Article Allison Swan | Photography Mike Strong
Jump-start your holidays with The Nutcracker, the must-see production by the American Youth Ballet. Experience the magic surrounded by snowflakes, sword fights, dancing dolls, a 40ft growing tree, and Tchaikovsky’s music performed by the Overland Park Orchestra. Talented dancers, beautiful festive costumes, elaborate sets, and a live orchestra bring this iconic classic to life at the Johnson County Community College’s Yardley Hall Stage on December 17th and 18th.
The American Youth Ballet is the premiere classical ballet performing company based in Overland Park, Kansas that prides itself on a standard of excellence in performances throughout the region. Founded by Dennis and Kathy Landsman in 1979, the not for profit studio serves as an educational charity by creating a space for young dancers to learn and grow all while sharing music and dance with the community. The company is comprised of pre-professional Kansas City area dancers ranging from 10 to 19 years old, training in a special regiment of ballet, pointe, pas de deux, and modern to prepare dancers for careers in top companies across the country. Training at the American Dance Center school, the studio holds open auditions for dancers all over the metro, so everyone has a chance to participate in performances. The company has produced six new full length ballets and over 50 smaller mixed repertory pieces in the last eight seasons alone under the direction of Jennifer Tierney and Kristopher Estes-Brown. The company’s audience and repertory continue to grow.
With a strong background in dance, Tierney started her training with the Deane Dance Center in Sacramento, and then went on to the Ballet West Conservatory in Salt Lake City. She has been in numerous performances with leading roles and has taught in several training schools across the country. Now as a teacher and director at AYB, Tierney’s teaching style revolves around the path that she sees for each individual young dancer. Her teaching inspiration comes in every single face she is so lucky to see each week. “I am a part of their lives for such a long time. I see them learn, grow, and am their teacher sometimes from age three all the way to their teenage years. It’s an incredible experience. The reason why I so strongly believe that ballet is amazing for young people is because it requires so much hard work, discipline, and focus. Ballet presents obstacles that mirror real life situations. They get the chance to learn how to overcome them in a nurturing environment at a young age. Watching a young person’s face light up as they understand a concept or accomplish a step for the first time is the reason why I teach. That’s all the inspiration I need.”
The Nutcracker cast has just over 200 roles, many of which are double, sometimes triple cast in order to give more students the opportunity to perform and try different character roles. Tierney wants every young artist involved to get the most enriching experience possible at AYB. Their traditional version of The Nutcracker is choreographed by Tierney’s husband, Kristopher Estes-Brown. “The musicality and staging is so intricate and interesting you could easily attend several performances and find something different to enjoy each time” said Tierney. “Estes-Brown has an incredible talent to make the stage come to life in each and every scene.”
The Nutcracker is brought to life with the Overland Park Orchestra, which has performed live with the American Youth Ballet for several years now under the direction of Jim Funkhouser, the conductor for the 40+ group of musicians. “We are so fortunate to have the Overland Park Orchestra. They add so much to the experience that only live music can add” said Tierney. “Funkhouser is a huge supporter of AYB, and we are incredibly lucky and thankful for him and all the musicians’ talent.”
The American Youth Ballet is active in community outreach. Each year, over 10,000 people are affected by the studio’s community programs that bring their performances directly to public schools at no cost. The tours are often paired with classroom lessons to educate students and build cultural awareness and appreciation of the arts. To help the American Youth Ballet grow, they are accepting donations all season long through their website. To purchase tickets or donate, visit americanyouthballet.org. For ticketing questions, call the JCCC box office at 913-469-4445. To join any part of their incredible group of volunteers, email Jennifer Tierney directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.