Faculty & Staff

Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy thrives due to its professional, personable, and experienced team of faculty, staff, and accompanists. Our students are supported in the studio and beyond thanks to their passion and expertise.

Staff

Our School & Academy is enriched by a group of enthusiastic, committed, and imaginative individuals who support our students beyond the studio.

Faculty

Our world-renowned and highly-trained faculty is equipped to prepare students for professional careers and inspire a lifelong love of dance.

Accompanists

Classes are accompanied live by our fantastic staff of pianists, which enriches the student experience and prepares them for real-life artistic collaborations.

Hikari Nakamura | Company Pianist

Hikari Nakamura is a versatile artist who performs across the United States, Japan, Poland, France and the United Kingdom. Hikari gave her solo debut performance in Poland when she was 12 performing a series of piano concertos, and was featured as a soloist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as a winner  of the Leonard Slatkin Piano Award. A passionate collaborative pianist, Hikari has been an active collaborator/ chamber musician since a young age. In the past two seasons, Hikari was invited to perform chamber music with world-renowned musicians at the Kent Blossom Music Festival in cooperation with the  Cleveland Orchestra. In recent years, she has been involved in projects with new music ensemble groups in the United States, with featured performances including Tehillim by Steve Reich at the Toledo Museum of Art, The Pieces That Fall to Earth by Christopher Cerrone, and Sure baby, mañana by Sarah
Gibson.

With Hikari’s growing passion for dance with live music, she continuously creates and premieres new works with dancers. Most recently, she appeared at the Interlochen Center for the Arts Alumni Recital with her collaborative work Piano Folio … to a Disappeared Pleiad. With her expertise in accompanying various styles, she worked with prestigious companies and institutions such as the Mark Morris Dance Company, the Tulsa Ballet, the Northern Ballet, the University of Michigan, and many others. Besides her performance career, Hikari serves as a Co-Artistic Director and Electronic Music Composer of the non-profit organization called heARTists where they create original artworks from the stories of painful experiences and then gift them as a symbol of empowerment and healing.

Hikari was a full- scholarship recipient for a Bachelor’s degree from Lynn University Conservatory of Music and holds a Masters of Music degree from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, & Dance. Her instructors include Christopher Harding, Dr. Roberta Rust, Dr. Thomas Lymenstull, Tomoko Mack, Kazimierz Brzozowski,Peter Otto, Richard Weiss, Joela Jones the principal keyboardist of the Cleveland Orchestra and David Halen the concertmaster of St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and many more.

Email: hnakamura@milwaukeeballet.org

Company Pianist

Colin Dejong | Lead Accompanist

Colin DeJong joined the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy music staff in 2022 after ten years as a pianist serving numerous Chicago dance companies & studios – Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (company pianist), the Joffrey Academy of Dance, The Chicago High School for the Arts (“ChiArts,” where he was also music instructor for dance majors), Visceral Dance Chicago, Chicago Ballet Arts, COMMON Conservatory,  and the Hyde Park School of Dance – while also accompanying notable visitors including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, Miami City Ballet, and YAGP during their occasional engagements in Chicago. Additionally, he spent four summers as a staff pianist for the dance department at Interlochen Arts Camp.

Colin holds a master’s in music theory and a bachelor’s in music composition from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington, where his principal piano instructors were Jean-Louis Haguenauer and Ann Schein.

Email: cdejong@milwaukeeballet.org

Lead Accompanist

Alan Borkenhagen

Alan Borkenhagen was born in Milwaukee. He has studied and plays Piano (both popular and classical), Cello, Clarinet, Oboe, Flute, Recorder and Guitar. In high school he toured Europe with The Greater Milwaukee Touring Youth Symphony. In England, he received honors in a Piano competition. One of the judges was the Queen’s Pianist. The orchestra placed 1st in a separate competition. He studied music, art, theatre and dance at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and received a Bachelors of Fine Arts in 1983. While there he studied Piano under Dr. Jeffrey Hollander. After graduating he played for dance classes both at the Milwaukee Ballet and UWM. Soon he began playing for the choir of St. Lukes Parish in Brookfield. He did this for 20 years. At the same time, he also played and continues to play for a small Christian Science church in Bay View. For the last three years Berea Lutheran church has hired him to accompany their choir. From 2002 through 2009 he was employed by two schools in the Wauwatosa school system and accompanied choirs there, grades 6 through 12. He played for their performances, competitions, and extracurricular performances. The hardest part of playing for dance classes is sometimes wanting to do the movements with them.

Email: aborkenhagen@milwaukeeballet.org

Part-Time Accompanist

Daniel Boudewyns

Daniel Boudewyns, pianist, holds a bachelor’s degree from the Arizona State University School of Music. He has served as company pianist for Ballet Arizona, Colorado Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and the River North Dance Company. From 1989 through 1997, Boudewyns was on the music staff of the Dance Aspen Summer Festival. In 1998 he joined the staff of Burklyn Ballet Theatre in Johnson, Vermont, and was personally invited by former New York City Ballet star, Jillana, to be part of the inaugural season of the Jillana school in Taos, New Mexico, where he worked for four subsequent seasons. He currently guests each June with the Alwin School of The Dance in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Boudewyns is founder and sole proprietor of “Sky’s the Limit Recordings for Dance” through which he markets his compact discs of beautiful music for ballet class. In 2005, he made his debut as a composer with a score for a children’s ballet, The Princess and The Pea, which was performed by Ballet Pensacola. This was followed in May of 2007 by his second collaborative effort with Bobby Ball and Ballet Pensacola, The Reluctant Pirate. As a music educator, Boudewyns has taught on the faculties of the Barat College Conservatory of Dance, and the University of Wisconsin Dance Department. Boudewyns joined the music staff of the Milwaukee Ballet in 2001 where he has served as pianist for the company and school, and has worked to develop a uniquely creative music curriculum for the students of Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy.

Email: dboudewyns@milwaukeeballet.org

Part-Time Accompanist

Grace Daley

Simone Gheller

Dr. Simone Gheller was born in Padua (Italy) in I978. After graduation from high school, he received four Master’s Degrees in Piano, Organ Performance & Organ Composition, Music Education, and Choral Music & Choral Conducting. He also received a Doctorate in Organ Performance and Organ Composition, Magna cum laude. He has participated in many sacred music seminars and organ master classes of M-L Langlais, W. Matesic, K. Schnorr, J. Artigas Pina, Marie-Claire Alain and others, and studied at Vienna University with Michael Radulescu and Roman Summereder. In 2007 and 2008 he received two “Medaille d’Or en Superieur d’Interpretation” with Eric Lebrun at the Conservatoire National de Paris. Dr. Gheller studied also at Oberlin College (Ohio, USA) with Professor James David Christie and Olivier Latry, where he finished a prestigious program (the Artist Diploma- a great distinction in music).

He started to play the piano at 5 and the organ at 9. He became a Liturgical Organist at the age of 9 and Music Director at 13 playing the organ and conducting the choir at his parish. He was also organist at First Church in Oberlin (OH) from 2009 to 2011. From 2011 to 2013, Mr. Gheller was Music Director and Organist at St. Joseph Church in Wilmette (Chicago). Currently, Dr. Simone Gheller is Music Director and Organist at St. Jerome Church in Oconomowoc, WI, USA. At this parish he’s leading the music ministry playing all masses, organ concerts and conducting four choirs: adult choir, children’s choir, handbells choir and the school choir. He’s also the accompanist of Waukesha Choral Union. From September 2019 was appointed organist at Nashotah House Theological Seminary. He is a member of the American Guild of Organists since 2009. From April 2020 he was appointed Music Director and Conductor of Sacra Nova Cathedral.

Dr. Gheller has an extensive performing history spanning the last 30 years, with concerts in prestigious locations in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, United Kingdom and America among others. He had a concert tour in Brazil in 2001 conducting the G.E.S. male choir. He performed in concert the complete organ works of Percy Whitlock, Cesar Franck, Julius Reubke and Felix Mendelssohn. He has garnered many prizes, including first prize at the National Italian Organ competition “Citta’ di Viterbo” in four of the six years between 1995 and 2000, first prize and gold medal from the President of Italian Republic at the Giarda National Organ Competition, first prize at the International Organ Competition Vegezzi Bossi in 2000, first prize at the Korschenbroich International Organ Competition (Germany), first prize, audience prize and two special prizes at the International Organ Competition “Grand Prix Andrè Marchal” in Biarritz (2007).

Mr. Gheller has recorded four CDs: Fiori Musicali by Girolamo Frescobaldi, The Complete Choral Works with Organ by Alessandro Scarlatti for the Tactus label, the Orgelbuchlein by J.S. Bach and music by Liszt and Reubke for the Onclassical Label.

Email: sgheller@milwaukeeballet.org

Part-Time Accompanist

Jessi Kolberg

Jessi Kolberg is a well-known musician in the Milwaukee metropolitan area. She graduated with honors from Wisconsin Lutheran College with a music degree in Piano Performance, Vocal Performance, and Church Music. She teaches piano, voice, and violin at Wisconsin Lutheran High School and Sound Check Studios and voice at Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School.  She has been an accompanist for the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy since 2003, the staff accompanist at Alverno College since 2011, the accompanist for the Ozaukee Chorus since 2019 and the Wisconsin Gospellers since 2022, and serves as the full-time organist at Loving Shepherd Lutheran in Brown Deer.  A highly in-demand collaborator, Jessi frequently plays for choir concerts, studio recitals, and competitions, and performs with Symphony 847, the Kenosha Symphony Orchestra, and the Kettle Moraine Symphony Orchestra. As a professional soprano, Jessi has sung with the Bel Canto Chorus and Choral Artists, the Milwaukee Chamber Choir, and Canticum Novum, and is a soloist for the National Anthem at local sporting events. Jessi can also be seen playing violin with the acoustic rock duo, The Nightinjails.

Email: jkolberg@milwaukeeballet.org

Part-Time Accompanist

Peggy Lozier

Peggy Lozier has worked as a professional pianist and music director in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas since she graduated with masters’ degrees in piano and choral conducting from UW-Milwaukee. She has directed many musical productions, is a church musician, has taught music and dance privately and in the public system, and has served as an accompanist for many dance companies. She first played for Milwaukee Ballet Co. and School in the 1990’s. Since she is also a ballet dancer, she has enjoyed performing on both sides of the piano and is happy to, at this time, be able to spend more time back at  Milwaukee Ballet.

Email: plozier@milwaukeeballet.org

Part-Time Accompanist

Rachel Mehail

Rachel Mehail’s love of music started at the age of seven when she began piano lessons. Rachel took lessons for eleven years and along the way also picked up guitar and clarinet.

Rachel graduated from Marquette University in May of 2023 studying Civil Engineering with a minor in Marketing. Although Rachel studied a major that is not directly related to the arts, she appreciates and admires the differences between the fields. At Marquette, Rachel continued to share her passion for music. She was a member of the Marquette Wind Ensemble, playing clarinet, and a member of the Marquette Jazz Band, playing piano.

Rachel joined the Milwaukee Ballet School and Academy (MBSA) in 2015 and enjoys playing piano for the students. Rachel began her time at MBSA accompanying classes for the school year. Later, Rachel started to also accompany the Tour de Force program as well as teaching music theory for summer Dance Camps. She loves being part of a community where music and dance come together as beautiful works that uplift and inspire an audience.

Email: rmehail@milwaukeeballet.org

Part-Time Accompanist

Vera Pawlak

Vera began her piano studies at the age of 9. Her teachers have included Samuel Randlett, Robert Silverman,Rebecca Pennys and Jeffry Peterson. She has a BA in Spanish language and literature from UWM and an MM from Manhattan School of Music (MSM) in piano performance. At MSM, where she was a scholarship student, she studied with Solomon Mikowsky, and later, Phillip Kawin.

Vera is an Ida Schroeder Scholarship recipient and an O’Connor Foundation Recital winner. She previously played with Music for Youth. She lived in Spain for several years where she was a church music director and performed chamber music with members of the Orquesta Nacional. She was a pianist for various churches in NYC , played chamber music in Kyiv, Ukraine and various musicals in different cities. She previously taught piano at Mt Mary College and has performed recitals with singers from the Florentine Opera as a vocal coach.

Vera was a bilingual teacher (now retired) in Milwaukee Public Schools. During that time, she played for and conducted large student choirs. She is also a cellist.

In 2019, Vera returned to play for Milwaukee Ballet, in all, having played there for 17 years. She has also played for the Dance Dept of UWM and for Danceworks.

During her free time, Vera enjoys travelling, reading, gardening and spending time with friends and family and their beloved Samoyed, Fuzzy.

As a breast cancer survivor, Vera encourages others to approach their illness without fear and by being well-informed.

Email: vpawlak@milwaukeeballet.org

Part-Time Accompanist

Katherine Turner

Katherine Turner, an Omaha, NE native, joined the Milwaukee Ballet School and Academy as an accompanist in 2023. A specialty and passion of Katherine’s is collaborating with dancers. She held a Graduate Assistant position with the dance department at the UMKC Conservatory and was a pianist for the Kansas City Ballet Company and School from 2014-2021. Katherine has also worked with Omaha Academy of Ballet and American Midwest Ballet (formerly Ballet Nebraska.)

Katherine holds a master’s degree in piano performance from the University of Missouri, Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance and is also a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha. Katherine’s approach to playing the piano has been shaped by a variety of study with instructors including Karen Kushner, Dr. James Johnson, Jackie Jenkins, Dr. Marie Rubis Bauer, Mark Misfeldt, and Dr. Jane Solose.

Post graduate studies, Katherine was invited to participate in the 2015 and 2016 Maccagno Piano Days Festival and Competition held in Northern Italy. Her performances of Beethoven, Bartók and Liszt earned her a finalist spot in the 2015 festival’s international competition.

Katherine now enjoys a busy and successful career of teaching and freelancing. She is currently pursuing a Performer’s Certificate with a collaborative piano emphasis at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and is also working as a collaborative pianist at Carroll University. Before relocating to Milwaukee, Katherine served on the music faculties at Midland University, Omaha Conservatory of Music, Bellevue East High School, St. Cecilia’s Institute and College of Saint Mary.

Email: kturner@milwaukeeballet.org

Part-Time Accompanist

Michael Wininsky

Michael Wininsky’s wide musical background started at the age of six with 12 years of Suzuki method classical training. His freshman year he placed third out of 26 high school students in competition at Cardinal Stritch University. As a senior, he received an Exemplary Soloist Award for his Solo Ensemble piece before accepting a scholarship to the UW La Crosse music department. There, he continued his classical training as well as four years in the jazz band, accompanying his peers, and playing keyboard in the pit orchestra for the university’s musical productions. On the side, he participated in two professional productions for Viterbo University – A Chorus Line and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Michael also has a deeply-rooted passion for church music which began at age 14 playing piano in his home church’s praise band. From there, he progressed to being the summer pianist for Ozaukee Congregational church throughout college. He is still invited back periodically as a guest performer to both churches.

Michael currently holds a Bachelor’s degree in piano performance. He is the pianist at Calvary Presbyterian Church for their weekly services. You can also spot him with various bands regularly in the Milwaukee area.

Since his introduction into the world of ballet accompanying in 2021, his favorite aspect of being part of the Milwaukee Ballet School and Academy is being able to combine his newly found passion of site reading and improvisation with his old love of classical music into the new genre of dance.

Email: mwininsky@milwaukeeballet.org

Part-Time Accompanist

Ying Xiao

Ying Xiao, MA, is a pianist/accompanist in the Milwaukee area. She started taking piano lessons at 4 years old. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from the Tianjin Conservatory of Music in China. During her senior year in college, she participated in a music tour in Boston, New Jersey, and New York City organized by the Tianjin Conservatory of Music. During the tour, she had opportunities to play with and learn from the musicians, faculties, and fellows from sister schools in the United States. This was a transformative experience that triggered her passion to pursue a deeper understanding of music and piano. After one year working in a private piano studio, she was granted a fellowship in the Central Conservatory of Music, a prestigious leading music school in China. After moving to the United States, she attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and earned her Master of Music degree in Piano Performance. She began working at the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy after graduation. In addition to teaching private piano lessons, Ying frequently performs at exhibitions in the Milwaukee area. In addition to her 20 years of education as a pianist, Ying is also a lover of the art of dancing, which makes working at Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy a very rewarding position. During her leisure time she enjoys traveling and hiking with her family.

Email: yxiao@milwaukeeballet.org

Part-Time Accompanist