Last week at the Academy of Dance in Spokane Valley, magical maidens and ladies-in-waiting danced across the studio floor. The dancers, members of the Spokane Youth Ballet, were preparing for their premiere performance of “The Dancing Princesses.”
“Pretty arms. Shoulders back. Jump! Jump!” instructed Kristen Potts, co-artistic director of the company.
As 16-year-old Kia Gardner waited for her cue, she talked about her love of ballet. “I’ve been dancing for 11 years,” she said. “I can express myself through movement, something not everyone can do.” When asked how she feels when she’s dancing, she smiled, broadly. “I feel beautiful.”
And the beauty of ballet is what Potts and co-director Phaedra Jarrett hope to bring to Spokane audiences. Jarrett has had a rewarding career as a professional dancer, most recently with the Oakland Ballet in San Francisco. Likewise, Potts has devoted her life to dance. For 25 years she directed a ballet company and conservatory which she’d established in Orange County.
Several years ago, both women ended up in Spokane and they brought their passion for dance with them. When Potts bought the Academy of Dance in 2007, she quickly saw that her students needed a performance outlet, beyond the traditional recitals. “It’s a really important component,” she said. “I realized that my very committed students who want to dance professionally need to have a professionally run company environment in which to develop.”
Meanwhile, Jarrett served as Artistic Director of Ballet Spokane until the company dissolved. The challenge of finding excellent local dancers had proved daunting and Jarrett believed the best place to nurture that type of talent would be in a strong youth company.
When Potts approached her with the idea for Spokane Youth Ballet, she eagerly agreed to help. They launched the nonprofit dance company this summer and in September began auditioning for their first full-length ballet.
The 40-member cast includes two guest dancers from the Oregon Ballet Theater. Potts said, “This ballet is a fully produced piece in two acts and three scenes that change repeatedly. We have beautiful costumes and sets and a story full of mystery, romance, humor and magic!”
That magic is the result of a lot of hard work. At a recent rehearsal, breathless dancers diligently leapt and pirouetted with smiles on their faces, their agile arms as expressive as their limber legs.
The youngest princess, 9-year-old, Lindsay Chermak has been dancing since she was in kindergarten. “I saw some other girls dancing, and I really wanted to do it,” she said. “I thought it would be really graceful.”
That grace was apparent as she stretched into an elegant arabesque.
Khrysten Ettinger, 14, is one of the ladies-in-waiting in the performance. “I’ve loved dancing since I was little,” she said. “My goal is to be a professional dancer and then open my own studio.” She paused as she watched her fellow dancers rehearse. “I love perfection.”
She’s just the kind of student Potts and Jarrett hope to nurture through Spokane Youth Ballet. “We have big plans,” said Jarrett. “We really want to show Spokane the incredible value of classical ballet.”