What a difference a tutu makes.
It's halfway through Week Two of the Anaheim Ballet School's summer intensive training program and students are rehearsing a variation from "Raymonda."
In one section, there's a tricky lift; the girls sit perched on a partner's shoulder. It's a move made more difficult because of their costumes--the short stiff skirts obstruct the boys' vision.
"You have to pull her back further," instructs Larry Rosenberg, who along with his wife, Sarma, is a co-artistic director of the Anaheim Ballet Company and School.
He watches carefully as the young men hold on and shift their weight for balance; the lifts grow more secure with each attempt.
Behind them, a young girl in a black leotard bites her lip in concentration as she stretches a leg behind her in arabesque; another reaches down to tighten the ribbons on a pointe shoe, the sequined bodice above her silvery tutu sparkling in the afternoon sunlight.
When the music begins and they take their places, they move steadily with all the grace and assurance of accomplished classically trained dancers.
Thirty-five students, ranging in ages from 8 to 20, are participating in Anaheim Ballet School's "Summer Dance Celebration," a three-week series of professional classes in classical ballet, jazz, hip-hop and character dance that culminates in a free concert Friday at Pearson Park Amphitheatre in Anaheim.
The performance includes excerpts from classic ballets, including divertissements from "Romeo and Juliet" and "Paquita," and the pas de deux from "La Fille Mal Gardee" and "Raymonda"; Broadway, jazz and tap dances; and an original hip-hop piece choreographed by Rosenberg's 18-year-old son, Evan Alekzander.
"They've worked so hard to achieve so much," Rosenberg said proudly. He points out that students in "Summer Dance Celebration" attend classes six days a week, from 10 a.m. until 6 or sometimes 8 at night.
The free concert with its eclectic something-for-everyone program is an opportunity to give back to the community, the Rosenbergs said.
"We feel that it's important to show that these young people can achieve a professional level," Sarma Rosenberg added. "There's just something about the classicism of ballet that really pulls people in--it's very powerful."
The Anaheim Ballet--formerly Coast Ballet Theatre--was founded by the Rosenbergs in south Orange County in 1985. But since 1997, it has been Anaheim's resident dance company and school, making its home in the Anaheim Cultural Arts Center.
Along with its annual Summer Dance Celebration the Anaheim Ballet School runs an active community outreach program called STEP-UP, which offers tuition-free ballet and hip-hop classes to local schoolchildren.
"We've always wanted a large youth outreach and student program as well as a professional company," said Larry Rosenberg, describing how the move to Anaheim has enabled the company to grow.
"We're working on expanding our board of directors and getting to a place where we can provide full-time contracts for the company dancers. . . . But the challenge now is to get the word out to the community that we're here. This concert is a part of that."
For Sarma Rosenberg, settling the company in Anaheim has proven to be "a grass-roots experience."
"'If you go out to the doughnut shops and the fast-food places, that's where people know us. They'll put up our fliers and talk about the company performances they've seen. We've also received some great letters. It all reminds us of why we're doing what we're doing."
Larry Rosenberg notes that the mix of dancers this year includes 18-year-old Raimonds Martinovs from Latvia, a Russian-trained dancer who will join Latvia's Riga Ballet full time in the fall, as well as new and promising students from STEP-UP.
Daniel Benavides, 17, began ballet lessons through the outreach program about two years ago. Earlier this summer he traveled to Alabama for American Ballet Theatre's summer workshop. Rosenberg said Benavides holds his own when performing next to Martinovs, and points out another STEP-UP dancer, 15-year-old Khasan Brailsford, as "one to watch."
"Some of these kids come from poverty-level homes and some from affluent families, but we try to instill in all of them the sense of trying to reach the same standard of excellence. The boys are competitive athletically, but when it comes time to perform, they cheer each other on."
Larry's love of teaching is shared by Sarma. Both have the same approach: that dance fuels the mind, body and soul.
"There's something about ballet that brings out the best in young men and women," Larry Rosenberg said. "I've seen it affect an incredible change of heart that comes with the incredible physical training. [On stage] these kids are radiant and as an audience you can't help but feel it."
The Anaheim Ballet School presents "A Summer Dance Celebration" at 7 p.m. Friday at Pearson Park Amphitheatre. Free. (714) 520-0904.