Sleeping Beauty

By Beacon Staff

I never learned to dance. As a kid, I didn’t feel deprived. Of course, by the time I learned that girls love to dance, and realized that I’d probably love to dance with girls, it was too late. My movement synapses had hardened and all my subsequent attempts to learn the art have been found wanting.

Of course, had I met the likes of Marisa Roth in my youth, things might have turned out differently. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Marisa about her dance school, the Northwest Ballet School & Company. We met at the Dance Art Center on First Avenue West in Kalispell to discuss her upcoming production of the “Sleeping Beauty” ballet in Bigfork on Mother’s Day weekend. And on a succeeding evening, I attended one of her dance classes (as an observer, of course) and a rehearsal for the upcoming performance.

The Northwest Ballet School was founded in 1976 and the Company in 1980. Marisa, it turns out, started her dance career with this very school, at the age of 3. After earning a bachelor’s degree in dance at Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania and dancing professionally with the Lake Erie Ballet for three years, she returned to the Flathead Valley in 1999 to teach. In 2007, she took over the school.

The Northwest Ballet Company puts on two shows each year, both in Bigfork. On Thanksgiving weekend, students dance in “The Nutcracker.” “The Nutcracker,” Marisa says, “is the most popular of our shows each year. But every spring, we do something different. This year, the spring show will be ‘Sleeping Beauty.’” With a studio in Kalispell, why are the shows always in Bigfork? “It’s a great theater and the community has always been so welcoming and gracious.”

A good coach or instructor maintains a rhythm in the instructional routine. Marisa has a rhythm. I walked into the middle of a class and stayed well into the follow-on rehearsal for the performance. And except for a short break between the events, there was no idle time. Virtually every second of the class and rehearsal, she was putting someone through their paces. Not a forced march, in any sense, Marisa established the lead and a dozen or so girls followed, all with energy, grace, and expressive smiles on their faces. It was clear that no one was there because Mom made them go. And that enthusiasm is apparent in their dancing.

It was not a dress rehearsal, the night I was there. Thus, the dancers were not in the costumes of princesses, fairies, queens, etc. And as I looked at the gorgeous promotional photography done by Trevon Baker of the girls in costume, I had to ask myself what I hoped to do that evening with my modest camera. Maybe to document the natural beauty that’s apparent out of costume, the beauty that comes from youthful enthusiasm and the easy grace that results from intense study. So I snapped 100 or so photos. I’d have snapped a 100 or so more, except on the dance floor I felt kind of like the proverbial bull in a china closet. But, here, the china kept moving around threatening to break itself over me. So I left and let Marisa and the girls continue their work. And as I walked down the stairs, though, I wondered what my life might have been had Mom made me go to ballet school when I was 3.

Yeah, like she could have done that.

The company will perform “Sleeping Beauty” three times on Mother’s Day weekend at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts: Saturday, May 11, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 12, at 4 p.m. Marisa and the girls are excited to have Northwest Ballet alumnus and professional dancer Malachi Squires dancing the part of Prince Florimund. The Saturday matinee will feature the Fairies Parade, which will involve the kids in the audience. Saturday evening, the pre-show will be performed by Bare Bait Dance from Missoula. Tickets, available at the Kalispell Grand Hotel, are $18 for adults and $15 for those 12 and under. For more information, see www.NorthwestBallet.com.

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