Young ballerina Maddy Rogers is rehearsing for the roles of Dewdrop, Snowflake, Flower and Marzipan Shepherdess in Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet’s upcoming production of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.”
The 13-year-old from Hershey is also learning the moves performed by the Sugar Plum Fairy in what most consider to be the prize role of the ballet. The Sugar Plum Fairy’s pas de deux with Her Cavalier in the final act, set to luscious music by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, is one of the most famous sequences in all of ballet.
“Sugar Plum is hard,” Maddy said, “because not only do you have to be really strong, you have to have a lot of fluidity and softness in the upper body. And you have to have some stamina!”
She’s not sure which of the roles she’ll actually be performing when students at the Carlisle-based school don their colorful costumes and enter a world of towering Christmas trees, mouse warriors and the Land of Sweets.
Maddy’s assignments will depend on how well-prepared her teachers think she is by the time shows are staged on Dec. 10-11 and Dec. 17-18 at Whitaker Center and Hershey Theatre, respectively. The Hershey performances will again feature live music by Maestro Stuart Malina and the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra.
“At CPYB you learn very early that performing is both a privilege and an honor,” Maddy said. “I’m a work in progress.”
But regardless of which costumes Maddy dons, she’ll know she’s part of a legacy that has made CPYB the only ballet school in the world — along with just seven professional companies — licensed by the George Balanchine Trust to perform his elegant rendition of Tchaikovsky’s holiday ballet.
And when she leaves CPYB in a few more years, Maddy will have been rigorously trained in many works by Balanchine, a Russian-born dance master who founded the New York City Ballet in 1948 and is considered one of the foremost ballet choreographers of the 20th century.
His “Nutcracker,” first performed in 1954 by the New York City Ballet, is perhaps his best-known work.
“George Balanchine showed a quality of musicality, artistry and creativity that really sets his ‘Nutcracker’ apart from all other Nutcrackers,” said Nicholas Ade, the chief executive officer at CPYB. “Balanchine really ‘heard’ Tchaikovsky’s score and made all of the characters come to life through the music.”
Carrie Imler, a CPYB alumna who has been a principal dancer at the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) in Seattle since 2002, can testify to the power of Balanchine’s choreography — and of her CPYB training.
She’s performing the Sugar Plum Fairy role in Balanchine’s “Nutcracker” at PNB this year, the first time she’s done the ballet since leaving Carlisle to join the professional company in 1994.
“It’s weird,” Imler said. “After 22 years of not doing it, it’s amazing how quickly stuff came back to me. The steps just fit together so well. It’s like it’s there in your mental filing drawer, just waiting for you to take it out again.”
So indelible was the training Imler received from instructors like CPYB founder Marcia Dale Weary and Balanchine specialist Darla Hoover that Imler actually has had some trouble incorporating slight variations in movements in PNB’s version.
“I kept getting my arms wrong,” she said. “Simple little things, very minor. I was getting frustrated, then I realized I was still doing it the way Darla taught me all those years ago. Muscle memory, I guess.”
Hoover, associate artistic director at CPYB, danced for Balanchine at the New York City Ballet during the early 1980s. Today she is a Balanchine repetiteur, authorized by the Trust to stage his works at ballet companies all over the world, including CPYB.
Over the years CPYB has performed many of Balanchine’s works, including such famous pieces as “Emeralds,” “La Valse” and “Square Dance.” This year’s “Nutcracker” will be CPYB’s 24th annual production about a young girl’s Christmas Eve voyage to a magical land.
It will mark the ninth time Maddy has performed in it. She has worked her way “through the chairs” over those years, starting in the simplest role as an Angel at age 5 and working her way up to featured roles such as Snow, Chinese and Marzipan Shepherdess.
She admitted she longs to perform the role of Sugar Plum Fairy, but also looks forward to the possibility of dancing as Dewdrop. “I really like how you can explode with energy” as Dewdrop, she said.
CPYB’s ability to perform at the highest level is exactly what Weary hoped for when she started the school in 1955 inside an old barn in rural Cumberland County. Her rigorous training philosophy prominently features public shows that give her students a chance to demonstrate the beauty of ballet for an audience.
“From the time I started the school,” Weary said, “it was a passion of mine for CPYB to perform great works so the residents of central Pennsylvania and their families would have the opportunity to be part of the very same productions performed on stages such as Lincoln Center in New York.”
Today, the extended family of CPYB alumni includes dozens of professional dancers in ballet companies around the world. Like Imler, most have never forgotten the training they received or the joy of performing in “Nutcracker” year after year.
“I always enjoyed what ‘Nutcracker’ meant in terms of tradition and family at CPYB,” Imler, a Carlisle native, said. “It’s a shared experience for so many of us.”