Jennifer Martinez of Glenelg will leap over the chasm that separates apprentice and professional dancers this week, which is not bad for a 17-year-old finishing high school.
The Glenelg teen-ager will help Kinetics Dance Theatre's 10-member professional company open its 12th season Friday at the Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City.
Jennifer is the youngest member of the company, most of whose members are in their early 30s, but she's no novice. The Glenelg resident has been dancing for 12 years, primarily modern dance.
She admits being slightly taken aback by the opportunity to dance with a well-traveled professional company.
"The people in the company are really good," she says. "It is intimidating, but you just try very hard."
Jennifer was born in Baltimore and started dancing at 5, when she was a student at Northfield Elementary School. Her dance teacher was Dorothy Fried, Kinetics founder and artistic director for nearly 10 years.
When Jennifer was 13 and attending Dunloggin Middle School, she decided modern dance was more to her liking than ballet.
"Modern comes more naturally to me," she says. "Ballet is more just getting through technique. Modern seems more like dancing to me. With modern, you can put more of yourself in it."
After spending two years at Centennial High, she transferred to the Baltimore School for the Arts, but she found the program there too ballet-oriented. Meanwhile, Ken Skrzesz, Kinetics artistic director for the past two years, asked her to join the company.
"She's a very strong technician. And I think that she's very expressive physically," says Mr. Skrzesz. "Some dancers go through the motions. But she really feels it."
Jennifer is attending Howard Community College and Kinetics' dance school, earning credits for her high-school diploma.
Jennifer will perform the premiere offering in Friday evening's program, "City Blocks," created by Mr. Skrzesz from his experiences in late 1980s New York City. Part of "City Blocks" deals with subway culture.
Neal Woodson, a Towson composer, created the score.
"City Blocks" is different from most modern dance compositions. It runs a little longer, about a half-hour, and it has speaking parts, something new for Jennifer.
"Modern dance is integrating more and more voice, and I would just say this piece is indicative of that trend," Mr. Skrzesz says.
"The concept is how lives are shaped by urban surroundings. Things like the daily patterns people fall into," he says.
Also on Friday's program are "Sketches," "Shadowlands" and "Variations on Joy."
The program will take place in the newly renovated main stage at the Howard County Center for the Arts. The main stage area will have 125 seats, 30 more than before the renovation.
The arts center is undergoing $450,000 in renovations to gallery and theater spaces and making the center handicapped-accessible. The renovations were paid for by state and county money.
Mary Toth, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council, said she believes that part of Kinetics' success is tied to its home.
"It's astounding, and it basically proves what we've been saying all along: Having a working art space -- not just to perform in, but to rehearse in -- is important," she said.
Kinetics' schedule includes performances March 22 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, April 13 at the Gordon Center in Owings Mill and May 10 at Maryland Hall in Annapolis.
In the past few years, the dance troupe has gone on the road, traveling to Baltimore, Washington and New York City. It also has plans to go international, traveling to Jyvaskyla, Finland, next summer to dance at a festival.
Kinetics Dance Theatre will open its 12th season at 8 p.m. Friday at the Howard County Center for the Arts. Tickets are $12; $8 for students and seniors. Information: 461-9907.