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Professional dancer teaches class at Ballet Royale in Columbia

There's something smart about the way Matthew Prescott moves, particularly in his demonstration of classical ballet with more than a hint of modern dance. Tall and lanky, Prescott could easily be envisioned in stark, introspective works set to minimalist music. Yet he is capable of surprising romps (and mischievous comments), as seen in two master dance classes last Sunday afternoon at Ballet Royale in Columbia.

A dancer's eloquent body language can speak volumes. At 6-foot-2, Prescott towered over the tiny ballerinas gathered in the sunny studio. While he was kind to the younger dancers — but still pointing out the importance of lifting the body upright — Prescott honed in on the seriousness of good technique. The nearly two-dozen dancers appeared awestruck by this gentle giant.

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"Students are so serious," he said with a chuckle, placing his arm around tiny 12-year-old Anna Lucas, a student at Glenelg Country School who has trained with Ballet Royale director Donna Pidel since she was 3. Older sister Margaux Lucas, 16, stood out in the second group, performing Prescott's swirling combination across the floor with ease and aplomb. The GCS sophomore will dance the coveted role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in Ballet Royale's annual production of "The Nutcracker" at the Jim Rouse Theater Nov. 30.

Born and raised in Idaho, Prescott danced with the popular Joffrey Ballet before setting out as a freelance artist. He's worked with dozens of contemporary troupes, including the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Alonzo King's LINES Ballet, and recently made his Broadway debut in the national tour of musical, "Billy Elliott."

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His latest passion involves the idea that physics and dance are connected, and the process has become a part of his teaching.

"The rules of nature have a deeper connection to our bodies and how we move through space," he told the class.

He then turned to 14-year-old Brooke Sessler and 16-year-old Jenny Wienner — both standouts in the class — and recommended they add both "sparkle and grace" to their dancing.

"The idea of action and opposite reaction is a cornerstone to the understanding of physical movement," he said as he demonstrated an arm lift like the wing of a plane taking off to the sky.

"No hula hooping in ballet," he told a redheaded dancer who took his hip corrections without hesitation. "These are the rules, I didn't make them up."

For 14-year-old Emily Arnold, a sophomore at Mt. Hebron High School, and 12-year-old Lihua Hunter, a student at Lime Kill Middle, his encouragement was short and sweet, "Enjoy the movement. It's not the destination, it's the journey."

"We're moving to just a walk up the road, but it's going to make a huge difference for our dancers," said Donna Pidel, founding director of Ballet Royale.

The Welsh-born, British-trained Pidel has been in the forefront of local dance since opening her first studio in Howard County 26 years ago.

"If I have to take Ballet Royale to the next level, we need a different space," she said. "It was designed for community use and is accessible to all at a low cost. We have a big dance population in our county, so rather than travel to D.C. for dance, it will be available here."

Meanwhile, the classes, rehearsals and special events continue at the Red Branch studio until the opening of the new complex in early 2015. The director is actively involved in charitable causes and recently formed "The Exceptional Children's Program." Her dancers will take part in the annual Autism Walk on Saturday, Nov. 15.

Ballet Royale offers a Pilates Mat Class to help find a cure for Coasts Disease. Open to the public, with a suggested $20 donation, the class will be held at the studio Saturday, Oct. 11, from 2 to 3 p.m. For information on the fundraiser and event updates, go to http://www.balletroyale.com.

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