On their toes for 75 years!

Dayton Ballet celebrates “Past and Present”

By Eric Street

Dayton Ballet celebrates its 75th anniversary this year – a remarkable accomplishment for a dance company, and one that places Dayton Ballet in the front ranks as one of the nation’s oldest. “Past & Present” will run Thursday, Friday and Saturday Oct. 18-20 at 8 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 20 and Sunday, Oct. 21 at 3 p.m. in the Victoria Theatre.

Fittingly, the program features three diverse experiences from Dayton Ballet’s past and present: Stuart Sebastian’s “Mozart Dances”; a world premiere from choreographer Amy Seiwert, “Chasing Ghosts”; and the revival of “Sleepy Hollow.”  “I feel extremely honored to be with the Dayton Ballet during this important anniversary season,” says Artistic Director Karen Russo Burke.

“I’m in awe of the sisters, Josephine Schwarz and her sister, Hermene, who 85 years ago opened the Schwarz School of Dance.  When we look to the past, I’m amazed at their foresight, their tenacity, their love for the art form.  And then to be able to pass it on to so many people – that’s very impressive.

We started our anniversary year this April, with a kick-off performance at the Dayton Art Institute where Miss Jo and Miss Herm had the very first performance of their Experimental Group for Young Dancers.  That was 75 years ago!  Miss Jo had hurt her knee dancing on Broadway and decided that she would invest her energies in young dancers. They took ten of the top dancers from their school, which was already ten years old, making it one of the oldest dance schools in the country.

Our program is called “Past and Present.” We’re looking back with a piece choreographed by Stuart Sebastian, Artistic Director of Dayton Ballet from 1980-1990.  As an added bonus, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing the Mozart score.”

Audiences can also gallop down memory lane with the headless horseman in a revival of “Sleepy Hollow,” choreographed by Karen Russo Burke. Washington Irving’s familiar tale of a bully, a good guy, a lovely girl and a headless horseman should prove exciting fun for kids of all ages this Halloween season.

Our future is symbolized by a piece by Amy Seiwert,” says Burke, “who has a company called Imagery. So here we have the past, the present, and the future in one terrific program.”

“I just finished it on Saturday,” says Amy Seiwert, “and I can’t wait to see the performance.” Seiwert is Artistic Director of the San Francisco-based ballet company Imagery, as well as Choreographer in Residence for the Smuin Ballet.

“The music is by New York composer Kevin Keller,” explains Seiwert. “He’s created really emotional music, but it’s emotional without being sentimental. It’s perfect for the dancers.

I’m from Ohio, in fact, I grew up in Westchester. I’ve worked with Cincinnati Ballet and Ballet Met recently, so I’ve been more in Ohio this fall more than in the last 20 years.  It’s brought back lots of memories for me – like the smell of fall. In San Francisco we don’t really have the same sort of fall.

It ties in perfectly with the piece. For me, this piece is all about memories, sometimes the fleeting memories you can’t quite put your finger on. The title of the piece is “Chasing Ghosts,” and that’s what it’s all about. The shadow of an experience you’ve once had –it’s pretty abstract.

The Dayton Ballet dancers have gotten it beautifully – they’re really doing it very well.  You’ve got a great company there. They’re incredible to work with, partly because of their fantastic work ethic.

They really dig deep into the piece, and they bring a special quality of their own to it.  Without these dancers, the piece might come out totally different.  It’s been really nice collaborating with them.”

“Nine out of the eighteen dancers are new to Dayton Ballet this year,” says Burke.  “They bring with them a lot of positive energy to the company. Their passion for dancing and their work is really tremendous. That’s what I hope people will come and see – our dancers’ passion for their art form.”

The Dayton Ballet 75th anniversary season has plenty more in store for its audience. “The next new thing we’re doing,” says Burke, “is mounting a full-length ‘Cinderella’ to Prokofiev’s music. We’ll have all new costumes and new sets. It will be one of the first full-length story ballets we’ve had in quite a long time.

For the 75th season we’ll perform Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. We’ll close off the season in March with a ballet called ‘Confetti’ by Gerald Arpino, originally done for the Joffrey Ballet but new to our repertoire. There will be a video collage of each choreographer who worked with us.

After the intermission, there will be a video montage of works that have been done by the Dayton Ballet over the years. This will be followed by four or five sections of works that we’ve done to show the range of the dancers.

We are a company of premieres, and we do a lot more of them than other companies.  We want to hold on to that tradition!”

The Dayton Ballet will present “Past and Present” Oct. 18-20 at the Victoria Theatre.

Tickets range from $20 to $70 and are available at Ticket Center Stage (937) 228-3630 or online at www.daytonballet.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Eric Street at EricStreet@daytoncitypaper.com

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Eric Street is Professor of Music at UD with a doctorate from Indiana University. His Carnegie Hall debut led to performances in 36 countries on six continents. An opera lover, he’s taught Opera History and accompanied over two-dozen singers from the Metropolitan and NYC Opera. Reach him at EricStreet@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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