this program illustrates the value of aerial arts training and career opportunities for students and graduates,” Peterson said. “It demonstrates the commitment The Conservatory has to quality training and performance, and the work the faculty do to guide students into post-graduate opportunities.”
Students with aerial experience enter the job market with a larger set of skills that can translate to additional opportunities, Peterson said. Many entertainment companies, cruise ships, musicals and movies are regularly incorporating aerial arts into their productions.
Peterson said the NexGen program is “very selective” with high standards, a level she said Walton is able to meet because of the work ethic, determination and commitment to quality she developed while at Southeast.
The Conservatory’s aerial program consists of three levels of training for students, Peterson said. The first level, Introduction to Aerial, focuses on basic body positions and aerial skills while introducing students to all of the apparatus including trapeze, Lyra, aerial sling and aerial silks. The second level, Aerial 1, focuses more on aerial silks and rope while incorporating more advanced skills and sequencing. Students also study a secondary apparatus and work on the transferable skills between apparatus. In the third level, Aerial 2, students will continue to develop more advanced skills and sequencing while learning aerial theory.
The aerial program, funded by local entrepreneurs Lauren K. Jones and Jeff Mauer, benefits students through exposure to another form of movement that increases body and spatial awareness and builds physical and mental strength, Peterson said.
“Learning skills that operate in multiple planes of movement such as in aerial is extremely valuable for students studying dance,” Peterson said. “Students also hone new learning modalities through execution and creation of movement while being suspended in the air.”
During her time at Southeast, Walton performed in Fall For Dance 2018, Spring into Dance 2019, Fall For Dance 2019, Spring Into Dance 2020, Fall For Dance 2020 and Spring into Dance 2021.
Walton said The Conservatory dance programs helped her analyze career paths and discover what she liked and didn’t like.
“The Conservatory program helped shape me into the artist that I am today and I’m so grateful for the professors I had,” she said. “I’ve learned every aspect of dance from Southeast, and I feel very prepared to embark on this journey.”
The NexGen program begins in September, Walton said, and consists of nine months of intensive training and conditioning. After the program concludes, Walton will audition for Cirque du Soleil.
Walton said she is still surprised to have been chosen for the NexGen program but looks forward to making her family and former professors proud.
“It just instills in me a sense that I can truly do this and that I have the potential to go very far with this art form and make it my own,” she said.
Her message to young dancers and artists is simple: “You can do whatever you put your mind to, and it’s never too late to do what you love!”