Connected by Ideas

Dayton Ballet presents Diversity in Dance

By Arnecia Patterson

Photo: Dayton Ballet’s 2012 presentation of “Butterfly Suite” as choreographed by Artistic Director Karen Russo Burke; photo: Scott J. Kimmins

Lyricism’s emotional appeal is sometimes constricted by rules – tried and tested conventions that dictate what is right or acceptable for most situations. Form, shape and vocabulary can offer sameness, and classical ballet has a reputation for choreography limited by these three things. Dancers, choreographers and audiences become used to how a turn will begin or how a jump will end after they have repeatedly taken part in enough performances. A fresh approach is like new breath. A feature of Dayton Ballet’s upcoming program Diversity in Dance is three works – by choreographers Gerald Arpino, Karen Russo Burke and Susanne Payne – that allow no holds on the ideas that underlie their making. In that regard, the diverse works, while unique, are ultimately connected.

From Feb. 13-16 at the Victoria Theatre, Dayton Ballet will present Diversity in Dance, a program that will show contrasting movement styles that connect to each other through the idea of pushing boundaries to celebrate spirit. The program is a repertory program of three ballets that highlight pure neo-classical movement and the metaphors of poetic narrative – both tragedy and triumph. Dayton Ballet artistic director Karen Russo Burke’s “Butterfly Suite” returns to the stage. Dancers interact with colorful silks to the music of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Madama Butterfly” and create a motif that is loosely based on the operatic tragedy. The visual interplay of fabric and dancers is a new way of bringing life to a well loved tale. Additionally, the dance is renewed with a cast that brings its own energy to the return of Russo Burke’s “Butterfly Suite.”


Momentum for a new creative outlet

When Susanne Payne moves from the marley floor of the dance studio to the space in front of it, she expresses herself differently. Instead of taking instruction, she dispenses it; instead of executing ideas, she formulates them. Payne was accustomed to being directed in the studio, during her career as a dancer, until that changed after she was selected as the winner of Dayton Ballet’s New Works New Music competition in 2012, and her budding career as a choreographer began. This season she returns to premier a new work – “Dreams of Flight” – inspired by Paulo Coelho’s novel, “The Alchemist.” Choreographed for Dayton Ballet’s nine men, the dance is set to music by Nicoco and uses Payne’s found movement style to reflect the possibility of becoming airborne.

Even though Payne’s work as a choreographer is finding its momentum, her career as a dancer has soared. By middle school, years after she took her first dance lessons at the community center in Oakwood at age three, she knew she wanted a dance career. “I fell in love with dance early, but in eighth grade I knew I was supposed to dance,” said Payne.

Over the next few years that followed, dance took her to some impressive places to study: Idyllwild Arts Academy, Interlochen Arts Academy and New York University; however, she had developed an affinity for Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, where she danced professionally for four seasons.

“I felt I got more out of Dayton,” she reflected. “The spirit was more authentic. If something was bad, I was told it was bad. There was no sugarcoating. I wanted that.”

The realistic feedback that strengthened Payne as a dancer is now being tested as she works her way into choreographer. As offered by the inspirational idea for “Dreams of Flight,” take-off on a new course takes care, safety and a thorough gauge check. Initially, one of her hindrances was exercising new responsibility in the midst of peers, including those she considered more experienced. She admits to having to get beyond self-questioning in order to deliver a good dance. Payne credits Dayton Ballet dancers with accepting her way of working.

“I am very collaborative in my process,” said Payne. “I was able to come in and share how I was comfortable working and they were OK with that. I bent a little bit and so did they.”

The risk of change and hope to fly provide creative inspiration for the ballet’s movement style and storyline. It progresses from a metaphor of beginner’s luck and lighthearted play shown through fun carefree movement onstage.

“In the first section, everyone is having fun,” explained Payne. “We keep getting higher in the second movement. The style is athletic – risky – with lots of lifts and partnering, falls and last-minute catches. There is urgency in the movement.”

The multi-level aesthetic downshifts as competition infects the ensemble. Payne considered this social commentary.

“I am hoping to give the audience something to figure out. Something to unravel, so they’re more engaged,” she said. “In the end, my thought is we fly together. We are all one. That’s when we fly.”

Payne is satisfied to have a creative outlet that allows her to exercise her love for dance and the years of training and performance she has invested. She is interested in taking overarching themes like flight, and meting out insightful choreographic details that are thought-provoking outside the actual movement. As a choreographer, the studio is her space of provocation along with good dancers and the music.

“It’s as if I am a channel,” she said. “When I let go of myself, it just flows through me. Certain things make sense.”


Diversity of form

The neo-classical work “Reflections” is artistic proof that sameness is relative. The late Gerald Arpino (1923-2008), dancer, choreographer, cofounder and artistic director of The Joffrey Ballet, left a body of works that uses modern influences to connect it to the classical canon. When Dayton Ballet performs “Reflections” on its Diversity in Dance program, it will show Dayton an example of how Arpino imbued classical dances with his spirited trademarks – quickness, fluidity through the torso, and surprise – while retaining line and musicality. Often described as “pure dance” for its deft adjoining of slightly disparate qualities, it is set to Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme for Violoncello and Orchestra, op. 33.

“Reflections” captures some of the buoyancy that pervaded the New York dance scene back in 1971, when it was choreographed. Charthel Arthur, one of the original cast members of “Reflections” and its répétiteur, travels nationally and abroad to insure the integrity of the work. In addition to her recent visit to set the work on the Dayton Ballet cast of seven ladies and three men, she has traveled to Texas, Oklahoma and Lithuania to do the same. Arthur joined The Joffrey Ballet in 1965 and danced there for 13 years. Eventually, she became one of the company’s ballet masters until she semi-retired into her current position as managing director for the Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey Foundation. It licenses the performance rites of the ballets to dance companies around the world.

She clearly recalled the demands of “Reflections” when it was originally set and had its premiere at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. Yet, her fondest recollections are of Arpino’s sensitivity to the movement quality of the dancers.

“His creativity was always so interesting because he created for the dancers,” Arthur recalled. “You always looked good in his ballet if it was created on you.”

As one of the original cast, Arthur sets the original 1971 version of “Reflections,” even though Arpino made changes in 1985. “Choreographers love to choreograph and change their ballets. There’s nothing wrong with that,” said Arthur.

According to Arthur, “Reflections” works hand in hand with the Tchaikovsky music that it uses. It opens to the seven ladies dancing together and eventually goes into solos and pas de deux. Each lady has a solo and a couple have two. “The solos are very short,” she described, “they are very lyrical, but the feeling is quick.”

Of the three men in the cast, one has a solo accompanied by cello – it may be the most surprising movement element of “Reflections” in Arthur’s opinion. The three pas de deux vary the pace of the dance. Arthur described one of them as “extremely hard,” two of them as “gentler and romantic” and another as “moving around the stage and not staying in place at all.”

“Reflections” recalls the old classic ballets; however, it is charged with the newness of youth and American spirit that inspired Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino. Being American was important to them, and they reflected it in their works.

“Mr. Joffrey loved the old classics, yet the vitality of the American body was so important to him,” said Arthur. “It was always about the American dream of forging ahead and trying to get better.”

The physical diversity of Dayton Ballet’s program will be obvious, because the dances will look different from each other. The conceptual diversity that connects them will be more pensive. When a tragic opera changes into a color-laden dance, it shows there are many ways to tell a story; likewise with the metaphor of flight and exploring new paths with each other’s help. When classic ideas that dictate beauty brim with spirit, they change into unexpected beauty that dictates something new. All of this shows how diversity keeps changing.


Dayton Ballet will perform Diversity in Dance on Thursday, Feb.13 through Saturday, Feb. 15, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 15 and Sunday, Feb. 16 at 3 p.m. at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. Performance talks are 45 minutes prior to each performance. For tickets, please call 888.228.3630 or order online at

 Reach DCP freelance writer Arnecia Patterson at


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Arnecia Patterson has an infinite capacity to view concert dance. She found her former career as dance executive, funder, and consultant extremely satisfying—and finds writing about dance equally rewarding. Reach DCP Resident Dance Critic Arnecia Patterson at

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