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A “Big Band” vibe infuses Fort Wayne Ballet's season opener

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Towards the beginning of my talk with Karen Gibbons-Brown, the Fort Wayne Ballet’s Artistic Director, I ask her if there is a “unifying theme” to the variety of dance styles and traditions that make up “Danza,” the show that kicks off FWB’s new season on September 21.

“Yes,” she replies. “Dance is fun.”

There you go — a direct and unassuming answer to a pretentious and silly question

And an entirely accurate answer, too. Like many ballet companies, the season opener for Fort Wayne Ballet has traditionally been a collection of shorter pieces designed to showcase the dancers, introduce some new faces, and serve as an over view of many of the different things the company does. In short, it’s the company’s reperatory program; variety is the key, and “Danza” (it means “dance” in Italian) doesn’t disappoint. It’s a selection of mostly 20th century work, with the flavor of a 1940s musical revue.

And what 40s style musical revue would be complete without a big band? If there’s a centerpiece to “Danza,” it’s a “big band” segment that features live musical accompaniment by Hope Arthur and her orchestra. Choreographer and dancer David Ingram first worked with Hope Arthur last summer for Fort Wayne Ballet, Too. For this piece, Arthur’s orchestra — 12 members strong — will share the stage with the dancers. It promises to be an arresting visual, though not without some logistic complications. “Having the musicians in the pit won’t work for what we’re trying to do with this piece, and having the dancers out in the pit doesn’t work either,” says Gibbons-Brown.

“Dancers are space hogs,” she adds. “They want as much space as you can possibly give them, so there’s a compromise between the right number of instruments, so you don’t lose the integrity of the pieces, and giving the dancers the space they need without a musician taking a foot in the mouth.”

Danze also features a tribute to legendary choreographer Bob Fosse, and a couple other pieces that show off the Fort Wayne Ballet’s upper level dancers and the new company dancers that are with them for the season.

Of course, there’s some classical ballet, too. “Danza” features the pas de deux from La Esmerelda, a work you probably know by another name. “It’s the original ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ story,” says Gibbons-Brown. “I don’t think the Fort Wayne Ballet has ever performed it. I know we haven’t done it during my tenure here…”

And speaking of your tenure at the Fort Wayne Ballet…

Well, actually, I bring it up. As most people who follow the arts community in Fort Wayne know, Gibbons-Brown’s husband Jim Sparrow recently left his position as director of Arts United to take a job as president and CEO of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County in North Carolina. This lead to speculation that Gibbons-Brown — who has been the FWB’s artistic director since 1998 — would also leave.

“It’s been suggested to me that I start every interview and meeting by answering that before it’s even mentioned,” she laughs. “So… my body of work in my career has been here, I love this community and I love what I’m doing, and the board at this point seems interested in keeping me here.”

For the cynics among you who might not take “I like it here and I like what I’m doing” as enough of a reason, we’ll also point out that Gibbons-Brown is in the first year of a three-year contract. And furthermore… “It makes me laugh to say it, but I have a child who is a high school senior. Picking up and leaving… it’s just not going to happen.”

So while the question comes up, Gibbons-Brown is too busy to let it distract her. “We have a lot of wonderful things planned for this season,” she says. “And besides… auditions for The Nutcracker start in two weeks.”


The Fort Wayne Ballet presents Danza

Saturday, September 21 at 8 PM

Arts United Center
303 East Main Street

Tickets: $32/$27adult; $27/$23 seniors and youth

Tickets available:
— By Phone: Call the Arts United ArtsTix Community Box Office at 260.422.4226 Monday - Friday from 12 noon to 6 pm
— In Person: Arts United ArtsTix Community Box Office, 303 East Main Street (front vestibule) Monday-Friday between 12 noon - 6 pm.
— An Opening Night Reception at the Ian Rolland Gallery at the Arts United Center will follow the performance on September 21.

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.