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The Fort Wayne Ballet starts the 2010/11 season in a joyful mood
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
The Fort Wayne Ballet typically kicks off its seasons with a program featuring a eclectic mix of work, and as you might expect from a performance entitled “Celebrations!” the tone for the 2010-11 season opener is pretty upbeat.
But the title is significant in a number of ways, explains Fort Wayne Ballet’s Artistic Director Karen Gibbons-Brown. This year, the ballet’s professional corps is welcoming a host of new dancers, and “Celebrations!” marks their first public performance with the company. And the show also features some original pieces choreographed by Fort Wayne Ballet alumnae. “So in some ways it’s a celebration of where we’ve been and where we’re going,” Gibbons-Brown says.
That’s part of it, at least. But first and foremost, the dancing and the pieces themselves lean towards the celebratory. Works include a joyful piece based on Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols”, a frequently performed piece that Gibbons-Brown describes as “celebrating the joys of life and how you overcome challenges.”
But during the middle of the program, “Celebrations!” takes a detour into less well-traveled territory, with several original works choreographed specifically for the company dancers by members or former students and associates of the Fort Wayne Ballet itself.
“Playing With Gravity” is choreographed on and for Fort Wayne Ballet’s professional corps by Joan Kunsch, a well-known dancing instructor who began her career with the Fort Wayne Ballet after graduating from Butler. “You don’t have to say how long ago it was,” says Kunsch, who is currently at the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts in Connecticut. “But it was when it was under the direction of John Neff, a brilliant man, from whom I learned a great deal.”
Kunsch estimates she has taught in probably 30 states, as well as stints in Britain and Europe, but the first staged piece she ever created was performed in Franke Park at the old arts festival that used to take place there. For “Celebrations!” Kunsch created a work called “Playing With Gravity.” She says that for her, most pieces start with the music and a series of images of movement that it conjures up; that’s exactly the way it happened with “Playing With Gravity,” which is set to Randall Thomas’ 1st movement, 2nd symphony. “It’s a very athletic piece,” says Kunsch. “The music is extremely rhythmic, impetuous, and energetic.”
“ ‘Playing With Gravity’ has multiple meanings,” Kunsch continues. “If you think about the dancers, and the way they spend so much of their time up in the air, they are definitely playing with scientific gravity. If you think about the way Nickolay plays the piano for our rehearsals, he is playing with a sweet, profound other kind of gravity. You can think about children somersaulting on the playground, they’re playing with gravity… So there are all kinds of meanings.”
There’s also “The Tiger,” a piece created by Joellen Wojtowicz, Fort Wayne Ballet’s Youth Company Director. Based on William Blake’s poem “Tiger, Tiger,” it’s the most elaborate piece in “Celebrations!” as far as costumes. “It’s the journey of the tiger through the forest,” says Gibbons-Brown. “So there’s the tiger character, and the other dancers are the trees of the forest.”
Also in the program is an as-yet-untitled contemporary piece by Tracy Tritz-Hartman, and a lighter work called “Mini Skirts” from Chelsea Teel, a former student and frequent contributor. “It’s a fun, light piece,” Gibbons-Brown says. “It starts off with free-form dancing – sort of dancing around when the lights are off – but eventually the dancers all come across each other.”
Underscoring the “Celebrations!” theme once again, the Fort Wayne Ballet will be marking a few professional achievements with this performance, including the piece “Birthday Variations.” Gerald Arpino, the former artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, created the piece, and besides the Joffrey Ballet, no other company in the Midwest has ever performed it.
“It’s a tremendous thing for us to get this,” says Gibbons-Brown. “This is the first piece in our history from a trust.”
From a what?
Gibbons-Brown (patiently) explains that pieces by the dance masters of the 20th century are protected by the trusts of each of the choreographers after the choreographer dies. “So when you want to recreate those works, you must get permission from the keeper of the trust, whoever is in charge,” says Gibbons-Brown. “So the keeper approves your organization. Each trust has a different set of rules.”
This often means that a ‘repetiteur’ — a dancer who worked with that master — visits your organization to… well, make sure you’re following the guidelines.
The Fort Wayne Ballet received approval to do “Birthday Variations” from Gerald Arpino’s trust without having to go through too many flips and twists. “I’m lucky in that this organization has a reputation,” Gibbons-Brown says. “They knew of us and knew of our work.”
But the company needs to meet other requirements beyond the skills of the dancers and their ability to be faithful to the piece, and this time around those requirements fall to Tess Heet, the Fort Wayne Ballet’s costume designer. The costumes also need to be faithful to the original, especially the colors, and these are tones that… well, it’s not called “Birthday Variations” for nothing. These are very birthdayish colors - very vibrant. Or maybe celebratory. Heet refers to one of them as “swimming pool blue.” “These are tones that do not occur in nature,” she says, laughing. “They don’t make colors like that anymore.” They literally don’t; Heet eventually found some dye that would work, and the final results are striking and do justice to the original.
Also happening that same weekend is “Carnival of the Animals.” Part of the Fort Wayne Ballet’s Family Series, Carnival of the Animals is a short (only 35 minutes), fun program based on the popular children’s story and featuring plenty of costumes and spectacle. Families are encouraged to bring a blanket, watch the show, and stay for the party with the characters afterwards. It takes place in the Ian and Mimi Rolland Gallery at the Arts United Center on Saturday morning October 2, with two performances at 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
The Fort Wayne Ballet presents Celebrations!
Friday, October 1 at 8 pm
Saturday, October 2 at 8 pm
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Tickets: $17.50/adult; $12.50/seniors; $12.50/youth (ages 11-17); $10/children (ages 3-10)
An Opening Night Champagne Reception will follow the October 1 performance of Celebrations — ticket $10/person
Family Series: Carnival of the Animals
Saturday, October 2 at 10 am and 11:30 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