As we welcome a new year, there are times to set goals and times to celebrate goals that we have met. There is nothing more fulfilling than celebrating an anniversary, and for pre-professional company City Ballet of Cleveland (CBC), it is certainly a year of celebration. With years of building, molding and fine-tuning over time, CBC is leaping into its 10th season, and, so far, it has been a season of growth and continuous impact in the community. This journey of success has been made possible by Artistic and Executive Director Courtney Laves-Mearini.
Mearini began CBC in 2009. To this day, the company has served as a space for dance students to gain performance opportunities, in addition to helping foster various life skills that are useful in the professional world. Here, Mearini talks to Dance Informa about the journey that CBC has taken over the years and what this special season has offered thus far.
“From its start, City Ballet of Cleveland has grown over the years,“ says Mearini. “We have invited alumni to guest teach, which helps students understand what it is to be a professional. Seven years ago, we began our own version of The Nutcracker – The Uniquely Cleveland Nutcracker — which offers a variety of different styles. Dancers who have grown up in the company have moved on to other cities and countries to dance professionally. Now in our 10th season, those dancers return to share knowledge and their journeys.”
Although CBC is full of opportunities for dancers to gain knowledge and further advance their artistry, one thing that stands out most is the company’s mission to give back to the community through outreach. As a non-profit organization, financial funding has been a saving grace for CBC, along with grants such as the Ohio Arts Council Grant. CBC offers the opportunities for its members to tour area schools, nursing homes and the Cleveland Clinic to perform and reach families and students who are not usually exposed to the arts.
“Throughout these performances, the dancers become key ambassadors for the art form by showing the children the possibilities with dance,” Mearini says. “Not only that, but those kids whom we reach can realize that they can do this, too. At CBC, we keep the art form upfront, and it is something that brings out the beauty for the students.”
In addition to the community outreach, CBC has taken pride in producing new productions such as La Sylphide and Giselle for the dancers to experience, while adding a new production to line up every few years. Mearini goes on to explain how creating these new productions fosters growth and artistry in each student.
“With doing new productions, CBC can fuel the comprehension of our dancers,” says Mearini. “For instance, we have had choreographers such as Professor Jeffrey Rockland from Kent State University come in to set original choreography on the dancers. By doing this, there are not only more opportunities given, but it also allows the dancers to learn how to use their voice and emotions while working through the process. It is also a chance for them to grow out of their comfort zones.”
There are many great aspects of watching a dance company grow and flourish as a director, but there is no denying the direct impact that quality training and encouragement can have on the students as well. Whether they have been a part of the company for a few years or most of their dance career, one common denominator is the impact that CBC has on its dancers.
Grace Pindel, who joined CBC at age 11, explains her journey thus far in the company. “During my time with CBC, I have seen a great improvement with my technique. Because there are a lot more opportunities to perform, every year I have the chance to try out for different roles, whether that is for Nutcracker or another production. The teachers push us to be the best, and with that you see the growth while being yourself in the process. It takes hard work, but it’s worth it.”
As a member of CBC since 2014, Katerina Steiber shares a similar experience so far. “Being a part of CBC has offered performances, additional practices and, most importantly, helped me develop as an artist. Last year’s company show, Giselle, was such a fun time during practice and performing. We had alumni from Pittsburgh Ballet come in, and it was great to watch from a professional standpoint. I hope to branch out and try different ballets that I haven’t done in the future.”
In the spirit of enriching dancers who have the honor of training with CBC, Adrienne Chan also gives insight to how being in this company has impacted her dance career so far as well. She says, “Having experience performing on stage, activating artistry and interacting socially with teachers and dancers are just some of the great opportunities that I have had so far with CBC. One highlight for me is the outreach performances we do for schools that don’t have exposure, which is really amazing. For Nutcracker, I was cast as Sugar Plum this year, which was sort of a rite of passage for me. CBC offers its company members a chance to become well-rounded dancers but also intelligent dancers. We get to express different styles in a way that is visually appealing. It has enriched my life, and I have made a family in the process.”
For Mearini, watching the comradery of these dancers and many others who move through the company is something that cannot be put into words, but the sisterhood that develops over time is undeniable. The professionalism, integrity, technique and consistency are just a few things that Mearini credits for CBC’s success and impact on the community over the years. Now, in its 10th season, the vision is forward-moving and gaining momentum.
“Although we are currently a youth ensemble, my hope is to grow as a larger company,” Mearini shares. “I want to offer more performance opportunities for other students in the community, so they will have a chance to see what it takes to be a professional. I would also like for CBC to have a professional company attached to it eventually and give the dancers the opportunity to interact and perform more often.”
For more information on City Ballet of Cleveland, visit cityballetofcleveland.org.
By Monique George of Dance Informa.