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Fort Wayne Ballet's Director's Choice delivers variety
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
The Fort Wayne Ballet launches its 51st season with “Director’s Choice,” an eclectic program that offers something a little different. It begins with the tried and true — Act II of “Swan Lake” — and from there takes off in a few directions you might not expect, touching on Hungarian folk dancing, jazz, Christina Aguilera… and dodge ball, to name a few.
But in “Director’s Choice,” even the classics aren’t quite what you might expect. In fact, the interpretation of Act II of the venerable “Swan Lake” might raise a few eyebrows with people familiar with that story…
“’Director’s Choice’ is a program of pieces, contemporary and classical, that help the dancers grow and explore new movement qualities and expose that to our audience,” explains Karen Gibbons-Brown, artistic director of the Fort Wayne Ballet. She adds that for this program, movement takes precedence over story. “It’s not thematic in regards to The Nutcracker, or Giselle, or Cinderella, but it is thematic in that it’s about the quality of movement.”
David Ingram, a former dancer at the Fort Wayne Ballet who recently took a position at the North Carolina Dance Theater in Charlotte after a three year stint with the Louisville Ballet, created several of the pieces, including the update of “Swan Lake,” something which requires a lot of… chutzpah? Arrogance? Guts? “When David decided to do this, we had a long conversation about the integrity of the ballet, and how you don’t mess with a tried-and-true classic,” Gibbons-Brown says. “As we talked, I promised him that I would tell him when he was out of line.”
Actually, re-imagining “Swan Lake” isn’t all that unusual; Gibbons-Brown says over the years many ballet companies have customized “Swan Lake” to suit that company’s particular strengths. For his part, Ingram thought putting “Swan Lake” in a more modern setting, and developing contemporary equivalents for evil magicians and magic spells, wouldn’t harm the integrity of the piece. He thinks it may even help more people understand the story of “Swan Lake. “I think that’s the main goal, to re-connect with an audience,” he says. “But just taking the idea and morphing it… I never really saw the problem.”
When it was performed this past summer during the ballet’s “Dancing Waters” show in Friemann Square, the dancers were actually in the fountain (why not? They’re supposed to be swans). Late September weather in Indiana won’t let that happen this time around, though Gibbons-Brown says they plan to stage it in the water again at some point.
Ingram also choreographed a contemporary piece, “When She Sings It’s Over,” especially for Fort Wayne Ballet’s Lucia Rogers. Set to “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” by Gavin Bryais, Rogers dances with, through, over, and around a bank of ropes, and even gets tangled in the ropes at some point. On one level, the ropes represent a musical scale, but Ingram says it’s also about loss, about not being able to control what your life is doing at the moment, though getting into specifics would ruin the overall mood of the piece. “I don’t know if I like telling people exactly what it is, because I want them to be able to fill in the blanks,” he says. “I love hearing what people think that piece is about. Some people have told me they think the ropes and the lines are the things that hold us back in life. Or maybe each line is a person in your life and how you get involved with them.”
“Caution: Flying Objects”is another piece Ingram had a hand in creating. It’s a mixture of contemporary movement set to classical music, and for props the 10 dancers on stage use those red rubber balls you played dodge ball with in middle school. Sure enough, Ingram says the inspiration for the piece came while playing a game of Four Square in Louisville with choreographer Peter Ley. Ingram says the object was just to create something fun, a “ballet for kids,” and though the piece is light, Gibbons-Brown says learning to dance with a prop is not child’s play. “The warm up for that piece is basketball drills,” she says. “The hardest part of the piece is not the movement or the spatial adjustments on stage, but actually dancing with the playground ball.”
The rest of “Director’s Choice” continues the mix of old and new. FWB’s Youth Company director Joellen Wojtowicz performs “Ain’t No Sunshine,” a piece given to Wojtowicz by choreographer Alan Arnett and originally performed by her when she was with the Chattanooga ballet. Much light fare is “Candyman,” a jazz piece to a Christina Aguilera song. It began as a warm up exercise in jazz class, but the dancers had such fun with it that visiting guest teacher Sabrina Madison-Cannon filled it out.
“Raymonda Variations” and “Gypsy” are two other ensemble pieces. The former is the wedding scene from Raymonda, based on a Hungarian folktale. While many classical ballets end in weddings, the pied a deux at the end of “Raymonda” is a little different from your typical fairy tale nuptials, full of deep reds and golds, and starring a bride that Gibbons-Brown describes as “spirited.” The latter piece, “Gypsy”is another Fort Wayne Ballet original, choreographed by Elenora Pokhitonova Hartung and based on Russian gypsy dances.
The Fort Wayne Ballet presents Director’s Choice
Friday, September 28, 8 pm
Saturday, September 29, 8 pm
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Tickets: $15/adult; $10/seniors; $10/youth (ages 11-17); $10/children (ages 3-10)
Call the Fort Wayne Ballet at (260) 424-9646 for tickets, or drop by their offices at 324 Penn Avenue