The corridors of the Dance Center are lined with discarded shoes, rumpled clothes, parents and kids rushing about trying to figure out where they should be and how long they need to stay.
It's Saturday afternoon and Katya's Dream: A Russian Trilogy is scheduled to open in two weeks after nearly three months of rehearsal. The two people fielding most of the pre-rehearsal questions are Rozanne David, artistic director of DanceQuest and Lucia Montgomery, board president for DanceQuest. Literally, everyone else in the building is either a young dancer or the parent of a young dancer. As more than 30 children begin to put on costumes, assemble and assume characters, these two dance teachers have their work cut out for them.
DanceQuest is a nonprofit arts organization founded in 1998 to support local young people in their pursuit of dance arts. The organization's mission is to sponsor master classes, to award dance scholarships and to produce an annual performance.
Montgomery is a small, intense woman with an obvious passion for dance. She commented that at 50, she will probably be the oldest person on stage for the performance; the youngest will be 8. She rushes about frantically helping with costume fittings and answering parent questions, but she still finds time to chat with the kids. Before the rehearsal, she traded laments with a young dancer about the woes of breaking in new pointe shoes.
Clearly, Montgomery's passion for the young people is equal to her passion for the art. She describes the purpose of the annual production this way. "We want to provide a performance venue for young dancers who are polished, but not yet professional. DanceQuest is unique because its productions are entirely financed by ticket sales."
The costs of production are kept low by the huge number of volunteer hours that go into creating the annual productions. Many small parts in the production are being played by the parents of the dancers, and even the elaborate costumes have been designed and created by parent Cathy Phillips. In fact, the only paid assistance, other than the artistic direction, is that of lighting designer/ and stage manager Kevin Shea.
"Family involvement is an important element of our success," Montgomery explained. "Bringing moms, dads and kids into the bonding atmosphere of a theatrical production is great for the show and the families. We think the community benefits too. We attract an audience that might not otherwise see a ballet. They come to see people they know."
Indeed, one of the great merits of this production is its community involvement. While David's choreography and retelling of the Russian fairy tale ballet is fairly rudimentary, the Stravinsky score is still beautiful and DanceQuest has assembled some promising young dancers. The youngest of the Russian boys, Joseph Dial, has verve and enthusiasm to spare, and some of the older dancers, such as Jamie Felmer who plays the Firebird and other smaller roles, are definitely developing technical skill. The cast is assembled through an open audition process, in hopes that this performance will draw the finest young talent in the Pikes Peak region.
The parents show a dedication to their children and to the pursuit of the arts that is rare indeed. Some parents chat in the hallway, watching through the glass as their children rehearse. Some are more intimately involved. Kevin Mahar, whose daughter Jade is among the performers, waits stage left for his cue to whirl mysteriously across the stage as the sinister magician.
David doesn't hold back in her direction of Mahar just because he's somebody's dad rather than another one of her students. "Get that skip out of your step! Your character is old and mysterious, not young like you!" she directs.
When he's not acting old and sinister, Mahar is a telecommunications consultant with Vanion. He doesn't seem to be quite seasoned as a stage performer yet, but he takes direction well. He explains, "We like to be there for our kids. For the boys, that means coaching soccer. For Jade, it means being in show business. I'm having a lot of fun."
Katya's Dream is a classic story of a spoiled princess and her fantastic fairy-tale dreams, and it is set to a beautiful score of music. If you don't normally seek out ballet performances for a night at the theater, then you'll enjoy the accessible choreography, traditional story and colorful costumes in this production. But the main reason you'll want to buy tickets for this year's show is very simple: This is your community and these young artists deserve your support and applause.
Kimberly Dark is a freelance writer and performance artist living in Colorado and California.