2019 edition of Ballet Arkansas’ THE NUTCRACKER is this weekend!

Ballet Arkansas’ Nutcracker Spectacular is the largest holiday production in the State of Arkansas, and a beloved holiday classic that is perfect for all ages.

Featuring recently updated choreography, Ballet Arkansas’ production has been a holiday tradition for families across the state for 41 years. The production features the talents of the 15 professional dancers of Ballet Arkansas, and a community cast of more than 225 children and adults from every corner of the state.

The community cast rehearses for 11 weeks to prepare for the performances and consists of multiple generations of cast members – with many cast members participating in Ballet Arkansas’ productions for more than 20 years.

All public performances feature live music by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Geoffrey Robson, and either The Mount Saint Mary Concert Belle’s, directed by Chelsea Frazier, or the Episcopal Collegiate Choirs, directed by Stephen Vano, who will sing during the infamous snow scene at the end of Act I.

Take a journey with Clara Stahlbaum to the “Land of the Sweets” this Holiday, and enjoy the magic of the Nutcracker Spectacular, set to Pyotry Illyich Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score.

The Nutcracker Spectacular takes the stage at the Robinson Performance Hall on December 13-15, 2019. Ballet Arkansas will present four public performances, Friday, December 13, 7:30 pm, Saturday, December 14, 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm, and Sunday December 15, 2:30pm. Purchase ‘sweet seats’ to sit in the best seats in the house, and receive a gift, for $99. Tickets range from $18-102 and are available here or by calling Celebrity Attractions Box Office at (501)-244-8800. Tickets on sale June 3, 2019.

Learn more about Ballet Arkansas’ 2019/20 Season at www.balletarkansas.org.

Ballet Arkansas, the foremost professional ballet company of the State of Arkansas, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Through a roster of talented artists and dancers, Ballet Arkansas presents vibrant and diverse repertory featuring classical, neoclassical, and contemporary works by world renowned choreographers. A driving force in the State, Ballet Arkansas is committed to creative collaboration, community outreach, high quality dance education, the evolution of arts programming across the region, and is devoted to making high quality professional dance performance accessible to all. The productions of Ballet Arkansas promise to enrich the lives of all in attendance.

Artober – Spotted. In two senses of the word, Ballet Arkansas dancers during ACANSA 2019

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October is Arts and Humanities Month nationally and in Little Rock. Americans for the Arts has identified a different arts topic to be posted for each day in the month.  Today’s feature is “Spotted.”

Americans for the Arts does not define if that is the adjective or the past-tense verb.  But these photos of Ballet Arkansas dancers at the kick off of ACANSA 2019 fulfills both.

They were spotted (seen) performing in two alleys of the CALS Library Square campus.  And the dancers’ bodies became spotted as they used them to apply paint to four large canvases.

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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.

Forte is finale for Ballet Arkansas 40th season

Image result for ballet arkansas forteForte, the season ender for Ballet Arkansas in many ways encapsulates the work of the company over its first 40 years.  The combination of classical and modern styles of dance performed with both live and pre-recorded accompaniment played to the company’s strengths.

(A frustration I have with ballet is that different dancers alternate roles at different performances – I want to see all of them, but I cannot attend all performances. So my comments are based solely on the performers I saw.)

The first half was “Act II” from Swan Lake. As the central couple Odette and Siegfried, Lauren Bodenheimer Hill and Zeek Wright were well-matched. During their pas de deux, they were graceful as the executed their movements.  Because it was not the full ballet, one did not get the chance to fully explore the chemistry between the couple.

The swans were beautifully attired in the classic white, feathered tutus one would expect from Swan Lake (kudos to designer/creator Callie Rew). And the ladies dancing as the birds had movements that both honored the choreography and the birds they were evoking.

The highlight was (as it usually is when considering Act II), the Danse des petits cygnes. And it did not disappoint. Meredith Short Loy, Amanda Sewell, Hannah Bradshaw and Isabelle Urben danced as one unit. But though the movements were in sync, one was aware that it was four individual dancers and not four automatons. The audience was so appreciative of their talent that it broke out into spontaneous applause at least twice during the section.

An added bonus to the Swan Lake performance was the presence of Dr. Drew Mays, the Van Cliburn winning pianist, providing live accompaniment.  Having the live music provided an additional layer of richness ot the piece.

After intermission, Tchaikovsky returned, this time by way of George Balanchine.  The “Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux” featured Paul Tillman and Meredith Short Loy. The couple exhibited true partnering. Whereas in more classical ballet, often the male dancer may be there to merely support the ballerina, in the Balanchine piece, it is a symbiotic partnership with definite interplay.  The piece allowed Tillman to showcase his graceful athleticism, while Loy displayed her elegant footwork, especially during some delicate and fast moments.  Artistic Director Michael Fothergill wisely put this moment to open the act as a transition from the pure classical piece to the works yet to come.

Fothergill’s “Forma” was next up. It was a very kinetic dance with Toby Lewellen and Amanda Sewell at the center of it. Together with Deanna Stanton, Deanna Gerde, and Isabelle Urben, the dancers employed a variety of movements often so interconnected they resembled cogs in a machine. But even with the mechanical nature of the movements, Lewellen and Sewell displayed an emotional connectivity. These were not just dancers going through the paces of executing modern movements.

The performance concluded with Ma Cong’s “Calling.” Set to music inspired by a variety of Mediterranean and lower European cultures, it put its six dancers through their paces. As the styles of music changed, the dancers changed from more brisk movements to more fluid motions.  The work allowed the dancers to showcase a variety of styles of dance without seeming like it was saying “look what else we can do.”

While the partnering of the three male dancers with their ballerina partners was nice throughout the work, what was most striking was the opening moments when it was just Zeek Wright, Paul Tillman, and Matthew Larson on stage. These three are different heights and different builds. To see them move in sync with these varied physiques was a lesson in movement. No one was overshadowing the others, but one was much more aware that these were three distinct dancers working together. Likewise when they were partnering with Lauren Bodenheimer Hill, Megan Hustel, and Lynsie Jo Ogden (respectively), the juxtaposition highlighted each dancer’s abilities.

As the latest in the long line of Ballet Arkansas leaders, Artistic Director Fothergill and Associate Artistic Director Catherine Garratt Fothergill have both honored the legacy of the past while putting their own stamp on the company.

Throughout the 2000s the company wandered through the wilderness of a revolving door of plans that, more often than not, failed to materialize. At a time it had no staff, it was held together largely due to the grit and determination of Jana Beard, her daughter Allison Stodola Wilson, a few supporters, and an annual presentation of The Nutcracker. Emerging from that cocoon, the company now has a presence on Main Street. It is pleasing to see the Fothergills build on the work of Beard and recent artistic director Michael Bearden to launch Ballet Arkansas into a new level.

(Ballet Arkansas’ emergence as a full-fledged professional dance company is complemented by the burgeoning dance program at UA Little Rock. It is kismet that these two tracks are happening parallel considering that both programs were coincidentally at their nadirs in the early 2000s.)

Completing their second season of leadership, the Fothergills have expanded Ballet Arkansas’ number of performances, number of dancers, and community outreach. In so doing, they have forged new partnerships and unsurprisingly attracted new patrons.  But they have not let the quest for “the new” move them away from the core mission. After forty years, Ballet Arkansas is focused now, more than ever, on providing quality ballet performances and experiences to audiences throughout Arkansas.