Raising the Barre at Metropolitan Ballet Theatre

Photo | Phil Fabrizio Kentlands resident Annebeth Heller dances with Katie Smith, MBT instructor and Quince Orchard Park resident, in MBT’s ”The Nutcracker.”

Photo | Phil Fabrizio
Kentlands resident Annebeth Heller dances with Katie Smith, MBT instructor and Quince Orchard Park resident, in MBT’s ”The Nutcracker.”

“Art builds communities.” That simple statement offered by Paula Ross, director of development and marketing for the Metropolitan Ballet Theatre (MBT), is at the core of the organization’s philosophy. As the nonprofit arts education organization enters its 25th year, its commitment to community outreach remains as much a priority as the dance instruction it provides.

“There are many people, right here in our community, who would not be exposed to the arts and dance if we did not go out into schools, community centers and senior centers,” explained Ross. “We want everyone to experience the joy of dance.”

That joy is evident among faculty, staff and students as they prepare to move into their new facilities in Gaithersburg this spring, allowing more space for instruction and a central location.

According to an MBT press release, the move was precipitated by the planned demolition at their current location in Rockville. Ross added, “The city (Gaithersburg) was wonderful to work with, and we are looking forward to expanding our partnerships and programs in our new space.”

Instructor and dancer Katie Smith of Quince Orchard Park said that partnerships such as that with the Boys and Girls Club are “gratifying. It is amazing to see the kids’ reaction and the excitement when we perform.”

For Smith, the gratification extends beyond the performance as she considers the MBT community an extended family. “My husband is in the military, and I was not happy to leave my family and friends in South Carolina. This place became a lifeline for me, and the kids make all the difference in the world.”

As a nonprofit, the ballet relies on ticket sales and tuition to cover the bulk of operating expenses. MBT then fills in the gaps with small grants, donations and fundraisers.

MBT is hoping the upcoming 25th annual production of “The Nutcracker” will bring in record crowds. Art Director Liz Catlett emphasized, “We really want to speak to audiences this year. We have good energy around the move and our new direction and are hoping to do something new with costumes and interpretation to make it special.”

Another special quality about MBT is the fact that parents of students also participate in productions. Cheryl and Mike Heller of Kentlands both have featured roles in “The Nutcracker” with their daughter Annebeth. “This is our sixth year participating in MBT’s ‘Nutcracker.’” Cheryl said. “We really enjoy the community aspect of the production.  The faculty and staff at MBT are great to work with and they make it fun to participate, which is why we continue to come back to our roles both on stage and backstage.  Michael and I have really enjoyed watching Annebeth grow as a dancer and as a person over the years that she has been in ‘The Nutcracker.’ … She has gained so much self-confidence over the years and looks forward to participating in ‘The Nutcracker’ each year!”

The ballet also has an assortment of professional dancers take part in productions. “What better way to raise the standard of dance for our students than to have the professionals dance in our productions?” said Ross.

The instructors at the academy hail from all over the country and have danced in a variety of professional capacities. This broad experience base allows the academy to teach ballet, jazz, hip hop and more to a student body of dancers of all ages.

Lakelands resident and student Samantha Stillwell, who plays a Chinese Corps. dancer in “The Nutcracker,” said, “I like ballet because I love to dance! Ballet gives me the opportunity to exercise my body as well as my brain.  I love to dance at MBT because the teachers are fantastic, I have the chance to dance in performances, and the group of dancers are very supportive of one another.”

Catlett insisted that “you can offer high-quality education in a nurturing environment. We want to take our education to a new level.”

Ross added, “We want to educate the whole person, not just the dancer.” That education includes encouraging growth beyond instruction among its students.

“We have a student choreography contest where dancers can be adjudicated and compete. The announcement of the winner is always very exciting for our entire community,” she noted.

And here, community is at the center of it all. “Instruction is important,” said Catlett, “but the community outreach is even more so in some ways. Through our ticket give-away and scholarship programs, we are helping bring dance to the masses and that just might spark something that turns into a lifelong love.”

The Metropolitan Ballet Theatre will perform “The Nutcracker” Dec. 6-15 at the Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center at Montgomery College in Rockville. For times and ticket information, please visit www.mbtdance.org.