Lounging around the edges of a ballet studio one evening, nine teenage students await their turn to perform. Some chat in hushed tones, while others gently stretch. Suddenly, the score of Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinderella soars from the sound system and all eyes turn to 17-year-old Devon Luxton as he leaps into the center of the room to rehearse his upcoming role as Prince Charming. A moment later, he is joined by 16-year-old Raelin Flanigan, who is dancing as Cinderella, and the two perform a complicated pas de deux with the encouragement of director Jean-Hugues Feray.
“Don’t over-attack,” Feray instructs after one hard landing. “Go easy.” He peppers his advice with praise, using the words “good” and “nice” frequently as he analyzes each movement.
When Luxton and Flanigan finish, the next dancer immediately steps to the center of the floor. To say these dancers’ schedules are disciplined is an understatement. Many of the teens start their day at 6:30 a.m. and head straight to the studio after a full day of high school classes. But the payoff is huge. On May 15, these dancers—all students at the Paris Ballet and Dance school in Jupiter, which was founded by Feray—will take to the main stage at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts to showcase Feray’s choreographed version of the classic Cinderella. The show will be followed by a guest performance featuring two renowned principal dancers: Brooklyn Mack, who has performed with the American Ballet Theatre, and Nicole Graniero of The Washington Ballet. They will be dancing a pas de deux from Marius Petipa’s Le Corsaire.
Many of the dancers who study with Feray have essentially grown up with him. “Most of these kids have been with me since they were 4 or 5 years old,” he says. “They’re like my own kids.” The admiration is mutual. As the teens file out of the studio after rehearsal, they stop to shake Feray’s hand, thank him, and say they’ll see him the next day.
The Kravis performance of Cinderella is a couple of years in the making. It was originally scheduled to be the school’s tenth anniversary show. But then the pandemic hit.
It was no doubt a disappointment, but there was also a positive side to the two-year delay. “I was only 13, almost 14, when I got the role of Cinderella,” says Flanigan, a Jupiter native. “Since then, I’ve definitely matured as a dancer, and now I feel more ready. Devon and I have been partnering for three years, and we’re used to performing together.”
Feray chose to stage Cinderella partly because it has so many roles. There are 65 students in the cast (he even added roles for a dozen of his youngest students as Cinderella’s lucky charms). “We originally did this production in 2016, and I thought it was time to bring it back,” he says.
In a way, the production brings Feray full circle in his career. As a teen, he was selected by ballet star Rudolf Nureyev to dance in his choreographed version of Cinderella at the San Carlo Theatre in Naples, Italy. He went on to perform as the lead in several other versions of the classic fairy tale. “I was so blessed to dance with such incredible choreography,” says Feray, now 49.
Feray was destined to perform. At the age of 10, he was one of only six boys chosen out of 250 students to attend the Paris Opera Ballet School. He went on to the Paris Conservatory, graduating with the highest prize in ballet, awarded by a unanimous jury decision. From there, he danced with a few professional companies, including the French Ballet National of Nancy, where he scored a coveted soloist spot at the age of 20.
This was heady stuff for a boy from Caen, in the Normandy region of France. One of four children, his mother originally thought ballet might be a possibility for one of her two daughters, but it was Feray who took to it. “From a young age, I knew I had to be on stage,” he says.
After being invited to dance with Ballet Florida, he left France for the United States in 2000. He always knew that eventually he wanted to teach. And in 2009, after 20 years as a professional dancer, he founded Paris Ballet and Dance and revealed the school’s first performance in the spring of 2010. The nonprofit conservatory followed in 2013 in Abacoa before relocating to the current location on Jupiter Park Drive.
Over the years, many of Feray’s students have gone on to professional careers. One of his current conservatory students, 17-year-old Clare Keavy, is graduating early and will most likely join the Sarasota Ballet next year as a trainee. She is dancing the role of the Fairy Godmother in Feray’s production of Cinderella.
Not every student wants to continue on to a professional career, and that’s just fine with Feray. “I don’t teach just to make pros,” he says. “I want them to succeed. The discipline and respect they learn from ballet will always be with them.”
Watching his students perform in Dreyfoos Hall at the Kravis Center marks another career milestone for Feray. “It’s a special place to me,” he says. “Just the smell when I go into the theater brings back so many memories of when I performed there (with Ballet Florida). It means a lot to me to see my kids dance there.”
For tickets to Cinderella at the Kravis Center May 15, click here.
Jupiter teen Devon Luxton stars in Cinderella before heading to the Netherlands to join the Dutch National Ballet Academy
When Jupiter native Devon Luxton attended a production of Billy Elliot: The Musical at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, he knew he’d found his passion and future career. The story of an 11-year-old male ballet student in England inspired Luxton, also 11 at the time, to ask for lessons. His mother, Julie, a former professional dancer herself, enrolled him in the school at Paris Ballet and Dance on his twelfth birthday. “At first, my mom asked if I wanted to take hip-hop, but I knew right away that I liked ballet,” says Luxton, who is starring as Prince Charming in the Paris Ballet production of Cinderella at the Kravis Center May 15.
A senior at the A.W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, Luxton has exceeded expectations in his five years at Paris Ballet, quickly racking up national awards at the annual Youth America Grand Prix, often referred to as the “Olympics of ballet.” Recently, he earned a prestigious training spot at the Dutch National Ballet Academy in the Netherlands. After a round of video auditions, Luxton was one of 177 young dancers worldwide invited to audition in-person in Barcelona at an event attended by international ballet company directors looking for new talent. In the final round, Luxton was one of only 10 dancers to be offered a position as a trainee with a company, a dream come true for the teen. “The Dutch National Ballet was the company I wanted,” he says.
Before he attends the academy’s two-year training program this fall, he’ll spend the summer abroad, honing his skills in intensive classes at Princess Grace Academy at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and the Royal Ballet School in London.
Paris Ballet founder Jean-Hugues Feray is justifiably proud of Luxton and says there was never any doubt he would cast his talented student in the lead male role in Cinderella this year after the student who was originally slated to dance the part two years ago graduated and went off to the Houston Ballet Academy. “Of course, I had Devon in mind,” says Feray. “This year, [Luxton] will be graduating as well, so it’s extra special that he is in the lead.”