Punahou welcomes Annri Opitz-Kostick – an acclaimed dance instructor with over 30 years of teaching, performance and choreography experience – as its new Dance School director. The veteran dancer brings a deep love for teaching the art of dance to students of all ages as well as vast experience choreographing productions as varied as “The Nutcracker,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Grinch Ballet.”
Opitz-Kostick received training from prestigious programs, including Walnut Hill School of the Arts, Washington Ballet, Royal Academy of Dance and Centre de Danse International (Rossella Hightower) in Cannes, France. She also studied with David Howard and numerous teachers from the Bolshoi Ballet, Boston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet.
She holds a bachelor’s degree and a master of fine arts from the University of Utah, Department of Ballet. Over the years, she has choreographed for and taught at the University of Utah, Utah Ballet, American College Dance Festival, Youth Prix de Lausanne, Oklahoma Festival Ballet, the University of Oklahoma and many dance schools across the country. She was also the Dance Department Chair at The Waterford School in Utah and created Waterford Ballet Academy.
Prior to coming to Punahou, Opitz-Kostick was the ballet director at Pas de Deux Hawaii, where she oversaw dance school programming and supervised faculty and student mentors of all dance genres for the last 12 years. The award-winning choreographer has also taught at other local schools, including Drill Team Hawaii, Page Academy of Dance and Ballet Hawaii.
She hopes to bring a wide range of dance classes and genres to Punahou, with new productions and opportunities for dancers of all levels. In her first interview with the Punahou Bulletin, Opitz-Kostick discusses her love of dance and shares insight on her plans for Punahou’s long standing dance program.
You have a deep love for dance. Tell us about that lifelong journey.
I began dancing at the age of seven on a military base in Japan where my father worked and where I was born – I haven’t left dance since my childhood. After Japan, I studied with Hawaii State Ballet under John Landovsky and then went back to train in Hiyoshi, Japan for a couple years. From there, I went to the East Coast to train at Walnut Hill School for the Arts as a tenth-grader. Then I worked my way to The University of Utah, where I obtained my undergraduate and graduate degrees.
During my undergraduate training, I sustained a back injury so I decided then to begin a new path in my dance career as a teacher and choreographer. Things happen for a reason and I am lucky to have had the opportunities to become a professional ballet teacher and choreographer. Over the years, my students have been accepted into prestigious dance programs and won many awards with my choreography. It’s my purpose in life and something I cannot live without.
What do you find rewarding about working with young dancers?
I love the training process in the studio where I get to watch them overcome obstacles and grow as dancers and human beings. I love to see when they figure something out or when they accomplish something – it is pure joy. Watching students grow and mature into elegant dancers brings me immense happiness.
Other than technique, what are some of the benefits that students can derive from dance?
Dance teaches students resilience, a good work ethic, teamwork, respect, confidence and a great understanding of the human body. I love to work with students in all aspects of dance. When I was younger, I remember being shy and quiet. But the studio was a safe place where I could be expressive and free. I think that dance can help kids break down walls. They also learn to be more adaptable and strong problem solvers, which are good traits to have in life.
What are some of your favorite genres of dance?
I love classic ballet. All things ballet – but I love lyrical dance as well. Lyrical dance provides more freedom and pushes the envelope on more classical dance. Having been at Pas de Deux for 12 years, I have a love for all genres of dance, including hip-hop and jazz. When I was a young girl, I remember falling in love with tap dancing. But as a classically trained dancer, I was discouraged from practicing other forms of dance for fear that it would ruin my technique. I am glad that things are different today and that students can dance across genres.
What are some of the dance pieces you would like to see come alive at Punahou?
I would love to see a holiday dance show come alive at Punahou, whether it be “The Nutcracker” or some other holiday shows like “The Grinch Ballet.” You could alternate from one year to the next.
In terms of program offerings, what are some of the exciting plans you have in store for the Dance School?
I hope to introduce new styles of dance to the students. I truly believe that dancers should be trained in all genres of dance to better prepare them for the future. When I went to college, I had to officially select whether I wanted to be a ballet major or a modern dance major. But today, university programs expect dancers to go from tap-dancing shoes to ballerina pointe slippers without missing a beat. Diversity in dance and expression is valued, which is great.
With this in mind, we have hired a modern dance instructor for the school. We will also explore other alternatives, such as cultural dance and ballroom dance, which are both very popular.
What drew you specifically to the Punahou Dance School?
The history and the students. I was a teacher for Drill Team Hawaii and taught many Punahou students throughout the years. What stood out to me was their focus and their determination to dance. I love students who are serious about learning.
– By Gina Gelber
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