A grand jeté!

A grand jeté!

Dayton Ballet 75th anniversary Celebration!

By Eric Street
Photo: The Dayton Civic Ballet production of Papillons in 1962 at the Dayton Art Institute Renaissance Theatre; photo courtesy Dayton Ballet

Seventy-fifth anniversaries are rare enough among humans, and rarer by far among ballet companies in this country. Dayton Ballet is only the second American ballet company to achieve this impressive milestone and they are celebrating appropriately with a dazzling program of what one might call “Dayton Ballet’s Artistic Directors’ Greatest Hits.”

“We’re looking back from the beginnings of Dayton Ballet with Miss Jo and Miss Hermene and honoring the artistic directors who guided the company through the years,” said Artistic Director Karen Russo Burke. “We’re also honoring our choreographers. In the second half of the program, we’re looking at the topography of the choreographers who have worked with Dayton Ballet. It’s a very big retrospective of the past directors and the choreographers we’ve brought to Dayton.”

The program includes photo montages of past ballets and a mix of 12 pieces of repertory danced by the 18-member company to showcase the achievements of the Dayton Ballet throughout the years. A highlight will be a short film montage of Dayton Ballet founders Miss Jo and Miss Hermene Schwarz. Photographs used in the montage were taken by Jane Reece, an internationally known Dayton photographer and, remarkably, one of the first professional female photographers in the United States. They are selected from a Wright State University archive collection consisting of 89 photographs taken by Reece, covering approximately the years from 1912 to 1937. The collection contains historic portraits and dance compositions of Josephine and Hermene Schwarz, portraits of the Schwarz family and others. “We’re lucky to have many photos of Miss Jo and Miss Hermene taken by Jane Reece,” explained Russo Burke. “Jane loved to take photographs and her work is housed in the archives at Wright State University.”

Celebration! opens with the Joffrey Ballet’s “Confetti!,” a 12-minute piece choreographed by Gerald Arpino, co-founder and former Artistic Director of the Joffrey Ballet. It will also include a dance piece titled “Two Sisters,” choreographed by Karen Russo Burke, a short film on former Dayton Ballet Artistic Directors Jon Rodrigez and Bess Imber, as well as the dance pieces “Bushido” and a segment from Inner Geist, choreographed by Rodrigez and Imber, respectively.

The program continues with a short film on former Artistic Director Stuart Sebastian, followed by two of his dance pieces – an excerpt from Fast Company and a pas de deux from his ballet “Dracula.” There will be a short film on former Executive Director and Artistic Director Dermot Burke followed by two of his dance pieces, “There Was a Time” and the finale from Basics.

Also included is a film montage of photos of many past ballets, a pas de deux from the ballet Fluctuation Hemlines, choreographed by Septime Webre, Artistic Director of the Washington Ballet, as well as the beloved “White Swan” pas de deux from Swan Lake. Other featured numbers include an excerpt from the ballet Orchids, choreographed by Gregory Robinson and the last movement from the ballet Canyons, choreographed by Karen Russo Burke.

Three former directors of the company will be in attendance for the retrospective, including Dermot Burke, Jon Rodrigez and Bess Imber.

Who else should come to this program?  “Celebration! should appeal to everyone, particularly anyone who has had any contact through the years with Dayton Ballet, including former students, company members, past and present subscribers and anyone who has even attended a Dayton Ballet performance,” said Russo Burke.  “I think they’d be awed and amazed by this wonderful gem in the heart of the Miami Valley.”

The Dayton Ballet began 85 years ago when Josephine Schwarz and her sister, Hermene, opened The Schwarz School of Dance. “Miss Jo” later studied at the School of American Ballet, but returned home after receiving an injury while performing in New York. In May 1937, Miss Jo and Miss Hermene gathered together the school’s finest talents, named the troupe “The Experimental Group for Young Dancers,” and staged a performance at the Dayton Art Institute. This was the first performance of what is now the 75-season-old Dayton Ballet.

Over the past 75 years and through the efforts of four subsequent Artistic Directors, Dayton Ballet has continued to flourish. A commitment to new dance led to it being dubbed “the company of premieres,” and its 75 years of continuous operation make it the second-oldest ballet company in the United States. It is truly one of Dayton’s outstanding legacies.

The 75th Anniversary Season Sponsors are Kettering Health Network and The Miriam Rosenthal Memorial Trust Fund. The latter sponsor will host a complimentary champagne toast at all five performance intermissions. Celebration! performance Sponsors are The DP&L Foundation and Emerson Climate Technologies.

Dayton Ballet will conclude its 75th anniversary season with Celebration! on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 21, 22, and 23 at 8 p.m., and Saturday, March 23 and Sunday, March 24 at 3 p.m. in the Victoria Theatre. Tickets range from $20 to $70 and are available at Ticket Center Stage 937.228.3630 or online at daytonballet.org. Senior, teacher and student discounts are available at the box office.

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