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Talented Trio Receives Kenan Kudos

(Last Updated On: July 28, 2017)

Three incoming freshmen at University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem are the 2017 Kenan Excellence Scholars, named for William R. Kenan Jr. (1872-1965), the esteemed business mogul and philanthropist born in Wilmington and a graduate of University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

The Excellence Scholarship program was established in 2005 by the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust and endowed with a $6 million grant from the Trust in 2011, and provides tuition, fees and room and board for four years of undergraduate study.

This year’s recipients are cellist Josephine “Josie” Greenwald, from Scottsdale, Arizona; dancer Sylvani Starchild-St. Clair, from Eugene, Oregon; and filmmaker Kelly Simpson from Anchorage, Alaska.

“For more than a decade, the Kenan Excellence Scholarship program has honored some of the best and brightest young artists from around the nation,” said UNCSA provost David English in an official statement. “Josie, Sylvani, and Kelly join a long list of student artists who have distinguished themselves in the arts, academics, and service to their communities. We are proud to welcome these three exceptional young women to UNCSA.”

Greenwald, the principal cellist of the Chaparral High School Symphonic Orchestra, also plays in the Phoenix Youth Symphony, the West-Central Regional Orchestra, and the Scottsdale Unified School District Honor Orchestra. She ranked toward the top of her high school graduating class and had completed numerous honors and advanced-placement courses.

At the UNCSA School of Music, she will study with faculty member Brooks Whitehouse, who said of her: “She is a technically skilled young cellist with a disarming willingness to take interpretive chances … equally striking was her composure from the moment she entered the hall for the audition. She introduced herself to the committee in an easy and direct manner that immediately dispelled the usual formalities and stiffness of the audition format.”

Greenwald said she wants to inspire others through the power of music.

“In music, every day I get a little better, and I love that feeling of building,” she said. “I focus on constructive criticism and work to improve my personal best.”

Starchild-St. Claire began her dance training at age 3, and her credits include Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dancing Dwarfs, Odette/Odile and Cygnet in Swan Lake and the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker.

“(My) ultimate mission as a dancer and choreographer is to give voice to the callings of the heart, to the things that simply cannot be said with words, to have audiences feel they are heard and understood, and to be heard and understood myself,” Starchild-St. Claire said.

She has studied contemporary dance and choreography, as well as tap and ballroom dancing and she has participated in summer intensive programs at the Oregon Ballet Theatre, the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, the Texas Ballet Theatre and the Whitman Summer Dance Lab in Walla Walla, Washington. She has won a regional acting award and an Anthony Quinn Foundation Scholarship to attend the Joffrey Ballet’s International Summer Dance Intensive.

The School of Dance’s associate dean Brenda Daniels said Starchild-St. Claire “radiates joy and beauty in her dancing.”

“She was unusually mature, focused, and disciplined in class – exhibiting traits that professional dancers must have in order to succeed and flourish,” Daniels said.

Simpson, who plans to study directing and screenwriting at the School of Filmmaking, has worked at KTVA News Studios and Tommy’s Dog Film Production Company, both based in Anchorage. She has written several screenplays and produced some digital shorts at the King Career Center. In addition to filmmaking, her interests include photography, painting, piano, pod casting, sketching, and songwriting.

Simpson is “fascinated by what preoccupies our culture.”

“Things like fame, youth, violence, and vulnerability, and how these affect the fabric of our daily lives,” she said. “What we value as a society forms our identity as Americans. Through my art I seek to understand my own values and how they influence my identity as an artist, and therefore my perspective on the world.”

Henry Grillo, associate dean of the School of Filmmaking, describes Simpson as “remarkable and artistic,” as well as “poised, focused, thoughtful and well-spoken” – with all the skills needed to become a fine storyteller.

For more information about all the goings-on at UNCSA, visit the official website:

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92.  © 2017, Mark Burger.