At the age of 10 Lisa Sandborn was one of three children chosen out of 600 to perform in the Nutcracker Ballet—propelling her to a career in dance. She now wants to make the same dream come true for young people in New Haven.
Sanborn, who is originally from Chicago, went on to study ballet at the Ruth Paige Foundation under Larry Long and Delores Lapinski. She went on to perform with two companies, Clinton Contemporary Ballet and Quad Cities Civic Ballet.
“I loved being around other young people who were serious about dance. I loved performing, I didn’t care if I was a part of the scenery. I was completely sucked in,” Sanborn recalled about that first break.
Sanborn (pictured) went on to teach at the not-for-profit New Haven Ballet, where she has been for the past 13 years. The organization, which rents space from Education Center for the Arts on Audubon Street, has just named her its new artistic director. (She been doing the job on an acting basis since last August.)
In an interview, Sanborn said she is excited about the new job. She hopes to build on community outreach work she has already been doing at New Haven Ballet, helping to give young people breaks like the one she got.
Sanborn has choreographed New Haven’s annual showing of the Nutcracker Ballet at the Shubert. The productions involved 240 performers, most of them kids.
She has also begun a program bringing ballet twice-weekly classes to city schools, to reach children who otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to ballet.
Thirty second- through fourth-graders take the classes at Fair Haven School, Quinnipiac Elementary, and Columbus Family Academy.
She recently put together a performance by the students at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School. “They were serious and earnest,” Sanborn said of the kids’ attitude during the performance. After the performance she awarded one student from each school a full scholarship to New Haven Ballet, covering not only tuition, but uniforms, shoes, costume fees, and audition fees for performances such as the Nutcracker.
New Haven Ballet also has a “Shared Ability” program in which students volunteer weekly to work with children who have autism, Down syndrome or other learning and physical abilities.
“I live in New Haven,” Sanborn said. “This is my community. I want this to be something for us, for our city.”