As the saying goes: “Dance like nobody’s watching.”
Well, the young dancers of Footworks Youth Ballet will soon bring all their exuberance, talent and sheer joy of dance into the spotlight for everyone to enjoy. The nonprofit arm of Oakley Ballet Center in Ventura, Footworks Youth Ballet will be presenting two productions at the Oxnard Performing Arts and Convention Center. The first is the beautifully moody Giselle, by composer Adolphe Adam, on June 2, followed by a double bill of one-act ballets by Sergei Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf and Classical Symphony on June 3. (The company will also offer special outreach performances at a discounted rate on June 1.)
“Our spring productions exemplify the breadth of our repertoire,” says Elizabeth Manninen, Footworks Youth Ballet’s marketing manager. “We’re really lucky to enjoy all different [types of] ballet.”
Thought by many to be the greatest ballet of the Romantic period, Giselle is a tragic story of love and betrayal about a young woman who falls for a nobleman in disguise. Taking place long ago in a German village, nestled in a dark and foreboding forest, Giselle is “moody and very haunting,” says Manninen, “with beautiful backdrops and the wonderful corps de ballet.” The members of the corps portray the iconic Wilis, the mystical spirits of the forest who dance young men to their doom.
“It’s a unique experience to be working on three drastically different ballets,” says dancer Emily van Deinse. “Out of the three, my favorite role would be a [Wili]. It is such an iconic role. The entire second act [of Giselle] has an intense emotional gravity that isn’t always seen in ballet.”
“Performing the role of Giselle has most definitely been a highlight for me,” says ballerina Grace Story. “It’s challenging in a way I have never experienced. . . . [The ballet] is also a favorite of mine, so to get to perform the principal role is a dream come true.”
Then there is Peter and the Wolf, the classic childhood tale about a mischievous boy and a hungry wolf who both learn an important lesson. As with most Footworks Youth Ballet productions, Artistic Director Kirsten Oakley, a Ventura
native, added her own special touch to the story. A dream sequence featuring an opera soloist, as well as a happier ending, set the production apart from the rest. “In his dream, the wolf wrestles with what he’s done,” says Manninen, “The kids are totally into it,” she adds with a smile.
Another mainstay of a Footworks production is that every role is important — from Peter and the wolf to the ducklings, played by the “littles,” the youngest members of the company. “Youngsters add a lot,” Manninen explains. “They’re not just paying ‘lip service’ to the production. The get into the story and the acting. They know their steps.”
The involvement of the whole company is central to Footworks Youth Ballet. “You see the ‘littles’ being taken under the wing of the older girls, especially during performances and rehearsals,” says Manninen. “It’s like a family. Between all the time spent in the studio and in rehearsals and performing, it’s like a second home. Everyone feels supported.”
“My experiences at Oakley and Footworks have always been wonderful,” adds dancer Alicia Panzer. “From the training I received to the friends I’ve made . . . and the camaraderie formed between people with a common goal . . . to the roles I’ve gotten to dance.”
The third piece in the series, Classical Symphony, is a quintessential example of a neoclassical ballet. With its sleek, modern style, it emphasizes towering technique over storytelling. High energy is mixed with minimal sets and subtle costumes. “Classical Symphony focuses on athletic ability and technique,” explains Manninen. “It’s fun and dynamic.” The choreography by the late Yvonne Mounsey echoes the original by the legendary George Balanchine. Mounsey, who was Oakley’s friend and mentor, was a principal dancer with Balanchine at the New York City Ballet and later founded the Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica.
Together, the three ballets represent a wide array of styles and strengths and feature some of the best young dancers in the area. Starting in the fall, some, like Story and Panzer, will follow their passion for dance all the way to college. Story will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree in dance at the University of Utah, and Panzer will be dancing at Friends University in Kansas. Another dancer, Jessica White, has been accepted to Boston School of Ballet for the summer and hopes to pursue dance and business degrees. “I would love to pass on my passion for dance and Pilates to the next generation of dancers.”
Fostering careers in dance isn’t the only goal of Oakley Ballet Center or Footworks Youth Ballet. For both organizations, the mission is “to develop and enhance every student’s love and appreciation for the art of ballet.” Through hard work and passion, they’re helping the rest of us love it, too.
Giselle on Saturday, June 2, at 2 and 7 p.m.; Peter and the Wolf/Classical Symphony on Sunday, June 3, at 2 p.m.; and outreach performances on Friday, June 1, at Oxnard Performing Arts and Convention Center, 800 Hobson Way, Oxnard. For tickets and more information, call 676-1600 or visit footworksyouthballet.org .