Excellence & Elegance: At Manhattan Youth Ballet, Intense Classical Training Prepares Dancers to Be Versatile Professionals

Article excerpt

When you walk in the door at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, it seems like everyone---from the students stretching in the hallway to the parents chatting near the front desk--is smiling. The studio gives off an instantly warm and inviting vibe.

That doesn't change when you peek into a classroom, where it's just as warm, only more focused. Inside, Francois Perron, the managing artistic director of Manhattan Youth Ballet, the preprofessional ballet program at MMAC, is leading students through the last of their barre exercises. As the dancers perform an adagio, Perron circles the room, gently bringing bodies into correct alignment.

When he sees students struggling with the passage from a la seconde to arabesque in grande rond de jambe en l'air, he doesn't hesitate to stop the exercise. "That was terrible!" he exclaims. The students laugh but watch Perron closely. "The leg must be turned out as long as possible," he says, demonstrating on a dancer in the center of the room. "The hip cannot be up. It cannot. Start again." And they do--correctly this time.

For many years, Manhattan Youth Ballet was one of the best-kept secrets on the New York City dance scene. But now, thanks to its stellar training, successful alumni, and a stunning new 18,000-square-foot facility (MMAC), people are starting to take notice.

BUILDING A SCHOOL MYB was born in 1995 as Studio Maestro, around the corner from Lincoln Center. At the time of its founding, the school's mission was to "provide elite classical ballet training to students in the city, while also nurturing their individuality, imagination, and artistry," says Rose Caiola, MYB's executive artistic director. "I wanted to create a community where students would feel really supported."

While the mission hasn't changed, the scope of the program has. Over the past 15 years, the number of class levels has expanded from two to eight. A few years ago, Caiola began searching for a larger facility than Studio Maestro's 4,000 square feet. The result: Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, which she calls her "dream space." Located a few blocks west of the old space, MMAC boasts five studios with high ceilings and lots of light, a cafe, and a 180-seat state-of-the-art theater. With the move in 2008, Caiola left the name "Studio Maestro" behind, and the preprofessional program officially became Manhattan Youth Ballet.


TRAINING FOR SUCCESS Though MMAC offers a variety of open classes for all ages, its crown jewel is MYB, which trains serious dancers ages 8 to 22. Perron, a Paris Opera Ballet--trained dancer who performed with New York City Ballet among other companies, modeled MYB's structure after the French school. Each level has technical benchmarks that students must reach before progressing onward. At the end of each school year, students participate in a choreographed performance to demonstrate what they have learned.

Caiola hopes to turn out dancers with a strong classical base who are also versatile. "We're sticking to a universal technique that can translate anywhere," she says. Upper-level students are exposed to contemporary dance, as well as their teachers' different stylistic backgrounds. Longtime faculty member Deborah Wingert, for instance, is influenced by her many years dancing at NYCB. …