Hansel, Gretel, and CPYB dancers on a bittersweet journey

October 16, 2017


Journey CPYB Hansel and Gretel A New Page Blog

The child lives a secure life until disruption arrives. A journey begins, as the child assembles a team of friends to share the trip. Evil arises, but the child discovers reserves of strength to do battle. The child triumphs, safe but transformed into a wiser, more mature self.

This child could be Dorothy Gale, Harry Potter, or even Frodo the Hobbit. We usher our children of literature through searing trials, hoping innocence sustains their goodness, even as the cruel world steals pieces of their childhoods, one gingerbread house at a time.

Hansel and Gretel endure as the plucky brother and sister uprooted from a poor but happy home. When their naïve plan to follow a trail of bread crumbs home fails, they use their wits to escape from the clutches of a witch with a truly wicked oven.

And that, dear reader, makes the tale ideal for ballet. Sure, audiences cheer when the witch gets her just desserts, but there’s more. The journey to classical ballet dancer also requires grit, persistence and teamwork.

The journey to classical ballet dancer also requires grit, persistence and teamwork.

“I like the moral values that the story has about persistence and stick-to-it-ive ness and the importance of family,” says CPYB Director of Artistic Programming Alan Hineline, whose Hansel and Gretel receives its third CPYB staging in 2017. “There are certain lessons that kids can get out of it. Taking care of one another. Planning ahead. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Never giving up hope.”

Hansel and Gretel, he adds, “always thought they would find a way home and persevere.”

The journey of dance

Rylan Doty was 11 when he watched a friend playing the Little Prince in “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®.”

“I can do that,” he thought. “That’ll be easy.”

Now, he knows better.

“I was wrong,” he admits.

In Studio A of the CPYB studios, the former football player encountered a new realm of athleticism.

“It felt like a pain – a pain that you want to keep feeling,” says the 2017 Hansel, now 14. “I had to use my brain in a different way. In sports, I just ran into people. For ballet, it was as athletic, using my muscles, but I also had to use my brain and work my muscles differently.”

Any journey worth venturing has its frustrating moments, but in retrospect, they are milestones marking progress beyond self-imposed boundaries. After all, Dorothy took the Wizard’s command to produce the Wicked Witch’s broom and, well, delivered that crispy broom.

Journey CPYB dancers and Hansel and Gretel

Simon Hoke rehearsing the role of Hansel, with India Hoke and CPYB ballet master and faculty member Bruce Thornton, for the 2014 CPYB production of Hineline’s “Hansel and Gretel.”

Dance training has its frustrating moments, “when you’re in classes and something just isn’t going right,” says Simon Hoke, Hansel 2014. “But you have to see ahead and imagine what you can be accomplishing if you put your mind to it.”

Hoke, now a member of the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company, says CPYB positioned him for professional dance by “teaching discipline and promoting a good work ethic. The teachers are always pushing you to become a better version of yourself. They know there is always more in you.”

Overcoming adversity

At the end of 2015, Hoke suffered a back injury. He missed being on stage. For three months, he strove to return to his old level “and then some, so I pushed through and came back stronger.”

With support from physical therapists, family and friends, he reconnected with his inner determination, gathering “confidence that long-term goals can be achieved if you keep the right mindset and don’t let yourself give up.”

“ … you have to see ahead and imagine what you can be accomplishing if you put your mind to it.”

Rylan Doty knows that, with each performance, he sheds a bit of his old nervousness. Onstage, he feels at home.

“For the June Series, I did some of the hardest pieces I’ve ever done,” he says “The audience started clapping, and I got chills. After my first piece went really well, I was the happiest I’ve ever been.”

But like the Yellow Brick Road, the path to June Series triumph was lined with hazards. As Rylan’s roles grew larger, he wondered if he was good enough. His teachers sat with him to discuss his learning and improvement plan. CPYB CEO Nicholas Ade even drew a diagram, still hanging in Rylan’s room, that points class, rehearsals and performances in the same direction.

That moment sharpened Rylan’s focus. His CPYB experience “has contributed to my stepping up in ballet and trying to improve everything I can in every way.”

CPYB students embody resourcefulness, says Hineline. They grow, even through adversity, because “they start to recognize what they are able to achieve by setting goals and managing time and prioritizing what is important in their lives.”

CPYB Blog Journey

Rylan Doty performing in the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet production of Hineline’s “Jukebox.”

Family ties

As Hansel and Gretel know, it’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt – or forced into the spooky forest.

Hoke performed Hansel with two casts. A friend played Gretel in one case. His sister, India Hoke, played Gretel in the other.

“Nothing felt artificial or forced,” he says. “It starts out where you’re playing together, just having fun. You get home, and they’re struggling financially. There’s the feeling of everyone in the family coming together to support each other.”

That moment sharpened Rylan’s focus. His CPYB experience “has contributed to my stepping up in ballet and trying to improve everything I can in every way.”

Suddenly, the idyll is shattered. So begins a journey, when the characters use their wits to escape the witch, and dancers use technique and training to express emotions.

“There’s a lot of fear in the forest,” says Hoke. “Once you’re faced with the challenge of the witch, there’s this sense of determination, and you want to help your sister out. You just want to make it out alive.”

Rylan grasps the family dynamic and character development in play. His Hansel is “a young boy who has a sister he cares for. They have a lot of fun, but there’s also brother-sister tension. Once they get to the witch’s house, he gets more protective of her, even though he’s scared for her and scared for himself.”

Just like any siblings in a jam, he says, “they have to work together to get out.”

Hineline sees parallels in CPYB’s close-knit corps of students.

“There’s healthy competition at CPYB, no doubt, but they also root for each other all the time. They are watching each other and encouraging each other. These kids grow up together like brothers and sisters. They become each other’s family.”

CPYB A New Page McCormickDiane McCormick is a Harrisburg-based writer and lifelong lover of the arts. She is a regular contributor to the Harrisburg Patriot-News/pennlive, Harrisburg Magazine, The Burg, and Susquehanna Style.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *