Liam Hutt's bold journey: A new era for ballet

High School Dance student Liam Vincent Hutt is no stranger to the spotlight he’s been dancing since he was two years old, was performing in musical theater at age 10, had a SAG-AFTRA equity card and an agent by 11, and at 12 was traveling the U.S. in “Elf the Musical.” Though he grew up in Fort Myers, Florida, performance opportunities took him all over the country and the world. 

“I was used to being the young kid with a lot of attention,” he remembers. “I’d gotten comfortable with being on stage.” But there’s one audition he looks back on and is still surprised at the guts he had. That daring audition set the stage for Hutt’s career in ballet, where he’s pushed the boundaries of gender expectations in the dance form and made his mark at UNCSA. 

In Billy Elliot’s footsteps

When Hutt auditioned for Goodspeed Musicals’ “Billy Elliot the Musical,” he made an unconventional choice. “I took a really big risk by singing ‘Electricity,’ which is one of the main songs,” Hutt explains. But when Director Gabriel Barre cast him as Billy, he knew the choice was the right one. For the next few months, Hutt’s life was a whirlwind of rehearsals and performances. 

Every morning, his aunt would drive him to the theater and he’d immediately “switch on.” The production was incredible Barre was “the most amazing director,” Hutt was performing alongside major Broadway names, and he was following in the footsteps of famed male actors and dancers who got their start playing Billy Elliot (like Tom Holland). But the biggest impact may have been the story itself. 

Liam Hutt in "Billy Elliot the Musical"

“Billy Elliot” follows a coal miner’s son (Billy) as he discovers his passion for dance after stumbling upon a ballet class. In a real-life parallel, the production ignited a love of ballet in Hutt. “When I was a recreational dancer, I was more jazz-focused,” he says. “‘Billy Elliot’ made me realize how much more I liked doing ballet than anything else.” 

Back to square one 

After investing so many years in musical theater, switching to ballet wasn’t easy for Hutt. While his parents were supportive, it was still a lot for them to digest, and work prevented them from being very involved. “It was up to me to push myself to do the best I could and show them what was possible,” he says. When a family friend recommended UNCSA, Hutt auditioned. He was accepted into the High School Dance program with a scholarship from the Dean’s Discretionary Fund.  

Initially, Hutt began his training at UNCSA in the contemporary dance program. “I excel in the contemporary aspect,” he says. “My thing is neoclassical ballet, but I really like being able to do everything.” Then, with encouragement and support from several teachers, Liam switched to the ballet program and became immersed in a whole new world. 

Liam Hutt in the UNCSA "Nutcracker"

In ballet, Hutt was starting from square one though he’d been dancing recreationally for years, none of his prior classes counted toward the ballet curriculum. But he was not deterred. “Before I was just doing it,” he explains, “now I was committed.” With help from his mentor, dance faculty member Misha Tchoupakov, Hutt worked for the next two and half years to catch up, and to become the dancer he aspires to be. 

Making a ‘pointe’

“I’ve always just wanted to be beautiful, and that’s what ballet is,” says Hutt. “Even with the strangest choreography, you will still look beautiful on stage.” For him, it doesn’t matter what the piece looks like he’ll shape it into his own form of beauty, with a preference for a soft, lyrical and romantic style. 

“There’s an expectation for male dancers to be super macho, strong and sharp when they dance,” says Hutt. “But I look up more to the female dancers that’s the way I lean stylistically and how I want to move.” While he admires the high jumps and beats that frequent male ballet dancing, it’s the typically female moves that take his breath away. “When someone’s leg is at a 180-degree angle then they slowly go into a relevé, that’s more impressive to me,” he explains. 

Liam Hutt and Natalie Taylor

And one of the most impressive aspects of ballet? Pointe technique, where a dancer supports their entire body weight on the tips of their toes while wearing pointe shoes. Hutt has always been fascinated with pointe work, but his past teachers consistently told him that pointe was “just for girls.” Thankfully, this only made him want to buy pointe shoes even more. 

If anyone wants to train in a different direction — to do more men’s work or do more pointe work, it doesn’t really matter — if you want to focus on something, you should have the right to pursue it.

Liam Hutt

“I think that if anyone wants to train in a different direction to do more men’s work or do more pointe work, it doesn’t really matter if you want to focus on something, you should have the right to pursue it," he explains. "All of dance is very focused on gender stereotypes. It can be beautiful in classical ballets but can also be harmful in how others feel and are perceived.” 

Controversial in the right way

At UNCSA, Hutt created the opportunity to train in pointe technique and has been taking classes once a week. With the support of Tchoupakov and School of Dance Dean Endalyn Outlaw, he’s also found a platform for his pointe work the Youth America Grand Prix, an international ballet competition. 

In January 2024, Hutt became the first-ever male to perform on pointe in the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP). Though he wasn’t allowed to compete in the category, he was still able to showcase his skills. And while he’s grateful for the opportunity, he’s also thinking of the next step. “I want to see it reversed,” he says. “I want to see someone who is female-bodied compete in the men’s category. It’s controversial in the right ways if it’s controversial, it means it’s going to get attention from the press. And if it has press it means it’s going to be seen.” 

While Hutt has made enormous strides in pointe work, it hasn’t been an easy path. “I’ve had a lot of obstacles, and I’m nowhere near where I want to be with it,” he says. “One of the hardest things for me has been other people’s judgment.” But while he’s encountered incomprehension and criticism, he’s also found wells of encouragement. 

A network of support 

Dancing en pointe is all about support. The tip of a pointe shoe is a flattened, rigid box. To achieve that rigidity, pieces of paper, cardboard, or fabric are layered together, densely packed, and hardened by glue. When a dancer rises onto their pointe shoes, they place their weight and their trust on that network of paper and glue. 

Throughout his training, Hutt has made his own network of support. For continued inspiration, Hutt looks to professional dancers like Svetlana Zakharova. “She is just beautiful, and she’s really tall, which I love,” he explains. “When I do pointe work I don’t feel so separated from everyone else because I know there are other tall ballet dancers.”  

Liam Hutt at the 2024 UNCSA Scholarship Luncheon

Liam Hutt at the 2024 UNCSA Scholarship Luncheon.

Meanwhile, Hutt’s mentor, Tchoupakov, has been there every step of the way. “He has been extremely supportive and helpful,” he says. “Without him, I don’t think I’d be where I am. He transforms students into the dancers they want to be.” With Tchoupakov’s encouragement, Hutt has participated in two New York City summer ballet courses, where he’s danced with many of the professionals he looks up to. 

Then, in 2022, Hurricane Ian hit Hutt’s hometown. Thousands of buildings were destroyed and his parents were significantly impacted, but thanks to the Melissa Hayden Endowed Scholarship, the Gillian Murphy Endowed Scholarship, and a support scholarship from the Nutcracker Sponsorships, Hutt’s education wasn’t interrupted. “I’m very thankful for that,” he says. “It has helped me out tremendously and allowed me to continue dancing here.”

A love letter to the audience 

As his graduation approaches, Hutt is looking to the future. In the short term, he plans to join a professional dance company, but his long-term goal is to become a choreographer, and maybe even start a small conservatory or come back to UNCSA. First, Hutt is making the most of his last year in High School Dance — senior year has been his favorite so far. 

“I’ve been letting myself dance without as much pressure,” he says. “When you follow your heart, really open up to perform and get out of your head that’s performing. In class fine, be in your head, push yourself so you can see the changes in yourself that you want to see. But on stage, it should be a love letter to the audience. It should move them in a certain way. If someone comes up to me and tells me they felt something when they saw me dance, that would be the best feeling in the world.” 

by Sasha Hartzell

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April 11, 2024