First Takes - Making the Pointe

Pre-schoolers through teens shimmy into their costumes and sit patiently while their hair is pulled back and spritzed to a shine. The dancers radiate exuberance and delight, even though the dress-rehearsal audience holds only a handful of curious parents. They glide across the stage, some still with an awkward step, the toddlers not yet gaining full command of their bodies to maintain the grace of the older dancers. The youngest ones giggle as they run for their costume changes.

Backstage, the dressing room is a flurry of fabric, from the deep colors of fall leaves to the pastels of spring flowers, while a sea of tights-covered legs and neatly kept hair buns bounce through. A stage-mother’s voice echoes from stage left, calling the next wave of dancers, and a new group of bright smiles takes center stage.

Desert Youth Ballet, a company that performs The Nutcracker each December with the Moscow Classical Ballet, hosts smaller performances throughout the year to support their school, owned by Valerie Mahabir. But the annual gala and performance in April are the school’s big fundraising events. Money from ticket sales covers production costs and goes into scholarship funds to supplement the education of girls and boys who would otherwise be unable to attend the prestigious school.

Under Mahabir’s vision and direction, the school has been a launching ground for dancers from the Coachella Valley for more than 15 years. With her guidance — she herself trained at the Royal Academy of Dance in London — students have gone on to dance with companies across the globe, including the American Ballet Theatre and her alma mater across the Atlantic.

Whether or not they are bound for professional careers, each student is required to show intense commitment to the art. Nights and weekends are filled with practice and the study of ballet. “It takes a total passion for what they’re doing,” Mahabir says.

As the dress rehearsal curtain goes down, the scattered audience members offer a resounding ovation.
— Samantha Comby

Desert Youth Ballet presents Nutcracker Tea Suite on Dec. 3. Call 341-0122.

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