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Death wears pointed shoes

Fort Wayne Ballet’s “Murder at the Ballet” showcases wide range of styles

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


The stories that form the basis of a lot of classical ballet have an element that is often overlooked — there’s a lot of death haunting all those fairy tales, legends and myths. Think of all those poor mice that meet their demise at the hands of the toy soldiers in The Nutcracker.

“A lot of very famous ballets have death scenes,” says Karen Gibbons-Brown, the Artistic/Executive Director of the Fort Wayne Ballet. “Historically, it’s always the love triangle, or good vs. evil…”

For “Murder At the Ballet,” the latest installment of their Blue Jean Night series, the Fort Wayne Ballet is performing a few famous death scenes from classical ballet and more contemporary dance pieces. “We’re ushering in the Halloween season,” Gibbons-Brown says. “Last year we did Frankenstein. This year, we’re doing five pieces from different sources.”

Of course, “Murder At the Ballet” is certainly not bloody, and it’s not all tragedy either. The casual Blue Jean Night has always been a forum for the Fort Wayne Ballet to have fun and showcase all the different styles of dance that, these days, fall under the umbrella of a ballet company, and “Murder At the Ballet” is no exception. The pieces include everything from the classic Swan Lake to modern musical theater to a short original piece about life under the sea called "Fish Fry."

“Not all of what we do at the Fort Wayne Ballet is classical. It’s not all ‘hands here on two and tilt head to the right on three’,” Gibbons-Brown says, miming the precise movements of classical ballet. “Although classical ballet remains the absolute for training, dance is so much more than that. It’s still the discipline of dance, and the art form of dance, but this is our more loose program.”

Gibbons-Brown’s description of classical ballet as the foundation for different styles of dance fits with the line-up for “Murder At the Ballet.” It starts off with scenes from acts two and four of Swan Lake, probably one of the most well-known of classical ballets. The basic storyline — an evil magician turns a beautiful princess and her entourage of maidens into swans, and the curse can only be removed by marrying a prince — has had different endings during its 100 + years on the stage, but the traditional one is tragic.

The second piece, "Combat," serves as a bridge to the more contemporary style of dance in the latter part of the show. Combat was first choreographed in the late 40s, and the costuming and themes of the piece are indicative of the more modern times in which it was created, but the dancing itself is similar to classical. “It’s on-point, like classical ballet, but it has a contemporary flair,” says Mari Newlin, who dances one of the leads along with Derek Reid. “It adds arm and torso movements that you don’t find in classical ballet.”

Thematically, it’s also the most serious piece in the program. It forsakes the fairy tale elements of a classical ballet like Swan Lake to tell the tragic story of two childhood friends separated by war who find themselves leading opposing armies.

After that, “Murder At the Ballet” goes off into more contemporary — and lighter — territory for a short piece called "Fish Fry," choreographed by Fort Wayne Ballet’s Alix Gausline with music from a Danish children’s show. Gibbons-Brown describes "Fish Fry" as a lighthearted look at life under the sea. “All the fish have different personalities — sting rays, jelly fish, sharks. It’s just a fun, light piece.”

Next up is “Cell Block Tango” from the musical Chicago. Gibbons-Brown points out that the Fort Wayne Ballet’s take on the number is much more in line with the original stage production than the one in the popular movie, more subtle.

Finally, there’s “Showdown at the Hoedown,” a spoof on Hollywood’s version of the wild west. For this last piece, the dancers worked around a “sketch” of the choreography, and it was up to them to develop their own characters. “We have a John Wayne character, we have a Yosemite Sam character, we have a Miss Kitty character, and we have a Laura Ingalls character,” says Gibbons-Brown. “It’s a little different, and the dancers have enjoyed creating characters. The star in that piece is not the choreography, it’s the characterization and the fun the dancers have with it.”

In addition, the Fort Wayne Ballet’s Youth Company is also doing their own main stage performance of Peter and the Wolf on Friday afternoon (October 1) for students and for a matinee on Saturday, October 2.

In addition, there will be a pre-curtain lecture at 6:15 p.m. before the Saturday evening performance. “A lot of people might think ‘well, I don’t know classical ballet, so I’m not going to understand it,’” says Melinda Perry, the Fort Wayne Ballet’s Director of Communications and Development. “What we try to do with the pre-curtain lectures is explain some of the things people are going to see, or pass along some interesting facts about the piece.”

Gibbons says that the Fort Wayne Ballet always looks forward to Blue Jean Night as an opportunity to loosen up a little and show everything they’re capable of. “This is a more casual approach to dance,” she says. “You’ll see classical ballet on Blue Jean Night, but you’ll also see some things that are maybe more cutting-edge, a little more diversified than our classical programs.”

And according to Melinda Perry, this casual approach to dance extends to the audience, too. “You can really wear your blue jeans to it.”

Murder At the Ballet
Performing Arts Center
303 E. Main
October 1 and 2 at 7:00 p.m.
$15 adults; $10 children, students, seniors.
Call (260) 422-4226

Peter and the Wolf
Performing Arts Center
303 E. Main
October 2 at 2 p.m.
$15 adults; $5 others
(260) 422-4226

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.