A veteran Nutcracker

The Dayton Ballet performing The Nutcracker. The Dayton Ballet performing The Nutcracker.

Dayton Ballet’s new Executive Director, Kathy Reed, preps for The Nutcracker

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

The Dayton Ballet performing The Nutcracker.

The Dayton Ballet performing The Nutcracker.

Author Paulo Coelho once said, “Every search begins with beginner’s luck. And every search ends with the victor’s being severely tested.”

It’s almost a sure thing that when Coelho wrote those words, he didn’t have Dayton Ballet’s Executive Director Kathy Reed in mind. But that doesn’t mean the truth of the words does not still apply.

At least, that was the case when it came to the quick ushering away of “luck” and a true test of survival at the commencement of the company’s current season. Two days before Reed was about to step into her new position as executive director, she was given the news that the organization’s funding from Culture Works would be cut by 30 percent.

Some kind of precedent, huh? But Reed and her team were undeterred.

“We reworked the budget for that issue and also adjusted ticket sale projections based on current sales,” Reed said. “Karen (Russo Burke, the new Artistic Director) was also involved in adjusting production budgets. It was a learning experience to dig so deeply into the numbers and reinforced with me the responsibilities of the new position.”

Talk about a sunny state of mind. But as the company nears the celebration of its 75th year (beginning at the start of the 2012-2013 season), it’s an attitude like Reed’s that will be crucial to the success of Dayton Ballet in the years to come.

“Dayton’s arts audiences must realize how lucky they are to have what they have — an amazing art museum and visual arts organizations for all ages and interests, producing and presenting performing arts organizations of historical significance and beautiful performance venues,” Reed said. “I think that if these attributes are recognized, the arts in Dayton have a long, exciting future.”

As for her past, Reed has spent the last 30 years as a Dayton Ballet subscriber, mom and employee. Since 1981, Reed, in addition to her mother and sister, has been attending the company’s performances. Ten years later, she enrolled all three of her children in the Dayton Ballet School and began her foray into working for the company.

“The children danced in The Nutcracker and I helped as a backstage mom, learning the production side of the organization — that’s where the real fun is!” Reed said.

In 2001, an opportunity to become an assistant to Dermot Burke, the company’s former artistic and executive director, became available and Reed was asked to fill the role.

“Having 30 years of perspective, I’ve seen the organization grow, paralleling the trends of the national ballet scene from one of a few big companies (New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, etc.) to regional ballet companies coming into their own,” she said. “Dayton Ballet was always a nationally-recognized regional company, but was able to build on that strong foundation and become a company where dancers from across the world have wanted to dance.

“It’s been exciting to see the company grow and be able to perform larger productions by world-renowned choreographers. Dermot’s vision of brand-new full-length story ballets was exciting for me because these productions started from the ground up and included original scores, new costumes and sets.”

Standing at the helm of a new ship — Burke stepped down from his dual position last season — are Reed and Russo Burke, a team that is not much unlike the original pair who started the company, Josephine Schwarz and her sister, Hermene.

“I think they would be happy to see that the company is again being lead by two women,” Reed said of Josephine and Hermene. “I also think they would be impressed with the quality of dancers in the company, the national reputation that it enjoys and the continuation of their tradition of new works.

“I’m sure they would be very pleased that there are still ballet fans in Dayton and that Dayton Ballet still deserves their loyalty.”

Reed said she’s also fairly confident that “Miss Hermene” would be especially impressed with the quality of the company’s costumes, given her role as the original Dayton Ballet costumer.

“Lowell Mathwich, who has been with the company for almost 30 years, learned from Miss Hermene and continues her tradition of constructing costumes that are beautiful while still being highly functional for the complex choreography that is demanded of them,” Reed said -a note that is surely important as the company rehearses for the upcoming annual performance of The Nutcracker. The event will take place December 9-11 and December 16-18 at the Schuster Center. More than 100 children from the Dayton Ballet School and 13 other area dance schools will take the stage in the Miami Valley’s only professional production of The Nutcracker, showcasing the critically acclaimed and nationally recognized Dayton Ballet Company, plus the Dayton Ballet II Senior and Junior Companies and students from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and Ohio University dance departments.

“Dayton Ballet is fortunate to have a base of very dedicated fans and supporters,” Reed said. “Many have been loyal subscribers for over 40 years. Being innovative in programming and attracting and keeping quality dancers — as has been the history since 1938 when The Experimental Group for Young Dancers first performed at the Dayton Art Institute — has allowed the company to remain one of the leading arts organizations in Dayton.”

It’s a label that any company would be proud to wear, and one that will certainly help Reed, Russo Burke and the entire Dayton Ballet company ride successfully into a future that helps them to see 75 more years of entertaining Dayton audiences.

“We must continue the traditions of the past, while keeping the art form fresh and interesting for the Dayton audience,” Reed said. “That is not an easy task, I might add. We are planning many exciting events surrounding this auspicious anniversary.”

When asked for a few hints at that future, Reed has one response only: “Stay tuned!”

Spoken like a true veteran.

For tickets to Dayton Ballet’s The Nutcracker, the “Behind the Magic” Backstage Tour or the Sugar Plum Tea, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or (888) 228-3630 or visit online at www.ticketcenterstage.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Caroline Shannon-Karasik at CarolineShannonKarasik@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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About Caroline Shannon-Karasik

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