Experimental traditions

Dayton Ballet opens season with Range of Motion

 By Arnecia Patterson

Photo: Dayton Ballet Artistic Director Karen Russo Burke

In the spring of 1937, Josephine and Hermene Schwarz set their new dance company, “The Experimental Group for Young Dancers,” on the stage of the Dayton Art Institute and the Dayton Ballet was born. Its name prophesied a small, youthful company that would depart from a classical ballet base in some way. When the company opens its 76th season at the Victoria Theatre, October 24-27, with Range of Motion, it will keep to its founding roots and reputation.

Each dance – Justin Koertgen’s Violin Concerto set to Max Bruch’s Violin Concertos No. 2 and No. 3, Gina Gardner-Walther’s “Between Heaven and Earth,” Gina Patterson’s duet, “Your Provision,” and Artistic Director Karen Russo Burke’s, “Modus Operandi” – is part of an artistic experiment that shows the range of how ballet is used in performance today. Another part of the experiment is the dancers who will perform the four works requiring broad training and motivations in order to realize each choreographer’s vision.

A mixed bag – as a repertory program is often called in the ballet world – is experimental in more ways than one. The artistic director surrenders the studio to each choreographer who then unfolds a unique artistic vision – listening, crafting and reworking movement on ready dancers.  By the time dancers get jobs as professionals, they have experimented with readiness in various modes of dance through years of study and performance. From the newest dancers to the most experienced, all are aware of how broad they must be in order to realize the demands of divergent choreographic visions, and they have to learn movement styles that address the evolving structures of classical and contemporary dance. Paul Gilliam, a dancer and rehearsal assistant who is in his eighth season, recognizes the link between versatility and professional potential. “It’s so helpful for a dancer to be moldable and well-rounded instead of being only one way,” said Gilliam. “You have better potential for getting a job, and it’s not the easiest thing to get a job.”

Brittany Butler, Austin Lintner and John Mingle – all new to the company – began studying ballet as young children; however, it was not until adolescence that they realized their desires to pursue dance careers and the versatilities that would be their tickets to realizing their performance dreams. “I had been strictly ballet trained my entire life when I chose to go to Southern Methodist University,” said Mingle. “There I took Graham technique three times a week and jazz class twice a week on top of my ballet classes. Having that experience opened my eyes and my movement quality. It helps in the studio.”

Dancers are enthusiastic about and committed to the choreographic trials and errors resulting in the finished dances that they will perform; these works push them and the art form in ways that story ballets do not. While narrative makes late 19th and early 20th century evening-length ballets popular, it gives them a sameness that is less likely found in a repertory program. “In a story or evening-length ballet, you only dance one role in an evening,” explained Lintner. By contrast, the diverse choreography and unusual mixture of steps in a repertory program can have ephemeral moments.

“I’m always looking forward to and anticipating that goal of being in the moment,” said Gilliam. “A lot of dancers, and a lot of people who come to see it, live for the moment. There might not be another moment.”

Additionally, a dancer can enjoy emotional freedom. According to first-year company member Brittany Butler, strict classicism carries the stress of a rigid form, while contemporary movement requires openness that can produce spirited performance. “As far as emotion and feeling goes, contemporary dances take me to a different place, because of the freedom to move,” she said. Mingle echoed, “In Gina’s (Gardner-Walther) work there is enough freedom in the movement to allow me to live that expression and connect to my partner. Contemporary work allows you to make a solid connection, and that’s so important.”

In Range of Motion new artistic levels will be translated to the stage by dancers’ collective desire to represent the choreographers’ visions and share their new artistic freedoms and languages with audiences. They want to dance the extreme classical demands of Koertgen’s “Violin Concerto” with extreme classical beauty, the “shoom” of “Your Provision” the way it was invented in the studio – as an onomatopoeic movement overlay, and the percussive quickness of “Modus Operandi” with precision and speed. Mixed bags are intended for the enjoyment of those who want to know what might happen next and see dancers take shape and form to unknown levels. In addition to still being a young group of experimental ballet dancers, the Dayton Ballet has the chemistry of dancers who want to step perfectly, inside and outside of form, together.

The Dayton Ballet presents A Range of Motion Thursday, Oct. 24 – Sunday, Oct. 27 at the Schuster Performing Arts Center, 2 W. Second St. Tickets are $20 to $70. Dayton Ballet Artistic Director Karen Russo Burke will conduct a pre-performance talk for ticketholders 45 minutes prior to curtain time. A Q&A with dancers will follow each performance. For more information please call 937.228.3630 or visit at daytonperformingarts.org.


Reach DCPf reelance writer Arnecia Patterson at ArneciaPatterson@DaytonCityPaper.com.


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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 ArneciaPatterson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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