As the resident dance company of Whitaker Center, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet is accustomed to performing in the state capital.
However, CPYB students had never danced in the premier arts center in the nation’s capital. Until now.
In November, for the first time, 16 students, ages 11 to 18, participated in an hour-long program at the Kennedy Center, a performance that paid tribute to the renowned Russian-born choreographer George Balanchine.
CPYB’s appearance was especially exciting, because it resulted from a Kennedy Center invitation, rather than the school’s request.
When the Kennedy Center decided to pay tribute to Balanchine, the staff reached out to the dance department for recommendations, said Meg Booth, director of dance programming.
“Because of the Kennedy Center’s commitment to local, national and international art of all ages and to education, we thought of Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet,” said Booth. “It is one of the strongest ballet schools in the country.”
The invitation was a “great compliment” to Marcia Dale Weary, founding artistic director of CPYB, said Alecia Good-Boresow, school principal. “And the performance was a chance to have wider exposure, to perform in front of a not-typical audience.”
In 1955, Dale Weary opened the dance school that eventually became known as Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in her hometown of Carlisle after studying in New York.
Since then, thousands of students have benefited from a curriculum focused on building technical strength, stamina and flexibility, and nurturing artistic development. CPYB alumni are principals, soloists and corps de ballet members in the world’s top companies. Other alumni have had long careers in dance-related fields, such as choreography, teaching and arts administration.
Adherence to Balanchine’s choreography is the responsibility of Darla Hoover, associate artistic director of CPYB. She studied with Dale Weary until the age of 15, before moving to New York and enrolling in the School of American Ballet. She then joined the New York City Ballet when Balanchine, co-founder of the company and its artistic director for more than 35 years, was still active.
It was there that Hoover learned a lesson about what’s important to excellent teachers. It was one night when she was dancing Tea in “The Nutcracker,” the first role she performed in the holiday ballet.
“I had a mishap then,” Hoover recalled during the narrative part of the Kennedy Center performance. “Mr. Balanchine used to stand in the wings watching us. One night I dropped my fan by mistake, and it landed all the way across the stage in a place no one could get to. I thought he would fire me, but he didn’t. All he really cared about was that dancers give 200 percent.”
Hoover has a lasting connection to her teacher, as well.
She is a repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust, which licenses his ballets, protects the trust’s copyrights and trademarks, and continues to uphold the artistic standards of the Balanchine legacy. The trust also organizes the engagement of repetiteurs to teach classes at schools and companies to ensure that the master’s choreography is honored. CPYB is the only school licensed to do Balanchine’s “Nutcracker.”
“We’ve been doing the ballet for close to 45 years,” Hoover said.
An audience of nearly 100 people attended the November performance at the Kennedy Center, in seats set up in front of a carved-out stage. That’s in addition to several parents and friends of the dancers and CPYB staff.
No tickets are required for Millennium Stage performances, which take place 365 days a year and are free. Interested patrons line up and are seated about a half-hour before the 6 p.m. start time.
In addition to segments from “The Nutcracker,” CPYB brought the “Embraceable You” segment of “Who Cares?” (with music by George Gershwin) and the second movement from Western Symphony to the Millennium Stage.
Kensington MacMillen danced Coffee, also known as the Arabian dance, arguably the most sensuous part of “The Nutcracker.”
“Getting to dance at the Kennedy Center was a shock to the system,” said the U.K.-born MacMillen, 16. “It was just such a special gift, especially with knowing how many other people had performed there.”
When she first got on stage, MacMillen said she wasn’t certain what to expect.
“When you are performing in a different place with a new audience, it can be hard to adapt,” she said. “But, at the Kennedy Center, I kind of felt at home, especially with George Balanchine’s choreography and our teachers around us.”
MacMillen enrolled at CPYB as a young child and “from my very first class,” she said, “I immediately fell in love with the school.”
She is now taking six days of classes a week.
“This is what I hope to do with my life,” she said.
For more information on the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, visit www.cpyb.org.