20 Years with Syracuse City Ballet

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Syracuse City Ballet. To commemorate this milestone, the company is performing the first ballet it ever produced, “Snow White.” We took a look back with some of Syracuse City Ballet’s current and former team.

Photography by Alexis Emm

Kathleen Rathbun
Artistic director

SWM: Talk about the founding of SCB.
I grew up alongside professional dancers, performed on a big stage and loved every minute of it. I attended Juilliard and danced professionally in NYC and with Princeton Ballet. When I came home to Syracuse to start a family, there was no ballet company. After a few years of teaching, I wanted more for my students and the community. With the help of my friend Harriet Casey, we started Syracuse City Ballet, then known as Upstate N.Y. Ballet.

SWM: How does working with SCB compare to teaching and performing elsewhere?
We truly have something special here at SCB. It’s a collaborative environment. We leave our troubles outside the door; in the studio, it’s about the art.

SWM: What is your favorite ballet?
My favorite ballet is whichever I’m working on at the time. As the artistic director, I pick ballets that will inspire, engage and entertain the audience. “Snow White” was the first full-length ballet I arranged music for and choreographed. Needless to say, it’s my baby. We are having a ball setting this ballet. It’s been tweaked and updated throughout the years. The talent in “Snow White” is some of the best we have ever had. It’s truly a testament to how far SCB has come in 20 years.

Claire Rathbun
Performing as Snow White

SWM: What sparked your interest in ballet?
I came out of the womb with dance in my heart. I think my mom had a little bit to do with that.

SWM: Talk about your experience training at Ballet & Dance of Upstate NY.
My experience training with Ballet & Dance was phenomenal. The school had a way of sharing with their students the absolute joy of performing, growing in technique and the dance world as a whole. I wouldn’t trade how I grew up and trained for anything. It helped me to stay real and not get too caught up in the drama of being an artist.

SWM: What’s it like to be back from New York City to dance with SCB in “Snow White”?
I love being home. My favorite part of being back in the shows is rehearsing with the students. It’s so nice to see the work they put in and what a difference it all makes! I love seeing the process!

Rachael Cierniakoski
Ballet mistress

SWM: What sparked your interest in ballet?
When I was 7, my mom took me to see “The Nutcracker” in my hometown. After the performance — which I was completely in awe of — the dancers did a meet-and-greet. When I saw that these incredible beings on stage were actually real people like me, I knew I would do whatever it took to be like them. My mom spoke to the artistic director that night and signed me up. It’s been love ever since.

SWM: Talk about your experiences working with SCB.
Since beginning my time at SCB, I’ve found that working in Syracuse means working with a true sense of community. After working in Philadelphia and other cities, the difference is stark. I went from feeling anonymous to feeling like I belong and have a true family here.

SWM: What’s your favorite scene in “Snow White”?
The seven dwarfs’ first entrance is my absolute favorite. Kathleen has an amazing way of bringing each separate character to life, all while matching beautifully to the music. It’s such a lively and comical scene. Even when we rehearse it in the studio, I find myself laughing and dancing along.

Makayla Kanerviko
Performing as the Scarf Witch

SWM: What sparked your interest in ballet?
When I was younger, I started to dance after my parents enrolled me in ballet classes. It was a way to stay active and make new friends. A few years ago, I started to receive more challenging roles. These roles, along with supportive teachers and great friends, have really helped me develop a love for dance.

SWM: Share a favorite moment from your time with SCB.
My favorite moment is dancing each year in “The Nutcracker” and performing the school show with all my friends dancing beside me.

SWM: What’s your favorite scene in “Snow White”?
I am very excited to be dancing the part of the Scarf Witch, but I love the village scene because I get to share that dance experience with all my friends on stage.

Jake Casey
Current dancer with Cincinnati Ballet
Former dancer with Syracuse City Ballet

SWM: What sparked your interest in ballet?
My family. Growing up, my sister was a dancer at Ballet & Dance of Upstate NY and my mom was involved in the productions. I was always around dance. That’s when I started to fall in love with it.

SWM: Talk about the effect of SCB on your life.
Syracuse City Ballet is the reason I am a professional dancer today. Not only did it give me the necessary technique and classical foundation, but it instilled a lifelong passion for the arts, something I’ll forever be grateful for.

SWM: What is a favorite memory with the company?
One of my favorite memories with the company goes back to “Romeo & Juliet.” I was probably 10 years old. I remember getting to rehearsal at 9 a.m. and staying until 9 p.m. Of course, I wasn’t dancing the whole time, but these early experiences of being in the studio all day are what sparked my love of the artistic process. It also gave me great friendships that continue to this day. SWM

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.