Staff & Teacher Bios
Venetia Stifler, Ph.D.
Executive and Artistic Director
Ms. Stifler, Emmy-nominated choreographer and director, is the Executive and Artistic Director of The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, guiding the vision of the organization left to Chicago by the dance icon and pioneer Ruth Page. Ms. Stifler is also the Artistic Director of CDI/Concert Dance Inc., the official contemporary dance company of the Ruth Page Center, which performs choreography by Ms. Stifler and other leading contemporary artists while also exploring and re-envisioning Ms. Page's work.
Upon her death in 1991, Ruth Page left behind a rich artistic legacy that included a school of dance, archival library, theater, offices for arts groups, groundbreaking choreography, and The Ruth Page Center for the Arts. A commitment to meeting the needs of the Chicago dance community led to a re-focus and re-organization of the Ruth Page Center in 1999, resulting in the Executive Director position and renewed life for the organization. Since becoming its Executive and Artistic Director in 2000, Ms. Stifler has helped to bring into greater focus the Ruth Page Center's mission of ensuring that children and dance artists have a place to study, work and perform at the highest level of excellence.
Ms. Stifler's re-envisioned production of Ruth Page's groundbreaking 1947 "ballet carton" Billy Sunday came alive again in 2007 with several stage productions and in the PBS documentary produced by HMS Media. A two-year project, Billy Sunday not only brought this masterpiece work to new audiences, but also garnered several Emmy nominations from The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Before her official role with the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, Ms. Stifler served, and continues to serve, as Artistic Director for the Ruth Page Dance Series (RPDS), a festival of dance she created in 1991 in honor of Ms. Page to showcase the rich variety of dance styles and artists in Chicago and which is produced in conjunction with Northeastern Illinois University. The RPDS has produced over 40 Chicago area dance companies in the last 25 years in venues throughout the Chicagoland area. In 1999 Ms. Stifler took the RPDS to Scotland to be part of the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival, garnering a "Best of the Fest" by the Sunday Times of Scotland. The Series' eclectic programming of live music, classical song, opera, visual arts - all combined with dance -- was also described by The Times of Scotland as "a witty interaction between the art forms."
In 1981 she formed CDI/ Concert Dance, Inc., a company on which she could explore choreography as a collaborative art. Described by the Chicago Sun-Times as "wonderfully dramatic," Concert Dance, Inc. has performed throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. Trained as a dancer, Ms. Stifler worked in both Chicago and New York with such legendary artists as Jennifer Mueller, Alwin Nikolais, and Merce Cunningham. Ms. Stifler went on to a national and international performing career that spanned over a decade. Ms. Stifler holds a Ph.D. in Dance and Choreography, and serves as Coordinator of Dance at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, where she is a tenured faculty member. Ms. Stifler was selected in 2015 to NewCity's annual "Players 2015" list, which honors leaders within the Chicago arts and culture community by recognizing those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make art happen in Chicago.
Larry Long (1936-2009)
Founder, Ruth Page School of Dance
Larry Long was born October 30, 1936 in Des Moines, Iowa, but spent his formative years in Los Angeles, California. Mr. Long was recognized as one of the preeminent ballet teachers in America. Mikhail Baryshnikov in an article in the New York Times named Mr. Long as one of six ballet teachers in America who have distinguished themselves as the best in developing students into professional dancers.
Mr. Long began his training with Alexandra Baldina, an illustrious Leningrad ballerina. His first professional performance was with Alicia Alonso in a production of Coppelia. He came to Chicago in 1958 beginning his long association with Ruth Page's Chicago Opera Ballet at the Lyric Opera, and later Ms. Page's International Ballet Company. After becoming a principal dancer with Ms. Page's International Ballet Company, he was appointed Ballet Master, a position he later held with the National Ballet of Washington, D.C. and the Harkness Ballet of New York. In 1973, he was co-founder and director with Ruth Page of the Chicago Ballet. Three years later, Mr. Long became Artistic Director of the Ballet International in London. Mr. Long was the long time (1965-1997) director of the Chicago Tribune Charities' production of The Nutcracker ballet that ran in Chicago for 31 years. Mr. Long and his wife, Dolores, co-founded the Civic Ballet of Chicago (now the Ruth Page Civic Ballet), the youth training company of the Ruth Page School of Dance, in 1998 in order to continue to develop serious young dancers with advanced training and performance experience as a prelude to a professional career in ballet. In 1989, he received the Ruth Page Award for "lifetime service to the field of dance." In 2006, the city of Chicago honored Larry and Dolores Long with a commendation for their contributions to the Arts in Chicago.
Mr. Long died August 22, 2009. He will be remembered for his enthusiasm and tremendous energy; a motivational force in the lives of his family friends and dancers everywhere. Upon his death, the Larry Long Master Teachers Fund was established to continue his legacy of excellence in dance training by bringing master teachers from around the country to the Ruth Page School of Dance for special workshops.
Director, Ruth Page School of Dance, and Co-Director, Ruth Page Civic Ballet
Victor Alexander joined the artistic and administrative team of the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in the summer of 2013. As both the Director of the Ruth Page School of Dance and Co-Director of the Ruth Page Civic Ballet, he continues a nearly 50-year tradition of exceptional training and mentoring of the next generation of the nation’s best young dancers. Through the development of international partnerships and networks, Alexander has also expanded the School’s reach with important collaborations and exchanges with other leading dance institutions. Significant among these is the historic relationship with Cuba’s National School of Ballet (Escuela Nacional de Ballet) begun in 2015, and the placement of a Ruth Page School of Dance student in the prestigious Cuban training program – the first American student to be invited since the normalization of relations between the two countries.
Alexander’s keen insight, experience and a dedication to the craft come from an international dancing, choreographic and teaching career. A native of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, he was trained at the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Arte (ENA) in Havana, graduating in 1992 with a degree in Modern and Cuban folkloric dance. As a student, his exceptional talents were recognized in 1992 when he won first place for dance in the 4th National Union of Writers and Artists in Havana. He went on to be a principal dancer for the prominent Danza Contemporánea de Cuba from 1992 to 2002, where both his technical talent and expressive dance style gained national prominence. Alexander has studied with distinguished teachers such as Donald McKayle, Chuck Davis, and Jeffrey Bullock and has performed throughout Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and the United States. Since relocating from Cuba to Chicago in 2002, Alexander has performed with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, Hedwig Dances, CDI/Concert Dance Inc, and Luna Negra Dance Theater. While with CDI, Alexander was a featured artist in the 2008 Emmy Award-nominated production of the re-envisioned Ruth Page’s Billy Sunday on PBS.
His teaching experience is extensive, encompassing local, national and international dance institutions. Of particular importance to Alexander is teaching in outreach programs that bring dance to youth. Recent outreach programs include Dance Art (2007–2010) and the Elementary Dance Scholarship Program (2010–2011) within the Chicago Public Schools. Included in Dance Magazine’s prestigious “25 to Watch in 2013” list, Alexander is known for his riveting stage presence as he mixes formidable technique he gained in the rigorous training ground of Cuban dance schools with facility at theatrical interpretation. In 2012, he was one of four choreographers selected for the Lab Artists Program, a one-year program of the Chicago Dancemakers Forum that focuses on the development of new choreography. In addition to the Chicago Dancemakers Forum grant, he has also received a fellowship from the Illinois Arts Council for his work,“Line of Sighs” and was selected as one of the 2013 Novel Affair Artists selected by The Ragdale Curatorial Board. In December of 2013, "Line of Sighs" was highlighted in the Chicago Tribune's "Top 10 Best Dance Performances of 2013."
Recently Alexander was one of the choreographers chosen to participate in Chicago's Afro-Latino Festival 2014 with his work "Among us." Additionally in 2014, he was selected to participate in Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's choreographic initiative, The International Commissioning Project, which provides residencies to choreographers, offering them the opportunity to create original works for HS2’s dancers and to conduct master classes.
Dolores Lipinski Long
Associate Director, Ruth Page School of Dance, and Co-Director, Ruth Page Civic Ballet
Because of her lifetime connection to Ruth Page, Dolores Lipinski Long has been associated with the world's greatest dancers, choreographers, producers, and designers. In addition to her role with the Ruth Page School of Dance, she is also the Co-Director of the Ruth Page Civic Ballet, the official youth training performance company of the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. With her celebrated husband of 47 years, Larry Long (1936-2009) Mrs. Long co-founded the Ruth Page School of Dance.
Mrs. Long began her dance studies as a scholarship student with Bentley Stone and Walter Camryn. Her continuing studies over the years included classes with many well-known teachers including Valentina Pereyaslavec, Felia Doubrovska, Bill Griffith, Leon Danielian, Patricia Wilde, Melissa Hayden and Richard Thomas. Her professional career began as a teen with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She started in the Corps de Ballet and left as a Principal Dancer. She appeared in the Lyric's production of "Prince Igor" with Rudolph Nureyev as the Polevetsian Maiden and has danced principal roles with every Ruth Page company from 1954 to 1973, including all principal roles in The Merry Widow, Carmen, Die Fledermaus, Carmina Burana and Bolero.
Mrs. Long joined the National Ballet of Washington, D.C. where Frederic Franklin was Artistic Director. She had the opportunity to dance many Balanchine ballets and performed such classics as Giselle, Coppelia, Pas de Quatre, Les Sylphides and the Nutcracker. She also danced in the unique and magnificent Chicago Tribune production of The Nutcracker as the American Beauty Rose and Sugar Plum Fairy for many years. Upon her retirement, she became ballet mistress for the company and was instrumental in the choice of the new design for the production in 1990 by Jose Varona.
Additionally, Mrs. Long danced in summer stock theatres, including the Starlight Theater in Kansas City and the St. Louis Muni Opera Company. She appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, CBS Repertory Workshop, Great Music from Chicago, at the Chez Paree Night Club and at Harrah's Club in Lake Tahoe with Liberace. Ms. Lipinski taught at the Interlochen Music Camp, the University of Kansas, The University of Tulsa and the International Ballet of London.
Ballet Mistress, Ruth Page Civic Ballet
Ms. Barodicaite trained in Chicago with Richard Ellis, Christine DuBoulay, and Larry Long. Ms. Barodicaite danced with the Chicago Ballet and the Lyric Opera Ballet. Additionally, she toured throughout France, Austria, and Germany. Ms. Barodicaite has staged Ruth Page's Nutcracker, Con Spirito by Jim Clouser, and works for Chicago Ballet. For many years, Ms. Barodicaite has taught for the Ruth Page School of Dance as well as teaching for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. She has taught as guest artist in Lithuania for the Lithuanian National Ballet, Ballet Moscow in Idaho, and Chattanooga Ballet. She is the ballet mistress for the Ruth Page Civic Ballet, the official youth training performance company of the Ruth Page School of Dance, and has been a guest teacher for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, Grand Rapids Ballet and Luna Negra Dance Theater.
Julie Burman is a native Chicagoan, graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in dance. She performed professionally for many years with the renowned Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and was a founding member of River North Chicago Dance Company (now River North Dance Chicago). In addition to her popular adult jazz classes, Ms. Burman choreographs industrial shows, commercials and feature films.
Mari Jo Irbe
Mari Jo Irbe, an accomplished performer, choreographer, and teacher, is originally from La Grange, Illinois, and has called Chicago "home" during much of her career. She has been a featured performer with River North Dance Chicago (RNDC), under the direction of both Sherry Zunker and Frank Chaves, for 15 years and has toured extensively, performing works by internationally acclaimed choreographers. Ms. Irbe also danced with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and toured the United States and Mexico with Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre, under the direction of Randy Duncan. She continues to choreograph, teach, and perform extensively throughout the metropolitan area, as well as the U.S. She is currently on faculty at Loyola University of Chicago's new dance department and dances with the Mature Dance Project under the direction of Sherry Zunker.
Jumaane Taylor, a Chicago native, has been tap dancing since the age of 7. He began his training at the Sammy Dyer School of the Theatre, then Chicago Multicultural Dance Center and ETA Creative Arts Foundation. He has had the opportunity to perform and study with Idella Reed Davis, Jimmy Payne Jr. and George Patterson III. Jumaane made his professional debut in 2001 with the tap company M.A.D.D. Rhythms founded by Bril Barrett and Martin "Tre" Dumas III.
Jumaane was apart of the ensemble in "Imagine Tap!" directed and choreographed by Derick Grant in 2006, "Tap Into Peace" directed and choreographed by Sarah Savelli and Ayodele Casel in 2009 and Rasta Thomas' "Tap Stars" that performed in Hamburg, Germany summer of 2011.
In 2014 this tap dancer created “Supreme Love”, a tap dance production honoring John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and the art of tap. Premiering at jazz music and dance festivals such as Jacob's Pillow in 2017.
Jumaane received the Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award and has performed his work for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Jazz Institute of Chicago and abroad. In 2018 he presented “The Jazz Hoofing Quartet”, a tap dance performance using improvisation to continue an expressive exploration of live jazz music with respect for its culture. He is locally on faculty at Hubbard Street Youth Dance Program, Ruth Page Center for the Arts, Sammy Dyer School of the Theatre and the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.
Creative Movement, Pre-Dance & Beginner Jazz
Katie Matteson Campana is honored to work in the hallowed halls of Ruth Page. Katie holds a degree in Theater/Dance Performance from NIU and has been performing and teaching professionally in Chicago for more than a decade. In addition to her work at The Center, she can be found teaching with Chicago Dance Academy and as part of the Arts Partnership between Synapse Arts and Loyola Park. Katie has also had the pleasure of teaching the fanciest jazz squares around while setting pieces for CPS Drama and Musical Theater programs. She currently performs and dances joyously with Synapse Arts. When not focused on the dance world, Katie enjoys long walks on the beach, listening to good music, and hunting for vintage treasures.
Ballet Training Program
Patricia Klekovic is a native Chicagoan. She began her training with the esteemed Edna McRae, one of several teachers and choreographers in Chicago who from the 1920's to the early 1960's helped make Chicago a major ballet center.
Ms. Klekovic has been prima ballerina of the Ruth Page International Ballet, Chicago Lyric Opera and Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, where she was also Ballet Mistress. As a guest artist, she has appeared with the Ballet Municipal de Santiago in Chile, and many summer festivals including Jacob's Pillow and the 25th Anniversary production of "Song of Norway" with the Civic Light Opera in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Additionally, she has made several television appearances and danced in numerous musicals in the summer theaters around the country.
During her time with the Pittsburgh Ballet, Ms. Klekovic was asked to take charge of the High School Dance Program, which started her teaching career. For two summers she was one of the guest teachers for a dance workshop in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 1974 she returned to Chicago to join the faculty of the Ruth Page School of Dance.
Mr. Newsom has spent 30 years training dancers, many of whom have gone on to the professional stage. He is frequently in demand as a guest teacher at Summer Ballet Intensives. His guest teaching has included Ballet Nouveau Colorado, Richmond Ballet, MacAllen, South Texas Dance Theater, Rockford Dance Company, Ballet Iowa, etc. In 2009 Mr. Newson retired as Head of the Dance Program at Northern Illinois University, a position he held for 30 years. Mr. Newsom received his professional training at the Rotterdam Conservatorium in Holland and at the London School of Contemporary Dance. He studied with a long list of great artists including Anton Dolin, Hans Breena , Svetlana Berlosova, Mary Hinkson and many others. In Europe, Mr. Newsom was a principal dancer with the Irish National Ballet from 1979 to 1985. In America, he performed with the Louisville Ballet and the Repertory Dance Company of the Southwest, among other companies.
Youth Ballet & Pre-Dance
- Sarah Schafer, born and raised in Omaha, NE, began her professional career as a dancer with Ballet Omaha at the age of 17. After moving to Chicago in 1996, she continued her career dancing in Ruth Page’s “Nutcracker,” and with companies such as Paul Abrahamson’s Moose Project, Luna Negra Dance Theater, The Civic Ballet of Chicago, and Alma Dance Company. Sarah has also danced for the Dallas Opera, Omaha Theater Ballet, most recently with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. In 2003 she choreographed “Momentum is a Vector” for the Omaha Theater Ballet. Having taught ballet for many years, Sarah also became a certified Pilates instructor in 2004. Sarah is currently teaching ballet as an adjunct professor at the Chicago Conservatory for the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, as well at at Columbia College Chicago. Additionally, she is on staff at Lou Conte’s Dance Studio and Chicago Ballet Arts. Since 2002, Sarah has spent her summers in Taos Ski Valley, NM, teaching at the Jillana School Summer Intensive and at Technique In Taos.
Beginner and Intermediate Contemporary/Modern
Maray Gutierrez is a native of Havana, Cuba where she trained at the National School of Dance. She was a principal dancer for Danza Contemporanea de Cuba for ten years and worked with esteemed choreographers Giovanni de Cicco, Donald McKayle, Joaquin Sabaté, Jan Linkens and Marianela Boan, among others. She has toured and danced throughout Europe, the United States and the Caribbean and has performed for British television and the Venice Opera. Ms. Gutierrez has participated in the American Dance Festival; The International Dance Festival of Berlin; The Holland Dance Festival; and the International Ballet Festival in Genoa, Italy. Since relocating to the United States, she has danced with Hedwig Dances, Luna Negra Dance Theater, CDI/Concert Dance Inc; the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Houston Grand Opera. Currently, she is the Artistic Associate as well as a performer with Hedwig Dances. She has choreographed three works for Hedwig Dances, as well as performing in the film “Arch of Repose” produced by Hedwig Dances in 2009. Ms. Gutierrez was selected by “See Chicago Dance” as one of the 10 Top Women in Dance of 2006 with her choreography “Eterno Despertar” for Luna Negra Dance Theater. She has also choreographed for Ballet Hispanico of New York in 2010 and Milwaukee Ballet II in 2013. In 2008, Ms. Gutierrez was featured dancer in the Emmy-nominated PBS special of Ruth Page’s “Billy Sunday” produced by HMS Media and the Ruth Page Foundation.
Ms. Gutierrez has taught at Hedwig Dances, Chicago, IL; Faubourg School of Ballet, Chicago, IL; School of Dance West Ballet, Naperville, IL; Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, MO; Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS; and Milwaukee Ballet School, Milwaukee, WI.
Pilates Mat Classes & Pilates Practice Inc.
Julie Schiller is a certified instructor in the Pilates Method of Body Conditioning and teaches mat classes at the Ruth Page School of Dance. In addition to her career as a professional dancer, Ms. Schiller holds a B.F.A. from the University of Illinois. She has worked with Romana Kryzanowska, assistant to Joseph Pilates authorized master teacher. Her Pilates classes add an essential element to a dancer's training.
Tracy Vonder Haar
Adult Jazz and Tap
Tracy Vonder Haar, a former member of Hubbard Street Dance Company, returned to Chicago in 2016 after two decades in Los Angeles where she taught at Los Angeles Valley College, and was artistic director of Vonder Haar Center for the Performing Arts for ten years. When Tracy first lived in Chicago, she taught at Ruth Page Foundation School of Dance, Lou Conte Dance Studio, directed Chicago Studio for Dance and Musical Theatre, was Artistic Director of Dance and Company, was dance coordinator for the Musical Theatre Department at Columbia College, and was the director of the children’s choir (in several cities) for the Canadian/National tour of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT starring Donny Osmond.
She has choreographed and/or directed commercials, industrials, television shows, full length ballets, and scores of revues and musicals, including PETER PAN, CAROUSEL, and YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, just to name a few. She was also a resident choreographer for five years for Yip’s Children’s Choir in both Los Angeles and Hong Kong where her choreography was seen in over two dozen countries.
Other teaching credits include Webster University (St. Louis), Los Angeles Trade Technical College, and over a decade at Pasadena Civic Ballet. Tracy is currently also on the faculty at Ballet Chicago and Lou Conte Dance Studio, and is thrilled to be back in Chicago.
Vannessa Lake received her formal ballet training with Bentley Stone and Walter Camryn in Chicago. Her professional career began with The Chicago Tribune's production of Ruth Page's "The Nutcracker" and two seasons dancing with The Lyric Opera Ballet under Maria Tallchief in Chicago. She traveled to Europe where she joined the Theater der Hansestadt Luebeck in Germany as a soloist dancing both classical ballet roles and contemporary pieces.
Aside from performing ballet repertoire she also appeared on German television ("ZDF") in musical revue productions. In Berlin, she sang and danced while with the Theater des Westens under Herr K. Vibach in "West Side Story" and performed at the Theater an der Wien in Austria. Vannessa also appeared in various music/dance films produced during her time in Germany.
Ballet Training Program
Katrina Levental was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia and received her ballet training at the world-renowned Vaganova Ballet School in Saint Petersburg. After graduation, she performed with several prominent ballet companies in Russia, including Lenigrad Musical Theater, before coming to the United States. She was also a principal dancer at Troika Dance Folk Dance company in Saint Petersburg. Since her arrival in the United States, she had worked as a lead choreographer for the Illinois Rhythmic Gymnastics center, where she trained members of the United States Olympic Team.
Ms. Levental has been a faculty member at Barat College, Columbia College and the Chicago Academy for the Arts. Katrina has choreographed many musical numbers in various theater productions for European Repertoire Company and TUTA company in Chicago. She has been a guest choreographer at the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters on many occasions.
Ms. Levental became a Ruth Page School of Dance faculty member in 1993 after being selected for a teaching position by Mr. Larry Long himself. She has been teaching Intermediate Ballet, Advance Ballet, Pointe and Character dance at Ruth Page ever since.