Student Feature: Elliot King & Nikhil Sengupta Find Connection Between Music and Dance

If you ask any musician, they’ll tell you the importance of rhythm in music. It’s what gives music life and what helps the notes jump off of the page. Symphony Orchestra violinist Elliot King and Debut Orchestra violinist Nikhil Sengupta can definitely attest to that! Through their experience with ballet and music, they have come to know the vital interplay between music and dance.

First, tell us a little about yourselves.

Elliot: My name is Elliot King, and I am a 13 year old violinist in Symphony Orchestra.

Nikhil: My name is Nikhil Kumar Sengupta and I am 12 years old. I play the violin in Debut Orchestra.

A photo collage of violinists and ballet dancers Nikhil Sengupta (left) and Elliot King (right).
Nikhil Sengupta (left) and Elliot King (right)

What has your experience in CYSO been like so far?

Elliot: This is my fifth season playing with CYSO. It has been part of my weekends since I was in fourth grade. Often when driving into the city from Oak Park and listening to the radio, I recognize the pieces that are playing because I’ve played it with an orchestra, which is exciting. I have learned a lot of new music that I might not have found out about if I wasn’t in CYSO.

Nikhil: I’ve been in CYSO since 2017 and this is currently my fifth year in the program. I enjoy the experience of playing in an ensemble with other talented musicians while also learning challenging music. I like how engaged the conductors are and how they interpret the music we play. I’ve had so many cool opportunities to perform in different venues such as the Pick-Staiger ConcertHall at Northwestern University, the Harris Theatre, at the 2022 Gala, and even at Grant Park! I enjoy working with others as well as the competition and the challenge that CYSO provides.

In addition to playing your instruments, I know you’re both involved in ballet as well. Can you tell us about your dance background?

Nikhil: After 5 years of competitive gymnastics, I transitioned to ballet in 2021. At that point, I had already been learning classical violin since the age of 4. My mother saw that I enjoyed music, moving, and dancing so she had me try out ballet. I was drawn to the athleticism and artistry required in ballet and instantly got hooked! I was very fortunate to find an amazing teacher in Mr. Alexei Kremnev, the co-founder of A&A Ballet in Chicago. Soon after, I decided to fully commit to pre-professional ballet.

Elliot: I have been doing ballet almost as long as I have been playing the violin. I started playing violin when I was five and began dancing ballet when I was six. Before I began either of these activities though, I was on a boys’ gymnastics team. Ballet is a great combination of the physical skills I learned in gymnastics and the musicality and sense of rhythm I learned with the violin. It combines my love of movement and athletics with my love of classical music.

Nikhil jumping in the air on stage
Nikhil competing in the Youth America Grand Prix in 2022

What has participating in ballet taught you?

Elliot: In many ways, ballet and violin are very similar. There is such an attention to detail and precision. Both are very classical and have many traditions for teaching and learning. I love dancing to pieces that I have played at CYSO and learning to play pieces that I have danced to.

Nikhil: I’ve learned that ballet is just as challenging as any other sport. It requires discipline, intense hours of focused practice, and great physical strength, while also maintaining a high level of artistry.

Do you have any performances or competitions coming up?

Elliot: I am very exited to be performing the role of Franz in Joffrey’s performance of The Nutcracker at Lyric Opera House. It is great to work with the professional dancers in the Joffrey company. They dance at such a high level, and it makes me want to dance better!

Elliot performing on stage in Lyric's production of The Nutcracker.
Elliot performing in Joffrey Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. Photos by Todd Rosenberg

Nikhil: Yes! I am currently performing as the Nutcracker doll who fights the rat king in A&A Ballet’s production, The Art Deco Nutcracker. This is exciting because last year, I had the opportunity to play Fritz (which I loved), and this year I get to perform as a different character with an even more fun routine. In February 2023, I will be competing in Chicago’s regional Youth America Grand Prix, or YAGP, competition as a soloist in classical and contemporary ballet. YAGP is the world’s largest non-profit international student ballet competition.

What connections have you experienced between you ballet practice and playing in the orchestra? Do you think one makes you better at the other?

Nikhil: Definitely! Learning the violin and performing with CYSO has taught me that classical music is fun especially when performing with others! Ballet allows me to express myself through movement while keeping me connected to classical music. Ballet helps me better understand the character of a piece, which also helps when I try to convey emotion in my violin playing. Violin and ensemble skills have helped me recognize that every role is important in a ballet ensemble.

Elliot: Violin and ballet both require a lot of practice, so they keep me very busy!

How do you balance both activities?

Elliot: Although both violin and ballet each take a great deal of dedication, I enjoy the balancing act between the two. I have ballet classes and rehearsals during the week and orchestra rehearsals on the weekends.

Nikhil: It is challenging to juggle violin and ballet, but I want to do both, and I also want to do both well! I am lucky to have gotten a lot of support from my parents, my violin teachers (Ms. Lipeng Chen in my early years and currently Ms. Liba Schacht), my ballet teacher (Mr. Alexei Kremnev), and CYSO. I balance CYSO, violin, and ballet by being organized and focused. It does come with sacrifices too as I do not get as much free time as others do, but I am okay with that!

Anything else that’s interesting or unusual that you’d like to share?

Nikhil: I recently tried golf and liked it, and so am looking forward to learning and playing more golf!

Elliot: I am so fortunate that I have been able to be a part of both CYSO and Joffrey Ballet. They have taught me so much, and I’ve met great friends and mentors at both. They are such iconic Chicago institutions, and I know I’ll always remember my time at each of them.

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