You can hear a pin drop after a dancer falls down in a rehearsal studio. That was uncomfortably apparent Friday night at the home of the Central Indiana Dance Ensemble in Carmel. After one dancer lost her balance and dropped to the floor, the room — which was flooded with movement a few seconds before — became as still as a glass ballerina.
The girls looked down at the black floor, its scratches reminding them of the hours they've spent practicing on it. Sweat lingered on the teens' faces.
This is what local ballet audiences don't see — the strenuous work that happens offstage, under the unforgiving lights of this humid room a few miles away from where the dance group performs on the spacious stage of the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre. This grit-to-glamor story is similar to the one the dancers are performing this weekend — Cinderella.
This production is closing out the ensemble's 15th anniversary season. Artistic director Suzann DeLay, who founded the company in 1999, carries a certain gravitas as she guides these dancers. Although not a tall woman, she loomed large as she walked toward the dancer who fell. Her laser focus on the ballerina seemed to heat up the room.
"Are you OK? You fell down so hard that your hair bun came apart," she said with a gentle chuckle, breaking the tension in the room.
When I asked DeLay about the anxiety in the air, she assured me that it came from the dancers' love of performing and determination to refine their skills.
"And they're high school teenagers, so, you know, they want to look good," she said with a hearty laugh of recognition. DeLay can relate to these girls — she's been dancing since she was their age.
You can see her sympathy for the dancers during rehearsal. She works intimately with all of them, never losing sight of anyone in the storm of movement. She seems to hold her breath as they dance, like a proud mother sitting in the front row at a school talent show, eagerly watching her child perform.
Like the dancers themselves, their production of Cinderella is more mature than people might expect.
"This isn't Disney," DeLay said. "It doesn't have the little mice scurrying around and the birds putting Cinderella's costumes on."
The production is another step toward a more adult atmosphere for these dancers. Although they are young, the members of this company have a strong stage presence. Earlier this year, the Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey Foundation asked them to stage a performance. It was the first time the famed foundation approached an Indianapolis area company. Not only was this task an enormous honor, but the performance of Arpino's Birthday Variations was quite a fitting way for the company to celebrate its 15th anniversary.
DeLay is excited to see where this Cinderella of a company will be in the next 15 years. "We hope to continue to grow," she said.