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Bunheads go bad

“Bad Girls of the Ballet” and “Carnival of the Animals” share a weekend of ballet

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


I learned a new phrase while writing this article about the Fort Wayne Ballet’s 2005 edition of Blue Jean Night.


A bunhead is either (a) a stereotypical prissy ballerina; or (b) a dancer who is proficient in many styles, but thinks they’re all a little beneath her — except for ballet.

The bunheads are scarce in “Bad Girls of Ballet,” the Fort Wayne Ballet’s annual repertory program. Instead, the five pieces that make up Bad Girls of Ballet” turn the spotlight on the characters in every story that try their darnedest to make sure the hero and heroine don’t live happily ever after. These are the villains — the schemers and connivers, the evil stepsisters and thwarted lovers and troublemakers.

The annual Blue Jean Night offers the Fort Wayne Ballet a chance do their thing in a more casual forum than what you might think of as a typical ballet program. The atmosphere is informal, and so are the pieces. It’s less a night of ballet in the classical sense as it is a night of a variety of dance styles. “Blue Jean Night is our repertory program,” says Karen Gibbons-Brown, the Fort Wayne Ballet’s Artistic Director. “It’s our chance to invite some of the audience in who wouldn’t normally come to the ballet.”

Many of the dancers welcome the diversity of the typical Blue Jean Night program. “It’s fun, because its not just ballet,” says Mari Newlin, who plays Cinderella. “It’s modern dance, and jazz, and we get to play a character, too.”

The rogue’s gallery in “Bad Girls of Ballet” features some genuine baddies, and a few who are… well, maybe they’re just misunderstood. The five pieces in the program each have their own distinct style. Covering the classical side is the Black Swan from Swan Lake, with Lucia Rogers as Odile, the Black Swan and Kip Stern from the Dance Theater of Harlem guesting as the Prince who thinks the Black Swan is his true love.

The infamous wicked step-sisters make an appearance for act one of Cinderella, a “sneak preview” for the Fort Wayne Ballet’s 50th anniversary production of Cinderella set for next year. “To me, the wicked stepsisters are just misunderstood,” says Andrianna Rogers, who plays (you guessed it) one of the wicked stepsisters. Rogers also says she enjoys the challenge of playing different characters on Blue Jean Night. “For Cinderella, I’m a wicked stepsister. But for another piece, I’m a bunhead…”

Which leads us into one of two original pieces in the program, choreographed by Alix Gausline-Miller. The first is an irreverent piece called “Bach n’ Roll,” which might be described as the Revolt of the Bunheads. “Some of it is very modern, and then all of a sudden, they’ll break out into funky, jazz improvisational stuff,” Mari Newlin says. “It’s sort of making fun of bunheads a little bit.”

The second original piece is based on the tale of Tristan and Isolde. Tristan, on a mission to deliver Isolde to his uncle, King Mark, drinks a love potion with his uncle’s bride-to-be, with predictably disastrous results for all involved. “Isolde’s not really bad,” Gibbons-Brown explains. “She’s more… conniving.”

Finally, there’s a line of Can Can dancers, which… well, everybody knows what the Can Can dancers are. “They’re bad in their own little way,” Gibbons-Brown says (or maybe they just need the money to pay for college). This is, of course, a G-rated version of the infamous dance, adapted from a larger piece ballet called “Gaite Parisienne” by Leonide Massine.

There’s also a special 10 p.m. performance on Friday night, September 30th. Audience members purchasing tickets to the late night performance will receive a wristband for access to a complimentary pre-party at Upper West End at Columbia Street West beginning at 7:30 pm, trolley service to and from the Arts United Center and access to Columbia Street after the performance.

The “Bad Girls of the Ballet” will share the weekend with the ballet’s Children’s Youth Company production of Saint-Saen’s Carnival of the Animals, a visual spectacle of dancing lions, tigers, a Koo-Koo bird, and turtles doing very slow Can Can. There will be a school performance on Friday afternoon and 2:30 Saturday matinee. “They’re young people in training, supplemented by some of our senior dancers,” says Gibbons-Brown. “It’s a wonderful score. A lot of it is a musical spoof, with children’s nursery rhyme songs.” The piece features some intricate and colorful costume work by the Fort Wayne Ballet’s designer Tess Heet.

Bad Girls of Ballet
Friday, September 30
7 pm and special 10 pm encore performance

Saturday, October 1
Carnival of the Animals — 2:30 pm
Bad Girls of Ballet — 7 pm

Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Call Fort Wayne Ballet at (260) 484-9646 for ticket and pre-party information.

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.