Central Studio's Feature Article in Dance Studio Life Magazine!
Production: Scarlett’s Journey Home
Director: Mary Ellen Bryan
Choreography: Mary Ellen Bryan plus faculty
How many dance school directors become children’s book authors specifically to generate stories for holiday performances? Possibly only one: Mary Ellen Bryan, owner of Central Studio, a school that performs classical ballets. “The idea came when I was thinking about doing something different,” says Bryan, who has owned the studio for three years. “You have to make your mark in some way. Everyone is training their students—putting everything they have into their kids.” She thought, “Why don’t I write my own story?”
She found a mentor who knew the ins and outs of the publishing process and how to write children’s stories, and in September 2015 she self-published Scarlett’s Journey Home, about Sweet Scarlett Penguin of Antarctica, who faces her fears and makes friends on her journey to find herself and her heart. Bryan plans to write four more books that will translate into holiday ballets for her studio.
In January (to avoid competition with Nutcrackers), Bryan’s school premiered Scarlett’s Journey Home, the ballet based on her story. The show incorporates a spectrum of dance genres: ballet, jazz, modern, contemporary, tap, Afro, and hip-hop. Bryan used selections by minimalist master Philip Glass and some familiar classical music and commissioned work from a local musician. Rehearsals began in September.
For the show, which runs an hour with one intermission and involves 45 students ages 3 to adult, Bryan and her team turn a large studio space into a black box theater with wings, adding risers for tiered seating. Students’ parents and Bryan’s friends and family—including her husband, a skilled electrician; a friend who handles sound; and her mother-in-law, who sews costumes—help with aspects of the production. In creating costumes, Bryan allowed the students some say in how a polar bear or a penguin might look onstage.
Besides the fact that Bryan created the story and much of the choreography, the production has another singular feature: the whole space is transformed into a winter wonderland, because Bryan wants the audience to feel like they’re in Antarctica. “We have a hot chocolate bar with volunteers,” she says, “and all the food goes with winter themes.”
Bryan’s advice: It’s important for students to develop the skills of listening to and interpreting live music. “Part of my plan each year is to have local musicians compose and play live.”
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