Maryland Youth Ballet can boast of many illustrious alumni.
Walk along the hallways of the ballet school, headquartered in downtown Silver Spring since 2006 (after a long sojourn in Bethesda), and you’ll see photographs of some notable faces.
Michelle Lees, the school’s artistic director, points them out: Julie Kent, a longtime principal of American Ballet Theatre, who was recently appointed the artistic director of the Washington Ballet; Susan Jaffe, a former dancer and ballet mistress at ABT and now Dean of the School of Dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem; and Garen Price Scribner and Allison Walsh, who both appeared in the Broadway musical “An American in Paris.”
However, at Maryland Youth Ballet, the emphasis is on both the present and future.
“Since 1971, our mission has been to provide the highest caliber of training and performance opportunities to prepare young dancers for a career in the performing arts as well as to provide classes to dancers of all ages and levels in the community.”
These include disabled youngsters.
Maryland Youth Ballet hosts a special program for six underserved schools in the County. It received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for its Outreach Initiative for Disadvantaged Children.
This time of year, though, the attention of students and staff is not as much on the regular day-to-day as it is on the magical Land of the Sweets. That’s the terrain in the second act of “The Nutcracker,” the beloved Tchaikovsky ballet closely associated with the holiday season.
“A growing Christmas tree, swirling snowflakes, Mother Ginger, the many children under her skirt, and the haunting pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier are all part of the magic,” said Lees.
After six daytime performances of “The Mini-Nut,” an abbreviated version on Dec. 9 and 10 for younger students, the school performs the full-fledged “The Nutcracker” Dec. 15 through Dec. 26.
Lees choreographed the production, which Metro DC Dance Awards voted both Outstanding Performance in Classical Dance and Outstanding Youth Performance.
This year Elena Remez and Lauren Kemmer share the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, probably one of the most coveted in all of classical ballet. It is the first time dancing the part for each of them.
Kemmer has been studying at Maryland Youth Ballet since the age of 10, six years ago.
“This is a really great opportunity,” she said. “When I opened the letter saying I was getting the part, I cried.”
Since learning she had earned the role, Remez has been taking in every “Nutcracker” movie or video of live performance she could get her hands on.
“It’s crazy to watch and do it for the first time, knowing how hard it is,” she said.
The Cavalier accompanying both ballerinas is Roland Jones.
Attracting males to any dance program – particularly a classical one – is always a challenge, which is why another distinction of MYB is its emphasis on the men’s program.
“We have all-male teachers, and the classes are for boys only, when they’re not performing,” said Lees.
Being realistic, Remez and Kemmer are both aware that only a small percentage of dance students become professionals, so they’re making sure to take a gap year and apply to college – while hoping to continue to study ballet.
Meanwhile, they’re dancing their hearts out – and you never know afterward where Maryland Youth Ballet students may land.