Lebanon’s City Center Ballet: Celebrating 25 Years Of Bringing Magic To The Upper ValleyNov 16, 2023 03:56PM ● By Mary Gow Photos Courtesy of City Center Ballet
Young dancers in a brand-new ballet company put on their pointe shoes and stepped onto the stage of the Lebanon Opera House in November, 1999, for their debut performance. They performed Etudes, excerpts from The Sleeping Beauty, and more. The production was titled The Start of Something Big.
As the title foretold, Lebanon’s City Center Ballet is indeed something big—big for the Upper Valley community and big for an entire generation of young dancers. For 25 years, the company has presented professional ballet productions at the Lebanon Opera House, sharing the precision and beauty of classical ballet with area audiences. Dedicated young dancers have studied, rehearsed, and performed with the company, learning technique, artistic expression, and the etiquette and work ethic of this 600-year-old art form.
This May, City Center Ballet celebrates its 25 years with a gala anniversary celebration. Like that first performance at the Lebanon Opera House, this one will feature selections. This time they are from the company’s own impressive repertoire. Current company members and guests will perform scenes from most if not all of their 13 ballets: Giselle, Coppélia, and Cinderella among them.
The Next Level for Dancers
City Center Ballet is based in Lebanon on the mall with its sibling institution, the Lebanon Ballet School. Cofounded by dancers/dance educators Linda Copp and Ruth Meyer, City Center Ballet was launched in response to a need they saw in the area’s dance community. Linda, the owner and director of the Lebanon Ballet School, had founded the school in the mid 1980s. Soon, the school was flourishing with a range of classes.
“We had young people who were very talented and interested in going on and pursuing dance careers. But in order for them to be successful, they needed performance opportunities, so we were losing them to private schools—good places, but they were having to leave,” Linda explains. The performance company, which is a nonprofit entity, provides that next level for students. With it, they could also expand students’ experience by bringing in professional dancers and choreographers from around the country and even internationally to perform with them.
The preprofessional program at Lebanon Ballet School and City Center Ballet go hand in hand. Dancers who achieve a high level of proficiency at the school may study in the preprofessional program. These students, ages 12 and up, take at least three classes each week—classes focused on clarity of classical movements and accuracy of ballet technique. These dancers may audition to perform with City Center Ballet. Those who are accepted spend 15 to 20 hours a week in classes and rehearsals.
Creating Stories Through Dance
The company presents two ballets each year, Clara’s Dream: A Nutcracker Story during the holiday season and a second production in May. The productions are stunning, with the dancers’ performances and exquisite costumes and sets.
Classic story ballets are a great fit for the company; their narratives appeal to audiences who are new to ballet as well as to afficionados. The annual spring selection is based on each year’s group of dancers. The Sleeping Beauty was their first, in 2000, and has been repeated several times. Alice in Wonderland, complete with dancing flamingos, a caterpillar, and lobsters, is among the more recent additions. The company performed Giselle, which is famously challenging, in 2013.
Jennifer Henderson, who is now City Center Ballet’s artistic director and is Linda Copp’s daughter, has been choreographing them since 2008. “I absolutely love creating stories through dance with my dancers. I love the evolution in the process,” she says.
Jennifer studied at Lebanon Ballet School since its inception and has danced, truly, all her life. Her mother remembers her getting up from her blanket on the floor of the studio and reaching up to the barre before she could walk. Jennifer joined the Lebanon Ballet School teaching staff in January 2003, and for several years was local rehearsal mistress for Albany Berkshire Ballet’s The Nutcracker.
Approaching this anniversary, Jennifer says, “I find myself reflecting on all the memories and positive experiences young dancers have had while participating in our program. Their respect for the art form, the life skills and time management they learn, the importance of being responsible and dependable, their friendships, and performing at the level that they do. That is not something that typical dance schools provide. They get a real professional experience working with real technical people in a real theater and working with professional artists and staff. It’s cool to watch and see their progression through the years.”
Some former members of City Center Ballet have gone on to professional careers in dance, but most do not. “It’s fascinating the areas they have gone into, but they are all very focused and driven people with love of ballet in their hearts,” Jennifer notes.
Looking ahead, Jennifer and Linda both note how they value being back with the dancers after the interruption of the pandemic. Ballet on Zoom is far removed from the experience in the studio. “We are supporting the young artists of our community and we look forward to continuing that mission,” says Jennifer.
City Center Ballet
22 Hanover Street
Drosselmeyer’s Workshop, a Nutcracker Experience
City Center Ballet’s Clara’s Dream: A Nutcracker Story is often local children’s first introduction to ballet performance. An annual tradition, the company’s production follows the adventures of young Clara and the Nutcracker given to her by magical Uncle Drosselmeyer. It is choreographed by City Center Ballet Artistic Director Jennifer Henderson.
This holiday season, City Center Ballet’s home stage at the Lebanon Opera House is not available with the extensive centennial renovations still underway there. Wanting to carry on the tradition, Jennifer explains, they decided to “think out of the box.”
Teaming up with the PowerHouse Mall, City Center Ballet is presenting a two-day holiday extravaganza, Drosselmeyer’s Workshop: A Nutcracker Experience. In the PowerHouse Mall, dancers perform vignettes from the ballet. “It will allow our audience the opportunity to be up close to our performers, ask them questions, and immerse themselves in our magical scenes,” says Jennifer. Activities including a scavenger hunt and crafts are planned.
“We hope to bring the same joy and entertainment we always have to our community. Only this time, they will get to step inside the magic,” she says.
Drosselmeyer’s Workshop, a Nutcracker Experience
Saturday & Sunday, December 2–3, 12–4pm Complimentary
The PowerHouse Mall, 8 Glen Road, Lebanon, NH