Collins Hill grad takes over at Southern Ballet Theatre

It has been a big summer for Gwinnettian Brandon Chitwood. The 26-year-old was married Aug. 1 and days later took over the reins of the Lawrenceville School of Ballet and its pre-professional company, Southern Ballet Theatre.

Both Lawrenceville School of Ballet and SBT were founded by Phyllis Allen in 1991. The school and company are now on Sugarloaf Parkway near Five Forks Trickum Road in Lawrenceville. The company is a member of the Southeastern Regional Ballet Association.

Chitwood grew up in Lawrenceville since the age of 3. He played soccer but his sisters danced, and he found himself, as he explains it, "dancing little hip-hop numbers with them."

At Collins Hill High School, Chitwood's soccer coach suggested to all the players that they take some ballet classes to help increase their "foot speed." Chitwood enrolled at Lynn Fleetwood School of Dance for ballet classes, and he found he liked it. This became a turning point for him, with dance becoming his focus.

He has danced with Disney, taught master classes in tap and hip hop, danced with Main Stage Theatre, North Georgia Ballet, Dance Theatre North and Classical Dance Theatre. At a very young age, he has now taken over both a studio and a company.

Chitwood arrived at SBT about six years ago and has enjoyed teaching and choreographing there since. His work titled "Defy" was chosen as SBT's performance for Southeastern Regional Ballet Association's May 2009 festival. In "Defy," Chitwood partnered with Cassie Trenary, a 16-year-old SBT dancer who has since left Atlanta to study full time at American Ballet Theatre in New York City.

The new director wants to expand the school's curriculum.

"I want to incorporate more than ballet," Chitwood said. "We want to become more of a performing arts school. We have added tumbling classes, plus an acting and musical theater department. Students can also study voice, piano, drums, and guitar at the school.

"Even if your goal is to dance for the New York City Ballet, you have to be well rounded," Chitwood added. "The more styles of dance you can do, the better your chances are of getting a job in the entertainment industry."

Chitwood's new directorship isn't the only enhancement SBT has offered him. He met his new wife, Alicia, at the school, where she had been taking classes since she was 4 years old.

"Alicia and I decided this was the right place for us," Chitwood said. "The studio opened almost 20 years ago. We want to take it the next 20 or 30 years and see where it goes."

SBT also welcomes home four young dancers who studied at summer intensives. Carly Wood and Kendall Greene attended American Ballet Theatre's program in Alabama, and Halley Terrell and Kelly Rayborn studied at an ABT program in Austin, Texas.

For more information about SBT, visit www.southernballettheatre.org.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.