Young People’s Ballet Theatre was founded in 1988 by Flint native, Denise Paavola. After a fulfilling professional career with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Ballet Michigan, she saw a need for a new performance company here in Flint, with opportunities for serious ballet dancers to train and perform beyond their regular dance classes. With support from her husband Gary, also a former dancer, she opened a studio, Paavola School of Dance, which served as the classical foundation for dancers and became the home school for YPBT for twenty-four years. Students studied with high quality teachers and choreographers and performed ballets based on stories from children’s literature. The dancers learned how to work as a team and learned how to produce a complete theatrical experience for audiences of all ages. Each year, they also performed modern, contemporary and jazz works to develop a good balance in their training.
During YPBT’s first 24 years, Denise proudly produced and directed seven favorite classics as well as twenty-four new story ballets that were originated on YPBT dancers by some incredibly talented choreographers, which included: Dale Brannon, Ruth Leney-Midkiff, Christine Mangia, Justin Gibbs, Paul Abrahamson, Jon Benoit and Tom Morrell. Spring Galas brought in new choreographers who created modern, contemporary and jazz variations; these included Guiseppe Canale, Scott Heinrich, Alan Obuzor, Jennifer Wiley, Kennet Oberly and Michael Grooms. From 2012-2016, YPBT hired Nicholas and Laura Schultz, principal dancers with the Grand Rapids Ballet, as Artistic and Associate Directors. During this time, they brought in new choreographers, including Attila Mosolygo, Joseph Currie and Heather Liskiewitz. Following the Schultz’ four-year term, Heather Liskiewitz, from the Creative Arts Repertoire Ensemble in Grand Rapids, served as Interim Director our 2016-2017 season.
Many of our accomplished dancers have continued to dance at the college level and many have gone on to dance with professional companies. YPBT students who went on to dance as professionals include: Jennifer Vierow, Andrea Deline, Gretchen Paavola, Kalle Paavola, Nehemiah Kish, Sarah Ramaker, Kimberly Stinson, Jesakkah Serra, Katie Wiley, Katie Mattar, Dani Mattar, Katie Miller, Sasha York and Caroline Wiley.
The focus of the company’s artistic philosophy is to develop the art of ballet through professional training and performance. While all YPBT dancers will not pursue a professional career, the company continues to inspire dancers, provide excellent technical training, develop an understanding of team work, character and self-discipline, acts as an athletic endeavor and allows dancers to perform in front of an audience. After being a member of YPBT, dancers leave with an excellent knowledge and appreciation of the art of ballet.
After a five-year hiatus from 2012-2015 to be with her family, Denise returned as School Director in 2016 and in 2017, returned as Artistic Director. We welcome Denise back as Artistic Director, and look forward to her continued work, passing on her knowledge and passion for dance to our new generation of students here at YPBT!