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.

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31 Days of Arkansas Rep: OVATION! in 1999

Upon his retirement (the first time) from Arkansas Rep, founder and artistic director Cliff Fannin Baker was feted with a special performance celebrating his career with the Rep.  The entire evening was called “Ovation!” and included a pre-performance reception, a special revue celebrating Cliff’s career, and a performance of As Bees in Honey Drown, which Cliff directed.

Ruth Shepherd and Helen Buchanan co-chaired the evening, which took place on September 21, 1999.  Jana Beard was involved in the conception and direction of the performance.

The program started with a welcome from Mimi Dortch, the first Rep Board chair; Bill Rector, a former Rep Board chair who had been instrumental in the move to the Rep’s Main Street location; and Carol Corley, who was the 1999-2000 Rep Board chair.

The performers included Michael Davis, Don Bolinger, Shannon Farmer, Vivian Morrison Norman, Candyce Hinkle, Debbie Rawn, Jana Beard, Debbie Weber, Mary Twedt Cantrell, Mark Johnson, Judy Blue., Jean Lind, and Phyllis Blumenfeld.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton sent a videotaped message that was played and followed by a video which highlighted Cliff’s career.  Lt. Governor Winthrop Rockefeller presented Cliff with the 1999 Governor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.  Also that evening, longtime Rep staffers Lynn Frazier and Guy Couch were presented with Cliff Fanning Baker Awards for extraordinary service to the Rep.

After a brief intermission, the evening continued with As Bees in Honey Drown. The show was directed by Cliff and was the final show of the Cliff Fannin Baker era (Part I).

Ballet Arkansas’ THE NUTCRACKER continues through Sunday

Celebrate the season with Ballet Arkansas, the state’s professional ballet company, as they continue a favorite Christmas tradition performing The Nutcracker accompanied by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Geoffrey Robson. The Nutcracker tells the story of Clara and her magical nutcracker doll and their wondrous journey to the Land of Snow and Kingdom of Sweets.

Every year this fun filled production creates lifelong memories for hundreds of Arkansas families. With gorgeous scenery, enchanting costumes and original choreography, Ballet Arkansas opened The Nutcracker at the Maumelle Performing Arts Center last night and continues today at 2pm, tonight at 7:30pm and tomorrow at 2pm.

Under the direction of Artistic Director Michael Bearden with choreography by Ballet Mistress Laura Hood Babcock and choreographers Allison Wilson, Jana Beard, and Traci Presley, Ballet Arkansas’ Nutcracker will be the highlight of the holiday season.

Accompanied by the largest ever cast of local actors and dance students from across Arkansas, this year’s production will feature Ballet Arkansas company members Toby Lewellen, Justin Metcalf-Burton, Lauren McCarty Horak, Paul Tillman, Amanda Sewell, Lauren Bodenheimer, Deanna Karlheim, Tony Sewer, Hannah Bradshaw, Lynsie Ogden  and Meredith Loy.

This year’s guest artists include audience favorites Stephen K. Stone as Herr Drosselmeyer, Eric Harrison as Mother Ginger and Ballet Memphis’ Brandon Ramey as Arabian Prince.

The Nutcracker is the perfect yuletide gift, the ideal means of introducing children to the power and beauty of classical dance, and a delightful way for the entire family to ring in the holiday season.

Make Ballet Arkansas’ Nutcracker part of your holiday celebration this December! To purchase tickets for the December 11th, 12th or 13th public shows to The Nutcracker, visit balletarkansas.org or call 501-666-1761. Tickets range from $20-$52.

Governor’s Arts Awards presented today

Today at noon at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, Governor Asa Hutchinson will join with the Arkansas Arts Council to present the annual Governor’s Arts Awards.

Lifetime Achievement Award-Jana L. Beard, Little Rock

Arts Community Development Award-Remica Gray, Texarkana

Arts in Education Award-DeltaARTS, West Memphis

Corporate Sponsorship of the Arts Award-Entergy Arkansas, Inc.

Folklife Award-Margaret Jones Bolsterli, Fayetteville

Individual Artist Award-Kevin Kresse, Little Rock

Patron Award-Curt & Chucki Bradbury, Little Rock

Judges Recognition Award-Kaki Hockersmith, Little Rock

 

The annual Governor’s Arts Awards were established in 1991 to recognize Arkansas artists, arts patrons and corporations for their outstanding contributions to the arts community. The recipients are nominated by the public and selected by distinguished panel of arts professionals from around the state.

The Arkansas Arts Council is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

14ish Cultural Highlights of 2014

2014 was a busy year.  Here are 14 cultural highlights. In no particular order. Except maybe once in while.

The Rep's Bob Hupp and Catherine Hughes flank NEA Chair Jane Chu

The Rep’s Bob Hupp and Catherine Hughes flank NEA Chair Jane Chu

Dr. Jane Chu visits Arkansas. Former Arkadelphia resident Dr. Jane Chu was appointed as the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. In October, she paid a visit to Little Rock and northwest Arkansas. While in the Rock, she participated in a discussion at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and toured the new Creative Corridor spaces under construction for the Rep, Ballet Arkansas and Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Chu was also the guest of honor at a reception hosted by the Arkansas Arts Council. While here, she had the chance to renew old friendships as well as make new ones.

Carroll Cloar exhibit at Arkansas Arts Center. The Arkansas Arts Center featured the works of Arkansas native Carroll Cloar. Much as the Biblical prophet who is ignored in his homeland, Cloar has long been better recognized outside of his native state.  The Cloar exhibit (which included a painting of future Little Rock mayor J. V. Satterfield playing football, a personal favorite of the LRCV) and the outreach by the AAC staff made great strides towards raising Arkansas’ consciousness about the works by the American treasure.

DSCF0011Robinson Center Music Hall closes for renovation. Opening in February 1940 as the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium, the City’s prime venue for performances and civic gatherings needed an external and internal facelift at 74. The building closed in July 2014 for a two year renovation which will see the reconfiguration of the performance and audience space in the music hall, the creation of a new special events venue overlooking the Arkansas River, and the restoration of this historic main lobby and front façade to 1940 appearance. During this closure tenants such as Ballet Arkansas, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Celebrity Attractions have temporarily relocated to other venues including the Pulaski Academy Connor Performing Arts Center and the Maumelle Performing Arts Center.

Ron Robinson Theater opens. Shortly before one Robinson closed, another opened.  The Central Arkansas Library System’s new Ron Robinson Theater opened. This multi-purpose venue has quickly become home to lectures (by the library, the Clinton School and others), films (in partnership with Arkansas Times, Little Rock Film Festival and others) and music (including the Arkansas Sounds series).  Named for famed Little Rock adman Ron Robinson, the public spaces pay tribute to his love of movies and music about Arkansas.

Music Music Music

  • As noted above, Arkansas Sounds has switched from a concentrated music festival to instead offering a variety of music styles and genres throughout the year at the new Ron Robinson Theatre. The music has ranged from Big Band to Klezmer to Country to Rock to Rap.  This is only one of the new music offerings in Little Rock.
  • South on Main completed its first full year of the weekly Local Live free music series sponsored by the Oxford American and Landers Fiat. South on Main also started a Jazz on Main series as well as increased their bookings of other musicians ranging from Rodney Block to Rodney Crowell.
  • Meanwhile, The Undercroft completed its first full year of (mainly) acoustic music offerings at the corner of Capitol and Scott Streets.

New Works of Art.

  • New sculptures were added to the Vogel-Schwartz Sculpture Garden and Riverfront Park as well as the Bernice Gardens.
  • In what may be the first for any symphony in the US, the musicians of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra commissioned a new piece in honor of the ASO board of directors. The work, composed by Christopher Theofanidis, was entitled The Wind and Petit Jean.  It was well-received by audience and musicians alike.
  • Ballet Arkansas sponsored a choreography competition “Visions” which featured five choreographers competing to be selected for a full-scale commission.  The winner was Hilary Wolfley whose work will be seen at the spring Ballet Arkansas presentation.
  • Finally, in conjunction with the 175th anniversary of Christ Episcopal Church (the oldest church in Little Rock to be at its original location), a new choral piece was commissioned. Daniel E. Gawthrop’s “Haste the Day” premiered on December 7.

mod delaneyThe Tonight Show with Kevin Delaney. Because Jimmy Fallon is really just a big kid at heart, he wanted to include periodic “cool” science experiments when he took over the “Tonight Show.”  After being contacted by a producer of Fallon’s show and an audition process, the Museum of Discovery’s Kevin Delaney was booked to appear.  He debuted on May 5 performing experiment with Fallon and returned on November 7. When not a guest of NBC, Delaney performs the same types of “Awesome Science” experiments for tens of thousands of children and adults at the Museum of Discovery.

New Festival of Arts. Acansa, a new multi-discplinary, multi-venue arts festival, debuted this year in September.  Over a five day period, ACANSA Arts Festival brought together audiences and cultural resources to present unique and exciting visual and performing works which celebrate the unique influence of the south and champion excellence and innovation in artistry.  There was theatre, dance, instrumental music, choral music, puppetry and visual art.

14 14 4Gridiron Returns. The talk of the return of the Star Wars movie franchise was not the only welcome news of returns. Gridiron, the biennial attorney fundraiser which spoofs politics, current events, sports and everything that is “sacred” to the general populace, returned after a hiatus.  Once again this effort was under the watchful eye of producer Judge Mary McGowan, the creative leadership of Jana Beard, and the writing prowess of the anonymous committee.  As has been the case in the past, many of the targets of the show good-naturedly showed up and laughed along in the audience.

Sculptures Returned.  Gridiron was not the only welcome return. Earlier this year several sculptures were stolen from the Vogel-Schwartz Sculpture Garden in Riverfront Park. After a media blitz about the theft, some people strolling through the park stumbled across a bag containing the missing sculptures. The pieces are in the process of being restored and will be reinstalled soon.

14 14 3Clinton Center turned 10.  Proving that you can come home again, quite a few of the people who were present for the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center in 2004 showed up again in 2014 to take part in celebratory festivities.  Among events included several lectures; a day of service benefiting the Arkansas Food Bank; a barbecue picnic; and a concert featuring Nick Jonas, Kool & the Gang and others which was hosted by Kevin Spacey.  The Clinton School also celebrated 10 years of lectures and innovative programs.

Preservation Concentration – The Quapaw Quarter Association marked the 50th Spring Tour this year. The event was co-chaired by First Lady Ginger Beebe and lifestyle expert P. Allen Smith.  Later in the year, the QQA hosted its first Mid-Century architecture tour highlighting some of Little Rock’s buildings from this style. They ended the year with the news that they had purchased the William E. Woodruff House in east Little Rock. One of Little Rock’s oldest houses, it was built by the founder of the Arkansas Gazette.  They will shore up the building to try to ensure no further decay as the building is readied for its next phase.

Huzzahs

  • 14 14 2Reese Rowland, architect and principal at Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock, was named a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, awarded to fewer than 4 percent of AIA members.
  • Little Rock native Will Trice earned his third Tony Award in three years, this time for producing All The Way, the Best Play of 2014. His previous Tonys were for Porgy and Bess (Musical Revival-2012) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Play Revival-2013).
  • Arkansas native and frequent Little Rock performer Al Green was one of the 2014 Kennedy Center Honorees.
  • Little Rock’s Creative Corridor continued to rack up honors. The UA’s Community Design Center, which includes faculty and staff members from the school, won a 2014 Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects for its work on the Creative Corridor, on which it collaborated with Marlon Blackwell Architect of Fayetteville. The project also received the American Society of Landscape Architects Honor Award for Analysis and Planning.

Transitions.

  • 14 14Sharon Priest, a longtime cultural advocate as a City Beautiful Commission member, Little Rock City Director, Little Rock Mayor and Arkansas Secretary of State announced her retirement after 12 years as Executive Director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership.  Over the past dozen years, she has continued her cultural advocacy.
  • One of Priest’s successors as a member of the Little Rock City Board, Stacy Hurst, was named by Gov.-Elect Asa Hutchinson to be his choice to lead the Department of Arkansas Heritage. She will oversee seven agencies including three Little Rock museums: Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Old State House Museum and Historic Arkansas Museum.
  • Following the closure of Starving Artists Cafe, the weekly Tales from the South program (which originated from there) had to scramble to find a place.  After several weeks of a completely nomadic existence, it is now settling into a rotating list of locations. The Arkansas Arts Center’s Best Impressions restaurant has been designated a “permanent” site for the first Tuesday of each month.
  • The free outdoor Movies in the Park celebrated its 10th season this year. Founders Blake Rutherford, Heather Allmendinger and Ben Beaumont were honored at the start of the season.  A few weeks into the season, the series screened the film Frozen and set a new record for attendance by logging over 7,000 attendees.
  • After the closure of the Riverdale cinema in 2013, the space sat vacant.  In June 2014, Matt Smith moved the Market Street Cinema operations into the Riverdale space. He upgraded the equipment at Riverdale (which was also a vast improvement over the equipment at Market Street).  The new Riverdale 10 shows a mix of first-run blockbusters as well as the independent films for which Market Street had been beloved.
  • The Studio Theatre was launched adjacent to the new Lobby Bar in downtown Little Rock.  In addition to producing its own performances, it is also the new home of the Community Theatre of Little Rock and Precipice Theatre.
  • Weekend Theatre founder Ralph Hyman retired as the Artistic Director of that group. He will continue to direct productions from time to time.

 

THE NUTCRACKER this weekend performed by Ballet Arkansas with music by the ASO

nutcracker_1Celebrate the season with your professional ballet company as we continue a favorite Christmas tradition performing The Nutcracker accompanied by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Geoffrey Robson. The Nutcracker tells the story of Clara and her magical nutcracker doll and their wondrous journey to the Land of Snow and Kingdom of Sweets. Every year this fun filled production creates lifelong memories for hundreds of Arkansas families.

Under the direction of Artistic Director Michael Bearden with choreography by ballet mistress Marla Edwards and choreographers Allison Stodola Wilson, Jana Beard, and Traci Presley, Ballet Arkansas’ Nutcracker will be the highlight of the holiday season. Accompanied by the largest ever cast of local actors and dance students from across Arkansas, this year’s production will feature Ballet Arkansas company members Leslie Dodge, Toby Lewellen, Justin Metcalf-Burton, Lauren McCarty Horak, Paul Tillman, Amanda Sewell, Lauren Bodenheimer, Deanna Karlheim, Megan Hustel, Tony Sewer, Hannah Bradshaw and apprentice Georgia Quinn. This year’s guest artists include audience favorites UALR professor Stephen K. Stone as Herr Drosselmeyer and Eric Harrison as Mother Ginger, Tom Mattingly appearing courtesy of Visceral Dance as Cavalier opposite Leslie Dodge as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Colin Hathaway appearing courtesy of Ballet West as Snow King opposite Megan Hustel and in Arabian.

The Nutcracker is the perfect yuletide gift, the ideal means of introducing children to the power and beauty of classical dance, and a delightful way for the entire family to ring in the holiday season. Make Ballet Arkansas’ Nutcracker part of your holiday celebration this December! To purchase tickets for the December 12th, 13th or 14th public shows to The Nutcracker, visit balletarkansas.org or call 501-666-1761. Tickets range from $20-$52.

Performances began last night and continue today at 2pm and 7:30pm and tomorrow at 2pm.  This year The Nutcracker is being performed at the Maumelle Performing Arts Center.

LR Cultural Touchstone: Jana Beard

BeardJana Beard has taught dance in the central Arkansas area for over 30 years and has been the owner and director of her own studio for over twenty of those years.

In addition to being committed to offering the highest quality of instruction and the opportunity to experience all forms of dance, she has enjoyed performing in many Arkansas Rep productions, including Sweet Charity, Guys and Dolls, Chicago, Good Woman of Setzuan, A Soldiers Tale, Evita and Into The Woods.

Jana attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville as a dance major, and while at UALR she performed in the productions of Cabaret and Pippin.  She has also been an instructor in the Theatre and Dance Department.

She has served for many years as director and choreographer for the bi-annual legal cast spoof The Gridiron (which returned this year after a hiatus) and has also served as the stage director for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas Spectacular.

A few years ago, Ballet Arkansas was on the brink of closing its doors.  Jana let the organization use space within her studio complex for offices, classes and rehearsals.  She sometimes served as the only staff member as the ballet was trying to regain its footing.  In addition, for several years she was the coordinator of The Nutcracker which was Ballet Arkansas’ only revenue source during the lean years.

Because of her lifeline, Ballet Arkansas is now poised to grow to heights never seen in the company’s history.  The move to Main Street, the new programming and statewide touring would not have been possible had Jana not offered a home when it needed it.

In addition, Jana choreographed high school musicals in which the Culture Vulture appeared in the 1980s.