Six main stage performances highlight 41st season of Ballet Arkansas

Following a successful 40th Anniversary season, Ballet Arkansas is excited to reveal plans for the upcoming 2019/2020 season. With six main stage performances and a variety of special and collaborative events, 2019/20 is designed to appeal to a broader audience base and to foster more community involvement in Ballet Arkansas productions.

Main Stage Performances
Sleepy Hollow, October 17-20, 2019, UA-PTC CHARTS Theater – The kickoff to this upcoming season will be a mixed multimedia world-premiere, full-length production of Sleepy Hollow. Designed in collaboration with the creative team with Cranford Co., the production will start the season with a spooky tone, similar to the tone set by last season’s wildly popular production of Dracula.

Debut, November 2019, Argenta Community Theater – Debut is a bold mixed repertory program that highlights the choreographic skills of the professional dancers of Ballet Arkansas, placing their works alongside the work of celebrated neoclassical and contemporary choreographers. Stretching the boundaries of contemporary dance, Debut explores new territories of movement and will leave audiences wanting more.

Nutcracker Spectacular, December 13-15, 2019, Robinson Performance Hall – The holiday tradition for many families in Arkansas, the Nutcracker Spectacular is the largest holiday production in Central Arkansas. Featuring the professional dancers of Ballet Arkansas, performing alongside a community cast of over 200 local children and adults, the production engages the community in the celebration of a holiday classic. Performances will include live accompaniment from the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, and at least 2 local choral ensembles. Ballet Arkansas’ discounted student matinee performances, serving over 2,200 children each year, will be held on December 12-13, 2019.

Cinderella, February 20-23, 2020, UA-PTC CHARTS Theater – Audiences will have a ball at one of 4 performances of Ballet Arkansas’ world-premiere Cinderella.  Perfect for families, this iconic ballet has a comedic twist, and is paired with drama and virtuoso dancing. This production will feature a community cast of 40 dancers – the first Ballet Arkansas production outside of The Nutcracker to do so in many years. Cinderella is a “must-see” this season!

Snow White, April 25-26, 2020 Matinee Performances, UA-PTC CHARTS Theater – Another popular tale, Ballet Arkansas’ telling of Snow White is a fresh take on a beloved classic and will feature a community cast of 20 local dancers. Performed at the intimate UA – Pulaski Tech CHARTS Theater, Snow White will be the final performance of the season.

Masterworks, April 24-26, 2020 Evening Performances, UA-PTC CHARTS Theater – Composed of high profile repertory from acclaimed international choreographers, and live accompaniment by a world renowned musician, Masterworks is the perfect climax to the 2019/20 season. Presented by the Stella Boyle Smith Trust, Masterworks brings the best repertory that dance has to offer to Central Arkansas.

Michael Fothergill is the Executive and Artistic Director, Catherine Garratt Fothergill is the Associate Artistic Director and Erin Anson is the General Manager.  Dancers for the 2019-2020 season include Hannah Bradshaw, Lauren Hill, Kaley Kirkman, Matthew Larson, Toby Lewellen, Meredith Loy, Amanda Sewell, Deanna Stanton, Megan Tillman, Paul Tillman, Isabelle Urben, and Zeek Wright.  New for the 2019-2020 season are Leah Morris, Adrian Vendt, and Lauren Yordanich.

Creative Class 2016: Erin Anson-Ellis

cc16-anson-ellisToday’s member of the Creative Class is Erin Anson-Ellis, General Manager of Ballet Arkansas.  A native of Little Rock, she earned her B.A. in Theatre Arts from UALR and graduated with honors in May of 2012. In the fall of 2012, she stage managed the educational tour of Lily and the Appleseed which was presented by Wildwood Park for the Arts; and in December of 2012, she served as the production stage manager for Ballet Arkansas’ production of The Nutcracker.

Erin became Ballet Arkansas’ production, company, and stage manager in the spring of 2013, and has managed all of Ballet Arkansas’ productions since that time. In addition to her work at Ballet Arkansas, Erin’s credits include stage managing the the 2015 “Back to School” and 2016 “Happy Feet” Shuffles and Ballet II Dance Recitals, 2015 ACANSA performances by PUSH Physical Theatre and Urban Bush Woman, and the Bill Bowers’ 2014 ACANSA performances of “It Goes Without Saying.”

While at UALR, Erin directed the 2012 UALR production of Criminal Hearts, several student fringe productions between 2008 and 2013, and served as the lighting designer for the Artists in Resonance summer dance concert for three years. Her acting credits include the roles of Viola in Twelfth Night, The Jester in Once Upon a Mattress, Yvonne in The Ladies Man, Kate in Kate Crackernuts, Roberta in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, and in 2008 she traveled to Canterbury, England to perform various roles from the works of Christopher Marlowe for the International Marlowe Conference at the University of Kent.

Under the Lights raises the barre for Ballet Arkansas

UndertheLights_ProgramCover_27july2015a-183x300Ballet Arkansas’ 2015-16 season concludes with the concert Under the Lights, currently on stage at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre through Sunday, May 22. In what has become a hallmark of Artistic Director Michael Bearden’s leadership, it offers an eclectic mix of styles of dance and music which not only highlight the strengths of the dancers, but also allow the dancers to push themselves in new directions.

The concert takes its name from Chris Stuart’s Under the Lights, which is set to the music of Johnny Cash. Created for Nashville Ballet, this piece receives its Arkansas premiere just one hour north of Cash’s birthplace in Kingsland. Being the scion of a longtime Cleveland County family, I grew up listening to Cash’s music. I approached this piece with a great deal of excitement, but also wondering exactly how ballet would meld with Cash. The answer is, they fuse very well.

Ballet is, at its heart, about expression. So are Cash’s songs. At Ballet Arkansas’ performances, the songs are performed live by Sugar + the Hi-Lows, which played them in the premiere. The central dancer, in black of course, is Toby Lewellen. He does not try to mimic Cash in any way, but instead combines lyricism and athleticism as he leads the company in “Walk the Line.” He and Amanda Sewell partner nicely on the piece’s penultimate song, “I’ve Got You Covered.

Deanna Karlheim and Paul Tillman perform a pas de deux to “Ring of Fire” which captures the raw longing of that song. Megan Hustel leads the company in a poignant “Hurt.”

After all the emotions of the piece, it ends in the joyous “Jackson” which allows each of the dancers a moment to showcase their talents. This is no balletic hoedown with forced folksiness; it is a true “let down your hair” moment of release for the dancers at the end of the piece and of the concert.

The concert starts with George Balanchine’s Glinka Pas de Trois which featured Justin Rustle, Megan Hustel and Lauren Bodenheimer at Friday evening’s performance. This 1955 piece requires the dancers to show not only classical ballet training, but also speed and subtle movements which are more inspired by modern dance. The three dancers perform alone and in various combinations. Intricate and challenging, the three dancers were up to the task.

Harrison McEldowney’s Group Therapy was an audience favorite. The four couples portrayed different sets of phobias, neuroses, or other problems. Set to pop standards of the 1930s and 1940s, each couple got a chance to display not only dancing prowess, but also a flair for comedy. In “Treat Me Rough” thankfully Toby Lewellen and Lynsie Ogden were not called upon to actually abuse each other that in this enlightened day would not be funny. But they aptly captured the on-again, off-again status of some couples with a comic edge. Justin Rustle’s uptight “Mr. Clean” was paired with Meredith Loy in a pas de deux set to Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” which was both witty but also filled with longing as Loy tried to break through Rustle’s veneer. His expert lift work was on display throughout the piece.

Megan Hustel dances not only with Tony Sewer but also with a peripatetic cigarette.   She constantly hides it from Sewer in a movement that never stops throughout the number. Sewer gets his chance to shine in a response to her, which is infused with equal parts jazz and ballet. Narcolepsy has never been so funny as when danced by Paul Tillman and Amanda Sewell in “Narcoleptic.”   Sewell goes limp in a variety of poses while Tillman tries to keep her up. This creates opportunities to show the gracefulness and strength of both dancers as Sewell sweeps and Tillman juggles her throughout the number.

The evening also contained two world premieres. The first, (e)motions by Ilya Kozadayev, was the winner of the 2015 Visions choreography contest. Featuring three couples, it was abstract and athletic. Yet each couple created a connection as they partnered. Deanna Karlheim and Paul Tillman, Meredith Loy and Toby Lewellen, and Lynsie Ogden and Tony Sewer, were definitely put through the paces on this piece.

Kiyon Gaines’ Memoryhaus was at its best when it created stark pictures whether it was Amanda Sewell alone in a spotlight, Paul Tillman approaching Deanna Karlheim, or the entire company dancing in unison. Its style is a blend of classical and modern, which is matched by the music of Max Richter.

Ballet Arkansas continues to be a company on the move. Less than a decade ago, the company was on life support existing to produce The Nutcracker in December. Now it is firmly establishing itself as an innovative member of Arkansas’ arts scene with a resident company which tours throughout the state. Not content to be a mediocre provincial dance troupe, Artistic Director Michael Bearden has programmed work that explores the depth and breadth of the ballet world and brings it to Arkansas.

The fact that the company has been granted permission to perform Balanchine selections two years in a row is no accident. It is a testament to the vision and hard work of Bearden and the dancers. Ballet Mistress Laura Hood Babcock and Production & Company Manager Erin Anson-Ellis aid Bearden in this effort. It is exciting to have seen dancers return over several seasons and have the opportunity to dance a variety of styles. Under the Lights is the culmination of a great deal of hard work, not only for the rehearsal process this season, but also for the company over several years.

On Their Toes – Ballet Arkansas announces 2015-2016 season

BalletArkOn April 17 through 19, Ballet Arkansas will conclude the 2014-2015 season with Who Cares? featuring choreography by George Balanchine and music by George Gershwin.

Not content to rest on their laurels, they have announced their 2015-2016 season.

The season will kick off on August 22 with the second Visions Choreographic Competition.  Several choreographers will be invited to create dance pieces which will be performed that night.  A panel of experts and the audience will select a winner. The winner will be developed further and performed in the spring of 2016.
The annual Nutcracker will take place December 11, 12 and 13 at the Maumelle Performing Arts Center.  (It will return to the re-opened Robinson Center Music Hall in December 2016).
The spring show will be titled Under the Lights and will be at The Rep on May 20-22. Under the Lights is the show’s headline piece set to Johnny Cash music. It was premiered in Nashville recently and now comes full circle to the state of Cash’s birth and boyhood.  Also on the bill for that evening is Glinka Pas de Trois by George Balanchine and Group Therapy by Harrison McEldowney which is a very funny piece.  In addition there will be two new pieces being performed.  Kiyon Gaines, who choreographed a new version of Bolero performed by Ballet Arkansas recently will be back in his first year as the company’s resident choreographer. He will create a new work for a world premiere. The other new piece will be the Visions winner.
Michael Bearden is the Artistic Director of Ballet Arkansas; Karen Bassett serves as Executive Director; Marla Edwards is the Ballet Mistress and Ballet Arkansas Youth Division Director; and Erin Anson is Company & Production Manager.