Repping the current

Contemporary ballet’s new tradition potential

By Arnecia Patterson

A program of repertory ballets is a departure from tradition for a ballet company. However, the Dayton Ballet has history with experimental choreography and new dances. Unlike how story ballets are described in detail by their characters, scenes, costumes and anticipated moments of bravura, repertory programs, like the Dayton Ballet’s upcoming February Fantasy, are considered less accessible gateways into the ballet world, even though their aesthetic is a much more contemporary point of view. Their dances take liberties with music—not always classical, costumes—not always tutus and tights, and subject matter—not always fairy tales.

In February the Dayton Ballet will flex its lithe muscles in repertory, unfettered to storybook narrative and current, established by choreographers like Gerald Arpino, the late co-founder of Joffrey Ballet, Septime Webre, artistic director of The Washington Ballet, Melissa Barak, choreographer and artistic director of Barak Ballet and the company’s own artistic director, Karen Russo Burke. The four dances on the program are short, dynamic, new and tried and true.

Revisiting successes

When Septime Webre set Fluctuating Hemlines on the Dayton Ballet, Rachel Carmazzi Osmeña was ensconced in the company’s studios and culture. At the time she was a professional dancer (1992-2002) after having studied at the Dayton Ballet School and danced with its pre-professional company, Dayton Ballet II. With two decades of respectable company history, this season Osmeña returns as répétiteur for Fluctuating Hemlines. She remembers the dance’s speed and exaggerated gestures.

“I loved it,” says Osmeña. “Septime wanted to see ballet technique clearly articulated but taken to jazz dance speed and for us to push beyond that.”

With only a couple of weeks in the studio with the dancers, Osmeña watched recordings as references for the choreography for 12 dancers set to a commissioned score by Tigger Benford.  She admits to the challenge of being responsible for the look of the dance.

“I loved doing this piece, but when I danced it I only had to prepare myself and worry about 1 person. Now, I’m worrying about 12,” she says.

The responsibility for choreography increases when there are over 20 ballets in your charge as is the case for Charthel Arthur. As the managing director of The Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey Foundation, she oversees the staging and licensing of the ballets in the foundation’s trust following 13 years as a dancer with the Joffrey Ballet. This season, she returned to Dayton to stage a 13 minute, Arpino ballet for three couples, Confetti (ca 1970), set to music by Gioachino Rossini. Her return also influenced Karen Russo Burke’s new ballet, No Strings Attached; she introduced Burke to the music of D. Adam Estner, guitarist and composer, who will provide live accompaniment at each performance.

Original music for original dance

D. Adam Estner discovered the guitar as a young boy. As the son of two professional dancers, Robert Estner and Charthel Arthur, Estner was pushed beyond a typical child’s passing fancy with a musical instrument.

“They said I had to get a real amp and guitar and take lessons. So I did,” recalls Estner.

As it turned out, the guitar became a lifelong undertaking, so when a teacher told him about Berklee School of Music he decided to attend. He studied jazz composition at Berklee and classical guitar at the University of Arizona.

“At Berklee … composing and arranging became a focus. I have always been composing, even when I didn’t know what I was doing. Trying to break things down into communicable units came to me naturally,” says Estner. Acoustic World Fusion is how he describes the repertory he will perform with the dancers in February.

Dances for Dancers

As a choreographer, Melissa Barak remains pledged to her identity as a dancer and choreographs to show dancers in their best light rather than adhere to figural or spatial mandates. Her early training in Los Angeles included studying some of New York City Ballet’s most storied dancers after which she, herself, ended up at the School of American Ballet and danced with the New York City Ballet. An invitation to choreograph for the SAB Workshop, and subsequently for New York City Ballet, moved her into the professional choreographic realm, but not to leave the feeling of performance behind.

“As I choreograph, I identify with performing, listening and moving. I am not preoccupied with having to make certain shapes. It’s important to know who my dancers are and what is becoming on them,” she says.

Back in the autumn of 2015, when she came to Dayton to set her premier, she found dancers who worked hard and quickly consumed everything presented to them. In less than a week she had choreographed a new work, Tonal Interceptions, for eight dancers to the music of Lee Ornstein.

In the world’s hub of professional dance, she is unlikely to relinquish her identity as a dancer. According to Barak, “Dancing … there is no better thing, and I want to stay in touch with that. It is the basis of my knowledge … the part of me that loves ballet in the first place.”

Dayton Ballet’s February Fantasy takes place  Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 11-14 at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. Thursday’s performance includes a Pizza Prelude from Uno’s Pizzeria served in the Victoria lobby beginning at 7 p.m. Ms. Burke’s pre-performance talk occurs 45 minutes prior to each performance in the Burnell Roberts Room. Tickets are $21-$72. For a complete list of show times, tickets and more information, please visit or, or call 937.228.3630.

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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