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Fort Wayne Ballet leaps into '09/'10 season
Director's Choice and Alice In Wonderland
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Whenever FWR checks in on the Fort Wayne Ballet, one of the favorite topics of conversation we have with artistic director Karen Gibbons-Brown is the misconceptions, myths, and just plain bizarre rumors about ballet and ballet dancers that tend to get passed around.
Most of the time, these stories involve some weird dietary or fitness regimen, and when we stopped in to talk about the Fort Wayne Ballet’s Director’s Choice performance that kicks off the FWB’s 2009-2010 season the weekend of October 2, Gibbons-Brown was ready with a doozy of a tale: one of her former students had told her of an instructor who encouraged her dancers to put cotton balls in their orange juice. The idea, apparently, was that the cotton balls would fill the dancer’s stomachs, and they wouldn’t gain weight.
Considering that the dancers are essentially athletes, this is about the equivalent of encouraging a runner to smoke cigars in order to toughen their lungs. Needless to say, the instructor was relieved of her duties, but Gibbons-Brown laughs when she tells the story. “No wonder people think such strange things about the ballet sometimes,” she says.
But as extraordinary and odd as the story is, it serves as an apt introduction to what the Fort Wayne Ballet’s regular Director’s Choice programs are all about — dispelling misconceptions and exposing audiences to the diversity and range of ballet in all its forms. “People call the Director’s Choice our ‘smorgasbord’ of dance,” says Gibbons-Brown. “There’s classical ballet, neo-classical, and contemporary dance pieces. These are all short pieces, so if what’s on stage at any given moment isn’t to your taste, something completely different will be coming up soon.”
In other words, the idea is to offer something for everyone, and Gibbons Brown adds that the biggest compliments they’ve received in previous years is that people unfamiliar with the ballet — or perhaps only familiar with The Nutcracker — say they’re often surprised by what they see in a Director’s Choice program. “They’re amazed by a couple of things,” Gibbons-Brown says. “We often hear ‘I didn’t think that this was what ballet was. I thought it was going to be all point shoes’.” On the other end of the spectrum, ballet aficionados often appreciate seeing something a little different, whether that be a piece of original choreography or a piece of classical ballet that is not performed often.
The 2009 edition of Director’s Choice features several snippets from classical ballet, including the pas des trios (a dance for three) from Act 1 of Swan Lake, and the pas de deux (a dance for two) from Le Corsaier, a ballet that, to Gibbons-Brown’s knowledge, hasn’t been performed by the Fort Wayne Ballet before. There’s also the pas de deux from Don Quixote, performed by Lucia Rogers and Sam Rogers.
All three of these classical pieces are showcases, the “oooh” and “ahh” moments in their respective ballets that are meant to show off the dancers’ skill and expertise. This is especially true of the pas de deux from Don Quixote; in the ballet world, they even call it a tour de force, and it basically means just what you think it means. “These are feats of amazing energy, strength, power, a lot of things that take people by surprise because of the athletic requirements and the refinement of the technique of ballet,” Gibbons-Brown says. “For example, there’s ‘hops-on-point,’ where the dancer is up on her toes hopping. That’s in there. We have the 32 fouettes en tourant (a sort of spinning motion), there are one-handed lifts… it’s full of those parts. It’s technically lovely, but it’s also spectacular.”
There are also several pieces of original choreography in the performance. FWB alum Chelsea Teel-Wilcox choreographed a piece to Bach’s cello variations for four dancers that Gibbons-Brown says has a neo-classical feel to it (“lots of light, airy movement.”) David Ingram, another alum who frequently works with the Fort Wayne Ballet during their summer program, choreographed a new, completely contemporary piece. Also in the more contemporary vein will be excerpts from “Melodies of Love,” a new, short ballet by Miraslav Bart, a Houston-based dancer and choreographer who taught at FWB this past summer.
Other non-traditional pieces include the Grand Tarantelle (“Our take on Italian character work” says Gibbons-Brown) and a jazz piece called “Viva La Vida” by new faculty member Tracy Tritz-Hartman.
The weekend will be an especially big one for the Fort Wayne Ballet’s Youth Company. Not only do they have their own part in the Director’s Choice program with an original Native American-themed piece called “Peace Totem” — originally performed in collaboration with FAME and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic — but they’re kicking off the Fort Wayne Ballet’s Family Series in the morning with Alice In Wonderland.
The combination of traditional, non-traditional, and original choreography in the show is part of the other function of Director’s Choice — giving the dancers an opportunity to tackle material that otherwise they may not be exposed to in a class situation, or in The Nutcracker or another story ballet. “There’s so much really wonderful work out there that are short pieces,” says Gibbons-Brown. “We need the dancers to work in the classical vein, because that is the best training ground for what were doing. So what else can we offer the dancers that’s going to be done with quality and integrity, and stretch them as well? We need something completely contemporary, choreographed for them. When you’re working with a choreographer — not a restaging, but truly the work being created on you, in the moment — that’s an experience that nothing else can come close to.”
The Fort Wayne Ballet presents Director’s Choice
Friday, October 2 at 8 pm
Saturday, October 3 at 8 pm
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Tickets: $15/adult; $10/seniors; $10/youth (ages 11-17); $10/children (ages 3-10)
Family Series: Alice In Wonderland
Saturday, October 3 at 10 am
Arts United Center — Ian Roland Gallery
303 East Main Street
Call the Fort Wayne Ballet at (260) 424-9646 for tickets, or drop by their offices at 324 Penn Avenue