My 13-year-old daughter will begin her seventh season dancing with Island Youth Ballet, an institution since 1984. Through ballet classes, she has developed body awareness, grace, poise and perseverance. Multiple performance opportunities have instilled in her a sense of pride, confidence, team work and adaptability that will assist her in all walks of life.
Along with weekly classes, annually Island Youth Ballet puts on six performances of “The Nutcracker,” two performances of “Excerpts from Cinderella” and a year-end all school recital. In the past, Nutcracker performances were held at the Youth Theatre Northwest theater space before it was torn down to build Northwood Elementary. Since then, Island Youth Ballet has been semi-homeless. Our local Jewish Community Center has been gracious in renting their stage for “The Nutcracker” performances. While the JCC staff and members are welcoming and warm, their theater space was not built to support a full production show like “The Nutcracker.” Dressing rooms are up a staircase off the side-stage, creating difficulty and danger for the dancers as they rush to change costumes and scenes during the shows.
The June performances of the “Cinderella” ballet and all-school recital are both hosted by the MIHS Performing Arts Center. To fully produce both shows, each require one full tech week to work out stage blocking and full dress rehearsal costume changes. In past years, the ballet was able to rent the performing arts center for two weeks to give the dancers enough time to prepare for both shows. But the ballet competes with the high school drama schedule, Island Sound and many other groups who need performance space. This past June, because the PAC was in such demand, IYB was only allowed a one-week rental to rehearse and perform their year-end recital and the two “Cinderella” performances. To be given one week to cram in tech, dress rehearsals and performances for both the recital and shows was challenging and stressful for the dancers and the crew. Children were pushed and exhausted (and many were in tears) from the stress and disappointment of not being given the proper amount of time to be confident and ready for their performances.
It is heartbreaking to see kids give their all to something they have worked on for months, only to be let down by a time limit on final preparations. The MIHS Performing Arts Center is a lovely theater, and their team is hardworking and extraordinarily helpful. But it does not have room in its schedule to accommodate all the Island’s performance demands. I often hear in our community that we do not need a dedicated performing arts center. I disagree. Much is spent on sports fields and swimming pools. Our dancers, actors, musicians and artists need and deserve space. The Mercer Island Center for the Arts would provide a much needed home for the arts.