Pictured above: Students at Gateway Dance Conservatory rehearse for the studio’s first full-length production of Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’ in Pacific Nov. 23. Gateway is a nonprofit studio that meets at The Pavilion at Lemay and provides underprivileged dance students with scholarships and other financial aid, as well as inclusionary classes for students with special needs. Gateway will perform ‘The Nutcracker’ at 6 p.m. Saturday at Bayless High School. Photo by Erin Achenbach.
By Erin Achenbach
A nonprofit, multi-disciplinary dance conservatory will perform its first full-length production Saturday in South County.
The Gateway Dance Conservatory will present “The Nutcracker” ballet at 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at Bayless High School, 4532 Weber Road, with a matinee performance at 9:30 a.m. and a performance by the inclusionary class at 5 p.m. Tickets are $11, VIP $15.
Gateway usually holds two recitals a year and has performed excerpts of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” in years past, but this will be its students’ first year performing the full-length show.
“For the students whose goal is to become professionals, having a full-length ballet on their resume is important, with props and choreography and everything,” said Gateway teacher and artistic director Jennifer Story on the decision to put on an uncondensed show. “It’s a huge change from a recital to a full-length production.”
Gateway has two locations where it offers classes, one at The Pavilion at Lemay in Jefferson Barracks Park and one in Pacific. The studio offers ballet, pointe, variation, partnering, tap, jazz, contemporary and cross training classes.
All 60 of the conservatory’s students are involved in the show in some way, and it’s those students that make Gateway unique compared to other dance schools. The studio has been recognized by Missouri as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation since January 2017 and is completely run by volunteers. The bulk of the work is done by a five-member board, including Story, that can’t be paid, along with three to four staff members.
The studio also provides scholarships to students who need financial assistance for tuition, costumes and supplies by hosting various fundraisers throughout the year, including a current one hand-making characters from “The Nutcracker” and selling them at various community events.
“We opened the program to help provide performing fine arts to students who couldn’t financially afford it… We’ve done silent auctions, merchandise fundraisers… We’re a big family,” said Story, who has been dancing herself since she was two. “Our mission is to provide the fine arts to everyone… We are different than a lot of studios in St. Louis. A lot of places focus on trophies. Our goal is really to focus on the technique and the deep training and the safety training of the students to get them where they want to go.”
Story, who once was a seamstress for another dance company, also makes many of the costumes that the studio uses in its productions, including some of the pieces used in “The Nutcracker.” Another parent and student at the studio also have backgrounds in theatre and prop production and have helped develop quite a few of the props for the holiday ballet as well.
Beyond assisting students with financial aid, the studio also offers inclusionary classes for students with special needs.
“The variety of needs in that class is very wide, which is exciting to work with. We have students with autism, Down syndrome, movement disabilities,” said Story. “We’re super excited because the inclusionary class is going to have their own performance at Bayless.”
The impact Story has seen dance and the fine arts have on her students is inspiring, she said.
“I have seen it change lives. I’ve seen kids go from not being able to walk into a room with people and look them in the eye to going on stage smiling in front of thousands of people and having an awesome time… They come into the company family and they see that there’s love and trust and they develop a better understanding of what life can be, deeper than just the fine arts,” Story said. “I kind of attribute that to support from other students, the confidence, support and encouragement from instructors and seeing progress from week to week, with people backing them up and pushing them forward… They can take these skills to whatever career, job and school they choose. Every aspect of their life can be affected by the rules and build up they get in the studio.”
“The Nutcracker” performance Saturday will be the culmination of many months of auditioning and rehearsing. The studio began rehearsing for the show in August and hopes to make it a yearly production.
Visit gatewayconservatory.org for more.