Now in its 40th season, Charlotte Youth Ballet provides aspiring dancers a chance to share the stage with the pros.
by Vanessa Infanzon
Katherine Nobles never imagined she’d be on stage dancing with her daughter and father. But that’s exactly what happened in December when all three were cast in Charlotte Youth Ballet’s annual performance of The Nutcracker.
Katherine’s daughter, Lila Grace Nobles, 9, played a party girl, and her father, Stephen Smith, 71, played a dad in the party scene. Katherine portrayed Clara’s mother and danced as a snowflake during “Waltz of the Snowflakes.”
The performance was a return to CYB for Katherine. She had performed in Nutcracker from 1999 to 2004 when she was a teenager. “It’s such a joy getting to share it together,” says Katherine, 36. “We can talk about it and get to dance together. She’ll (Lila Grace) watch me do certain things and I’ll watch her; we’ll give each other notes.”
This month, Charlotte Youth Ballet continues its 40th season with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Performances are March 11-13 at Dale F. Halton Theater on Central Piedmont’s Central Campus. Dancers from several local dance studios, UNC Charlotte and UNC School of the Arts will perform with professional dancers from Mauro Ballet in Puerto Rico.
Gay Porter founded Charlotte Youth Ballet in 1981 with the vision of building a premier youth ballet. The nonprofit’s first production, The Nutcracker, included 50 youth dancers and guest artists from Boston Ballet, New Orleans Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet. Porter’s daughter played Clara, one of her sons was the nutcracker and another son, the stage manager. Today, Bridget Porter Young, the daughter who played Clara, is CYB’s artistic director.
Porter wanted to provide dancers with something she never had growing up as a dancer in England: the chance to perform with professional dancers. “It gives them a wonderful opportunity to dance in these productions with these principals,” Porter says. “They can see what they one day could be: ‘Oh, I could be that, if I work hard.’”
Remy Young, Porter’s 24-year-old granddaughter, credits her experience with CYB for preparing her for the American Ballet Theatre in New York City. She’s been in the company’s corps de ballet since 2016. “It’s vital for a young child to develop confidence on stage so that when they become a professional dancer, you feel a sense of being at home on stage,” she says. “I got experience in the theater element, not only the ballet element. It supplied me with the foundation to become a more versatile dancer.”
Gracie Durham has been dancing since she was 3 years old at Young’s studio, Belmont School of Dance. Since second grade, Durham, now a junior at Highland School of Technology in Gastonia, has performed in CYB’s annual Nutcracker. In fifth grade, she added spring productions such as Coppelia to her repertoire.
Although she won’t pursue a career as a professional dancer, she hopes to teach at a studio one day. “Ms. Porter has been teaching and involved in dancing her entire life,” she says. “I think it’s amazing to see that it can still bring you joy even if you’re not on the stage. My teachers have always been supportive, and I’d love to be that for other younger dancers.”
In this month’s production of Snow White, Francie Laufer will play Doc, one of the seven dwarfs. She’s finishing high school through George Washington University’s online program. Laufer started ballet at 16 years old, after nearly 10 years of studying Highland dance. “Ms. Bridget and Ms. Porter have been really great at helping me transfer the Highland skills to ballet so I can be a part of their shows,” Laufer says. “Everyone wants everyone else to succeed. People want them to be their best version of themselves.”
Each year, CYB’s board of directors works with the artistic team to choose a story ballet such as Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty for the spring production. The board is composed of parents from various local dance studios and community members interested in promoting arts in Charlotte.
“Spring productions are typically a storybook performance, which is very engaging to the younger community members, like schoolchildren,” says Donna Gruber, chair-elect of the CYB board. “[It’s also] very dramatic ballet, and brings the art of ballet in a relatable form.”
It’s been CYB’s goal to reach as many community members as possible with its performances. A morning show is offered free to Title I schools and students, and senior citizens receive reduced ticket prices.
Auditions for CYB’s performances are open to anyone in the community. Dancers from studios such as Jami Masters School of Dance, Miller Street Dance Academy and Open Door Studios try out for The Nutcracker and the rotating spring production. Dancers may not always get the part they expected, but everyone gets to be in the show. Rehearsals for Snow White began in late January and will continue every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until the performance.
“The magic of Mrs. Porter and Bridget has been that they will adapt parts and choreography according to the dancers that they have,” Gruber explains. “No one is ever rejected.” SP
The Charlotte Youth Ballet will perform Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs March 11-13 at Dale F. Halton Theater at Central Piedmont, 1206 Elizabeth Ave. charlotteyouthballet.org