In this series, we are shining a spotlight on International School Bangkok (ISB) alumni who have chosen to make their careers in the arts, a path that many have followed with great success and achievement. In this inaugural installment, we focus on three ISB alumni, Jesse Factor (1997), Wissuta ‘Ink” Duangsri (2016), and Lisa Gillespie (1984), who have embraced the art of dance and shared it with those around them. These alumni have ventured into various dance styles, such as contemporary, ballet, and hip-hop, and have achieved excellence in their chosen paths. Through their stories, challenges, and triumphs, we celebrate their artistic journeys and the inspiration they provide for all of us to pursue our dreams and express our individuality. Join us as we discover these compelling cases of incredible creativity and craft.
Jesse Factor: From Cabaret to CATS to Choreographer
After graduating from ISB in 1997, Jesse Factor enrolled at the Tisch School of the Arts in New York City where he obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Honors. He was then cast in a European tour of the musical, Cabaret, and he stayed in Brussels for a few months after his contract ended to take dance classes and explore the city. When he returned to the United States, he joined the North American Tour of the record-breaking musical CATS, which he stayed associated with for many years as Dance Captain and Associate Choreographer.
“This trajectory took a turn when I went to take a class at the Martha Graham School in New York City during time off from CATS. I had actually seen the Martha Graham Dance Company when the company toured in Bangkok in the 90s and remember the electric awe I felt witnessing this artistic force. This infatuation with the dance theater of Graham led me to completely redirect my efforts in this direction. I took 3 to 4 classes a day and eventually joined the second company, Graham II, and was later invited to perform with the Martha Graham Dance Company.
At ISB, I was lucky to have wonderful teachers, especially Reba Kooaroon (Armstrong), who created a vibrant and welcoming space for students to learn. Miriam Rother taught beautiful ballet classes, which ignited my curiosity for this rigorous art form, and I learned so much. John McConville also provided many opportunities for me to explore dancing and was very encouraging. Ron Propp's excellent IB English class introduced me to a new world of writers and thinkers, which expanded my perspective and compelled me to question the world around me in new ways. I did remain in touch with Reba Kooaroon (Armstrong) and Ron Propp after graduation, who have both now sadly passed on.
An ISB Week Without Walls trip led by Andy Davies (also a phenomenal English teacher) and Reba Kooaroon provided the opportunity to travel on a theatre trip to London, which made a huge impact on me. I still remember the haunting production of Euripides Medea that we went to see. The backstage tour of CATS we received at the New London Theater in the West End inspired me so much, and years later I recalled that event during my first onstage rehearsal for the National Touring company of CATS. I have fond memories of traveling to the IASAS Cultural Conventions and meeting other students who shared a passion for the arts. ISB also introduced me to ISTA (International Schools Theatre Association), which I participated in as a student and eventually became an ensemble leader for many years at festivals in Moscow, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Istanbul.
I always admired and respected my amazing parents' work as teachers, and their careers inspired me to continue my love for dance in the studio, where I now joyfully spend most of my days as an assistant professor of modern dance in the Conservatory of Performing Arts at Point Park University, in Pittsburgh, PA. I see my work as introducing students to new things to love and enjoy sharing my passion for dance with the wonderful students here, the next generation of dance artists. In addition, I enjoy creating and touring my solo work in dance, which centers on queer nostalgia and diva figures,” said Jesse Factor.
Lisa Gillespie: From Ballet to Opera & Beyond
Lisa Gillespie and her siblings, Russell and Roslyn, attended ISB in the late 70s and early 80s. During this time Lisa, a keen and talented dancer, studied ballet outside of school with Khunying Geneviève Damon. She had already been studying for a few years at this point, beginning in the unlikely city of Vientiane, Laos at the age of 7 with a Romanian teacher named Mrs. Holden. She continued her training with Thomas and Ilona Russell, former dancers with the National Ballet of Washington D.C. under Frederic Franklin. She then spent three influential years in Bangkok with the above-mentioned Madame Damon, an accomplished French dancer who had been with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and Le Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas as well as worked for the Thai Royal family, initially as an instructor and later to stage ballets.
Lisa’s time at ISB was special, standing out vividly as a period of artistic and personal growth not in the least because of Thailand itself and the country’s many beautiful qualities. There she also began friendships that have lasted a lifetime. Growing up in many countries, as we know many ISB Panthers have done, Lisa cherishes the rich cultural tapestry that informs her life and art.
“I have found my experiences have shaped me in a certain and distinct way that can be an advantage as a performer. I would encourage young dancers and artists to be the best YOU. That is your huge advantage. No one else can do it as well! Understanding your worth is deeply empowering.” Good advice for anyone from Lisa Gillespie, ISB Class of 1984.
At the urging of Madame Damon and inspired by an older dancer who left the studio to study in London, Lisa made the difficult decision to leave her family in the summer of 1981 and study dance in the United States (the other Gillespies left ISB for JIS after the ’82-’83 school year). She was accepted at the North Carolina School of the Arts, training on scholarship, and, after graduation, continued dancing at the San Francisco Ballet School where she also worked with the company. She eventually decided to go to university though she continued to dance, freelancing as she studied for her degree.
Lisa has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from George Mason University. She has completed 200 hours of yoga teacher training from Loyola Marymount University and ABT’s National Training Curriculum Pre-Primary – Level 3. Currently a teacher at the Colburn School and Premier Dance Arts, Lisa was also an adjunct professor of dance at Loyola Marymount University for many years and a frequent instructor at the Santa Clarita Ballet Academy. She has taught at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, everybody dance!, Marat Daukayev School of Ballet and Lois Ellyn Ballet School.
Over the years, Lisa has had a diverse and impressive career in the performing arts. She notably portrayed Eliza in Théâtre du Châtelet's production of "The King and I," directed by Lee Blakeley and choreographed by Peggy Hickey, renowned for her work on Broadway's "Anastasia" and "Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder." Lisa's collaboration with Peggy extended to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where she reprised her role as Eliza and served as the lead dancer and dance captain in operas like "King Roger" and "Maometto II."
Lisa's talents also graced various opera productions, including Seattle Opera's "Carmen" and "The Pearlfishers," The Dallas Opera's "Die Fledermaus," San Diego Opera, and Washington National Opera's "Aida." Her contributions extended to LA Opera, where she participated in productions like "Macbeth," "Aida," "Queen of Spades," "La Traviata," and "Vanessa." In the realm of musical theater, she took on roles like Louise in "Carousel," Dream Laurey in "Oklahoma!," and Eliza in "The King and I" for Musical Theater of Wichita.
Furthermore, Lisa's dance journey led her through a range of ballets, including Balanchine's "Serenade," "Four Temperaments," "Rubies," and Pilobus' "Land's Edge" during her time with Ballet Arizona. She also engaged in modern ballet, collaborating with Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet, touring in London and New York. Recently, Lisa joined forces with Polunin Ink to create "Satori," a captivating evening of dance for Sergei Polunin at the Coliseum Theatre in London's West End, Prague, and Russia. Her ongoing collaboration with Raiford Rogers involves staging his latest works to music by Philip Glass and Czech composer Zbynek Mateju.
Wissuta ‘Ink’ Duangsri: From Dance to Theatre Technology
Wissuta ‘Ink’ Duangsri graduated from ISB with the class of 2016 then attended Loyola Marymount University as a Dance major for a year before being accepted into the BA(Hons) Theatre and Performance Technology in the UK where she graduated with First-class honors and a specialization in Lighting Design from The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. After that, she went on to gain her MA in Arts, Business, and Creativity with Distinction from Newcastle University.
“Since leaving ISB and earning my degrees, I am now based in London where I work in the Advertising and Marketing sector for the digital agency Topham Guerin (TG). At TG, I work within the accounts team where I act as an intermediary between departments within the company and ensure the success of our clients from start to finish. Not only that, but I have also worked on shoots for various clients. During my time here so far, I’ve worked on some really exciting and influential accounts ranging from a well-known skincare brand to multichannel government campaigns.
At ISB I was hugely involved in the performing arts department, specifically Dance and Theatre Tech, where I was president of both Dance Club and Lights and Sound Club my senior year and was on the varsity dance team for all 4 years and 3 years on IASAS. I found my love for dance through ISB’s After School Dance (now Panther Dance) where I trained in all different styles.
ISB has given me so many different opportunities to grow and progress creatively which has given me a massive advantage. Being a part of the dance and the performing arts at ISB has taught me that creativity is not limited and that anything learnt during my time in the performing arts can be applicable wherever my career goals lead me. The abundance of transferable skills I’ve acquired from the performing arts at ISB alone, including critical thinking, creative problem solving, production management, and idea conceptualization are all skills I have used throughout my time at ISB, in higher-education, and continue to use in my career. The guidance and lessons I have acquired from my teachers at ISB I continue to implement every day and I credit ISB for helping me develop my artistry and explore my passions that steered me down the career path I’m on today,” said Ink.