Samantha Hope Galler is heading for the Berkshires next week and she says she is excited.
“It will be the closest to home that I’ve ever danced, and it would be nice to have a lot of people coming from my childhood,” said the principal soloist about her upcoming performances with the Miami City Ballet at the Jacob’s Pillow dance festival in Becket. There will be seven shows between Aug. 24 and 28 (https://www.jacobspillow.org/events/miami-city-ballet-2022/).
The 2007 Bedford High School graduate speaks of her former teachers with fondness and celebrates the growth of the BHS Performing Arts Department. She noted that at one time she was a dance classmate of Katrina Faulstich, the current chorus and theatre teacher.
Dancing at the iconic venue Jacob’s Pillow is something “I never even imagined,” Galler commented. “I like the pressure of an opportunity like this. It’s fun for me to try something different, to be challenged.”
“We came off an eight-week break last week and we are rehearsing right now,” Galler, 32, said in an interview this week. “The Pillow is known for modern dance, so we are bringing a really famous Martha Graham piece. It’s a four-piece program that also includes a new choreographed solo, a Jerome Robbins piece, and we’re closing with Balanchine’s Serenade – the first time it will ever have been done at Jacob’s Pillow.”
“It’s where dance is celebrated,” she said. “The more people who can see dance the better.”
This is Galler’s 15th professional year, but nearly 25 years of training and preparation. (She uses Samantha Hope Galler as her stage name; she is actually Samantha Kunstadt. Her husband Ryan is an endocrinologist.)
Galler said her parents – who still live in Bedford – enrolled her in a Recreation Department dance program around age six, “and I seemed to really like it.” Around age 10, she said, “I decided to dedicate my time to ballet. I really loved performing on stage. That was my main attraction to the art form, and within it, I found so much more.”
Soon she was specializing with Frances Kotelly, a private teacher at Ballet Academy in Arlington. “She gave me my foundation,” Galler said, because of “the Italian style method that she taught. It gave me a really good foundation to be moldable later in my career to other styles. I still call her and we talk about ballet.”
After about five years, Galler related, “it was time for me to transfer to a bigger school, to be around more performance opportunities.” She continued with Kotelly while attending the Boston Ballet School. As a BHS student, “I was always leaving school and going straight to ballet.” Nevertheless, she played the flute in band every year and helped with the choreography of one of the musicals.
Galler graduated from the ballet school in 2008, a year after getting her diploma from BHS. The last year was a full-time traineeship with the company, she said, and she was offered an audition – but not a position. “We had about 15 trainees – two got jobs at Boston. The rest of us had to find jobs.”
From there Galler embarked on a journey of perseverance, auditioning for “numerous companies around the country.” Several were open auditions for as many as 50 candidates, from which maybe five were chosen, she related. “It wasn’t easy. I had a lot of ups and downs that year, a lot of rejection. Part of me said, ‘I know I can do it.’”
She landed with the Cincinnati Ballet for another year as a trainee “and I had first-hand experience with the company. But I didn’t get hired, so here I am a second time thinking, ‘I know I can do this.’ It was really hard for me.”
In 2009 she landed an apprenticeship with Alabama Ballet; in retrospect, that was the turning point. “Alabama was never on my radar for a ballet company. Ever. In my life,” she proclaimed. The following year, “I joined their main company for five years. I came out as a totally different person, artist, everything.”
She added that it was with the Birmingham-based ballet company that she learned how to act, “which is really important in a full-length ballet.”
Galler was a principal dancer with the Alabama Ballet. Still, “I felt that I had more in me,” she said, so in 2014 she reached out to the Miami City Ballet, one of the largest companies in the U.S. The subsequent audition went well, she said, and then she was told, “We don’t have any jobs.” Nevertheless, Galler sent a thank-you letter, “and two weeks later I got a contract.” A company official told her, “Personalities are a really important element to who we have as artists.”
She accepted a position at the lowest ranking. “I said, ‘I look forward to working my way up.’” Today, beginning her ninth year, she is a principal soloist. “This is not something that I ever imagined,” Galler said. “This is the right place for me.”
“I love the people I work with; we are a great group,” Galler affirmed. “I’m going to dance 15 new ballets this year.” Lourdes Lopez, the artistic director, worked with the legendary choreographer George Balanchine, she noted.
There are 56 in the company, she said, including six soloists, five principal soloists, and 10 principal dancers. She has traveled to perform in New York’s Lincoln Center, Chicago, Ottawa, and Vancouver as well as France.
Galler not only is a performer; she also is a teacher, focusing on classical ballet and pointe technique for almost 13 years. She has taught across the United States at ballet and performing arts schools, and for international students via zoom. As a dancer, she said, “The more I can learn, the more I can teach it later.”
“I love to mentor and teach ballet,” Galler continued. She established a mentorship program series for the Miami City Ballet School in 2018. “I built the syllabus, the curriculum, based on my career experiences. My goal is to build a better bridge for communication with students entering the professional school.”
“I wanted to share what I learned – including rejection, and that’s mostly what is happening to kids. Understand that it’s okay to go to a small company—that used to be considered failure. This program helps bring them into the professional world, with variables like hygiene and etiquette.” Galler added, “People like to watch something so graceful – but it’s also really demanding on our bodies.”
At the end of most days, Galler said, she asks herself, “Did I get the thing done that I wanted to accomplish? Did I portray it right? If I can make you feel something when you watch me, that is what keeps it alive.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763