Ballet school and company instills virtues and solid instruction.
Approximately 150 Ballet North students, including 20 company dancers, will participate in the spring festival production of “Alice in Wonderland” on June 10-11, 2016, at the Liberty North Performing Arts Center. Led by Artistic Directors Matthew and Laura Reinschmidt, the staff have a few months remaining to guide and teach pupils and dancers in preparation for the annual event. This production of “Alice in Wonderland” features a blend of classical and modern ballet with selected classical symphonic music from various composers. The performance will include the complete demi-ballet “Les Sylphides” and excerpts from the full-length ballet “Carmen.”
Laura Reinschmidt founded Ballet North, first as a school in 1977; and later as a non-profit company in 1994. Her husband Matthew has also performed, taught and privately coached ballet for more than 20 years. He helped to establish Ballet North as a non-profit school and company in 1994.
“We created Ballet North as a nonprofit just as any major ballet company in New York or Boston would do,” Matthew says. “For serious students to pursue a career in ballet, they need to be able to perform in more than one recital per year. As a non-profit, we put the muse before the bank account. While we make income to support Ballet North, we put the art form first so we can create art.”
The company works with learned and skilled dancers that are serious about pursuing ballet beyond dance classes. Matthew says, “Just like football or volleyball in high school, ballet students need more than a couple of classes a week.”
Dancers ages 13 and up are eligible to audition each August and must meet minimum technical standards to be accepted in the company. Company members receive up to six hours of coaching and rehearsal time each Saturday and perform 12 to 17 times per year. Students ages 3 to 10 attend classes once weekly while students 10 and older practice twice a week. Class sizes are purposely kept small with a student-to-teacher ratio of 15:1 or 10:1 so that instructors have individual time with each student during class.
Unlike other forms of dance where the instructor may demonstrate steps while students emulate, ballet instruction requires astute observance. As a result, class size must be small so that the instructor can identify mistakes and offer correction.
“With ballet, students have to learn exactly how the steps work,” Matthew says. “There’s more instruction and direct correction by observation.”
Of the five main branches of ballet techniques, Ballet North uses the Vaganova or “Russian” technique that was used by famed dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev. Devised by and named after Russian dancer Agrippina Vaganova, the technique does a “genius job of explaining how to teach the underlying steps of ballet,” Matthew says.
Vaganova’s technique emphasizes plié, the smooth, continuous bending of the knees outward as the upper body is held upright. Mastering plié helps to establish a “low center of gravity before jumping,” Matthew says. “There’s little to no injury in this ballet technique because it centers the body well and teaches how to jump well.”
Laura and Matthew Reinschmidt are both certified Virtues Project facilitators, where they incorporate lessons about virtues such as patience and discipline into the physical ballet training.
“Long before dance-themed reality television shows, we decided that we didn’t want to deal with narcissistic, self-centered kids and parents,” Matthew says. “That’s not how you run a society. We’re proponents of virtues like tact, respect, honesty, and determination. In every situation, there’s virtue in it.”
For example, students ranging from adolescents to teenagers may face a setback during practice or not being chosen for a performance role during tryouts. Rather than cope with immaturity and emotional meltdown, students receive instruction about the importance of virtues to build character and become more capable. The virtues-based approach involves occasional discussion in class, light reading material, and “real world experience.”
“You need tools to deal with life,” Matthew says. “You need the ability to deal in society.”
The Reinschmidts have incorporated virtues instruction as part of the Vaganova dance training since 2005 as a way to “counteract snakey attitudes.”
This moral approach also reinforces the Reinschmidts’ attitude toward ballet and dance in general when it comes to teaching youth. Dignified learning and performance is emphasized over risqué costumes, dance routines or competitions.
“We’re big believers in the benefits of classical ballet,” Matthew says. “It’s not shocking dances or graphic exploitation. Ballet can tell any story without graphic display.”
Health wise, ballet may be helpful in correcting posture, building body strength, and improving focus as students move their body in precise movements to classical music.
“It’s valuable and teaches discipline and persistence,” Matthew says. “You can’t master ballet in one class. It’s not about quick gratification. It makes you try harder and think about what you’re doing.”
In June, Ballet North’s students and dancers will have the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned in the production of “Alice in Wonderland.” The popular story of Alice’s adventures will be told through choreography, costume and setting. The scenes will be based on author Lewis Carroll’s version rather than the Disney-fied version.
“Through ballet, a Wonderland can be anything,” Matthew suggests.
To learn more about the spring festival production or Ballet North’s classes and company, visit BalletNorth.com.
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