It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since Noelani Pantastico joined the faculty of her alma mater, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. The beloved dancer had officially hung up her pointe shoes only a few months prior, capping off an incredible 25-year career onstage with Pacific Northwest Ballet and Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. Now, Pantastico has taken a next leap forward with a new role at CPYB: artistic director.
As the school announced last month, Pantastico is the third person to become artistic director in CPYB’s entire 68-year history, following its founder, Marcia Dale Weary, and Darla Hoover, who’s since become faculty chair at School of American Ballet. Pantastico is joined by Rose Taylor, promoted to associate artistic director, and Alan Hineline, promoted to artistic advisor and resident choreographer. All three began their new roles immediately.
Dance Teacher spoke with Pantastico to learn more, from her goals for the years ahead to how she plans to honor CPYB’s legacy—and the preciousness of time with students.
Congratulations on your appointment! How do you feel?
Oh, it’s emotional and very overwhelming, but in a good way! I’ve been juggling a lot this year, and learning so much. I’m excited to carry forward what makes CPYB special but also forge ahead into what’s going on in dance right now. It’s tricky, but I’m game.
What are some specific goals you have for the school?
Coming from the dance world recently and seeing what’s happening with diversified repertoire, I want to educate our kids with more contemporary and neoclassical work. They’ve worked on neoclassical things in the past, but I think it’s really important to give them more, especially in contemporary, because the majority of companies are doing that now.
I had a very strong foundation when I left the school here, which is necessary to thrive in a company. But at the same time, when it came to modern or contemporary work, I initially felt so outside of my comfort zone; I wished I’d had some sort of other perspective and training in that. And our kids can do it. I’m confident in that.
In the grand scheme, I’m not looking to change or take away from what CPYB offers; continuing what the school already has in place is of the utmost importance. But I think there are ways to enhance it.
What are some things you’ve learned this year you’ll be taking with you as artistic director?
One major thing is how fast the year goes—and how important time is. Every minute we have with the students is important. There really can’t be a wasted minute in the studio or in the rehearsal processes, so everyone has to be 100 percent invested all the time. It’s been pretty wild to see the progress we can make; I’m excited to continue seeing that.
I’ve also learned a lot about managing people. I’ve had to forge a strong path and learn how to work smart, all still with the generous attitude that I always like to have. It’s a skill I’ll continue to hone for the betterment of the organization and myself. It goes down to how I enter the classroom.
What is the significance of this role to you, personally?
What we’re trying to do can feel like life or death. That sounds dramatic, but we are really shaping the future, not just dancers or a school. Everything we do or say carries weight and should be handled carefully. We know all of the students individually, and as the days have progressed it’s become much clearer to me that it’s much bigger than dance: We’re shaping minds. We’re shaping the world.
I didn’t have the easiest upbringing. But CPYB was a safe haven. This place filled me with beauty every day, and music, community, structure, and discipline. The life I ended up having outside of CPYB was wildly out of my dreams, and it still feels like a dream looking back on it now. If I could give that back to any one of these students, even just one, that would be joy beyond words. To now be in a position where I could make that happen is really a gift. And what a precious one!
Any parting thoughts?
I only trained at CPYB for six years, but I know for a fact that if I hadn’t joined the school when I did, I wouldn’t have made it professionally. This is a safe space for students and like-minded people in the arts. That has to stay—and the syllabus that Marcia created is most definitely going to stay.
I’m honored to be part of the team who helps build future generations, not just at CPYB, but as one of the teachers everywhere who’ve had this as their mission their whole lives. I hope to continue to learn and grow, and am just so grateful.