Dancing a lead role in a classical ballet is something Elena Remez dreamed of ever since she was a girl. It’s also something she “worked up to” during her 12 years of study at Maryland Youth Ballet.
Now Remez is living the dream: she’s dancing the title role in “La Bayadere” (which translated from French means “The Temple Dancer”), one of the three pieces comprising the Spring Concert of the school. It’s only a portion of the long ballet – set in India, with music by Ludwig Minkus, and the 1877 original choreography by Marius Petipa – entitled “Kingdom of the Shades.”
“It’s an honor to dance the lead in ‘Bayadere,’” said Remez, a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School.
The ballet is also challenging. “The two leads come on and off constantly ... There’s not much of a break,” she said. “Usually as soon as I stop breathing heavily after one part, I have to go right back to another.”
Also challenging is what Remez calls “finding the artistry” of the piece.
“Death, love, longing, sadness,” Remez said. “It’s all there, and I have to remove myself from my 17-year-old self and become a shade.”
Another challenge, for a larger group of dancers, is the scene in “La Bayadere” that features 18 ballerinas, dancing in completely synchronized fashion.
“They come down a ramp, 18 girls breathing as one,” said Michelle Lees, the principal of Maryland Youth Ballet. For 30 years has led the faculty and is responsible for the school’s training program. She is also the choreographer of MYB’s annual, award-winning “Nutcracker” production.
Roland Jones is Remez’s partner in “La Bayadere.” A junior in Ville High School, he is completing his fourth year of study at MYB.
“I love the piece,” he said, “and I am honored that Ms. Lees has trusted me with the leading role. It is very cool to dance such a renowned, traditional piece, and the music and choreography are very special. I especially like the athleticism, and the number of jumps in the man’s part.”
Then there are the challenges. “It is certainly the most tiring piece I have done,” Jones said. “The stamina required is extraordinary, and it is really a matter of repetition to get used to the demand.”
Gabrielle Cramer, who has been studying at Maryland Youth Ballet for five years, was “drawn to it by its amazing classic training.” The Norwood High School 11th-grader hopes to go to college but also continue with ballet.
Cramer will be a soloist in “La Bayadere” but will also perform in another Spring Concert piece – “Eireann Kente,” built on traditional African and Celtic rhythms and created by MYB faculty member Alvin Mayes.
Despite her classical training, Cramer admits it’s her favorite piece in the concert.
“I love the music,” she said. “It’s so different. I love the movement and costumes.”
Jones is also performing in “Eireann Kente.”
Also in the Spring Concert program is “Snow White.” Senior faculty members Kristin Brown-Maki and Deidre Byrne choreographed the adaptation of the classic fairy tale, with music by Minkus and Leo Delibes.
An annual event, the Spring Concert reflects the diverse curriculum at MYB, despite its emphasis on ballet.
“Every year the Spring Concert encompasses a children’s piece, classic piece, and more contemporary piece. It’s got something to appeal to everyone,” said Lees.
The Spring Concert takes place on Saturday, May 12, at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., and Sunday, May 13, at 3 p.m. A Q&A will follow the 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. performances.
All performances take place at the Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center of Montgomery College, 51 Mannakee St. in Rockville. Tickets can be bought online in advance or at the door. Maryland Youth Ballet is located at 926 Ellsworth Drive, Silver Spring. For more information, visit: www.marylandyouthballet.org.