Alyssa Schroeder has danced plenty of leading roles during her four years with the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet: The Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker,” Katrina in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and Swanhilda in “Coppélia.”
This year, though, the dancer has a new challenge. She’s playing Princess Aurora in the April production of “The Sleeping Beauty.”
“It’s really cool that we first see Aurora on her 16th birthday, innocent, brought up in a castle. But it’s almost hard to play her as a 16-year-old,” Schroeder said, despite also being 16 years old.
Though the fairy tale’s plot can vary, it essentially goes like this: An evil fairy curses a princess, who will prick her finger and die by sunset of her 16th birthday. Good fairies intervene and place the princess and her castle under a spell to sleep for 100 years, until a handsome prince awakens her with a kiss.
Director Alan Hineline considers “The Sleeping Beauty” to be “maybe the greatest” of Tchaikovsky’s three ballets, the others being “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker.”
“It’s a big hit with audiences and a great teaching tool,” said Hineline, the ballet’s former CEO and now director of artistic programs. “Yet, many people haven’t seen it.”
Dream to Dance
Established in 1955 by founding Artistic Director Marcia Dale Weary, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet is a nationally recognized school of classical ballet.
“Our mission is to inspire, educate and enrich lives through training in and performance of classical ballet,” said CEO Nicholas Ade.
The Carlisle-based school is deeply connected to the Harrisburg arts community. As the resident dance company of Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts, CPYB performs in its Sunoco Performance Center.
CPYB’s annual gala, “Evening at the Barre,” is a celebration now in its third consecutive year at the Hilton Harrisburg, Ade said.
“[This raises] essential support that ensures the educational development of our young dancers through scholarships, world-class training and performances,” he said.
Many student dancers, such as Schroeder, dream to dance with professional ballets.
A high school junior at a cyber school, Schroeder sought out CPYB because of its reputation for excellent training.
“You can see amazing dancers who come out of [the school] and join prestigious companies,” she said.
“The Sleeping Beauty” marks the final production of the regular season for CPYB, and, in fact, this is the third time the school has presented the full-length ballet since 2007, Hineline said.
There are 139 roles in “The Sleeping Beauty,” with some dancers taking on multiple roles. Performers can be as young as 6 years old, performing non-dancing roles, such as pages, he said.
“To me, it would be strange if there were only adults onstage,” he said. “Children learn a valuable lesson—how to be onstage—and provide context for the other characters.”
This performance of “The Sleeping Beauty” includes choreography adapted from the renowned Russian ballet master and choreographer, Marius Petipa.
The ballet demands athleticism while staying within the bounds of classical dance.
“In her first entrance, Aurora has so much energy,” Schroeder said. “Some of the dancing is very quick. After she wakes up, she is more poised, in complete control. You see this in the steps.”
What’s more, this is “pure classical ballet. Every step is precise, as is the way the prince and Aurora carry themselves,” she added. “You have to keep the carriage, but also express what she is [feeling] without going outside the boundaries of classical ballet.”
“The role of Aurora requires both classism and athleticism,” he said. “In fact, all the characters are incredibly physical challenging.”
While many people believe the ballet’s focus is the romance, Hineline sees the ballet’s moral value.
“[It has a] very uplifting moral that good triumphs over evil,” he said.
The Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet will perform “The Sleeping Beauty” on April 8 and 9 at Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts. For more information about CPYB, call 717-245-1190 or visit www.cpyb.org. For tickets, call 717-214-ARTS or visit www.whitakercenter.org.