Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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.

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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.


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.


Ballet Arkansas’ THE NUTCRACKER this weekend

One of the sure signs of the Christmas season is the return of The Nutcracker to ballet companies across America.  Ballet Arkansas presents the annual production this weekend.  Performances started last night and continue this evening and tomorrow afternoon.  (School performances are going on throughout the week.)

Celebrate 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. Every year this fun field production creates lifelong memories for hundreds of Arkansas families. With gorgeous scenery, enchanting costumes and original choreography, Ballet Arkansas will present The Nutcracker at Robinson Center Music Hall.

The ballet will come to life through the efforts of Ballet Arkansas’ ten professional company members and a handful of guest artists leading two casts totaling more than 200 dancers, actors and students (of all ages) from across the state.

Ballet Arkansas is under the leadership of Artistic Director Michael Bearden and Executive Director Lauren Strother.  Marla Edwards is the Ballet Mistress.  Company members include Lauren McCarty Horak, Leslie Dodge, Toby Lewellen, Amanda Sewell, Laurel Dix, Katchiri Feys Tillman, Paul Tillman, Lauren Bodenheimer, Justin Metcalf-Burton, Deanna Karlheim and Julianne Zilah.

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 to The Nutcracker, visit www.balletarkansas.org or call 501-666-1761.

Ballet Arkansas performances of The Nutcracker are generously sponsored by: Orthodontic Associates, Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Pleasant Ridge Towne Center, The Dance & More Store, Arkansas Times along with support from the Arkansas Arts Council.


Ballet Arkansas presents THE NUTCRACKER

One of the sure signs of the Christmas season is the return of The Nutcracker to ballet companies across America.  Ballet Arkansas presents the annual production this weekend on December 7, 8 and 9 at Robinson Center Music Hall.  (School performances are going on throughout the week.)

Celebrate 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. Every year this fun field production creates lifelong memories for hundreds of Arkansas families. With gorgeous scenery, enchanting costumes and original choreography, Ballet Arkansas will present The Nutcracker at Robinson Center Music Hall on December 7th – 9th.

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. This year’s production boasts new choreography from Ballet Mistress, Marla Edwards, new to the company this season, as well as co-director Allison Stodola Wilson. These directors along with choreographers Traci Presley and Jana Beard have taken this much loved holiday favorite to new heights creating an enchanting production that will delight audience members of all ages.

This year’s production will feature the nine professional company members of Ballet Arkansas, comprised of Anna Maris (Arabian/Dew Drop), Sean Porter (Arabian/Russian/Rat King), Lauren McCarty Horak (Spanish/Marzipan), Paul Tillman (Snow King/Russian), Katchiri Tillman (Snow Queen/Marzipan), Amanda Sewell (Doll/Marzipan), Laurel Dix (Chinese), Toby Lewellen (Nutcracker Prince/Russian/Spanish) and Leslie Dodge (Sugar Plum Fairy). In addition to these nine company members, Ballet West Principal Artist and Ballet Arkansas Artistic Advisor, Michael Bearden, will grace the stage, dancing the roll of the Cavalier. Other corps rolls will be danced by Ballet Arkansas II company members Akiko Kyong-McClain, Mysti Kirkpatrick, Rachael Schwartz, Haley Jones, Laura Russell and Elizabeth Wing in addition to 175 other Arkansas students and performers.

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 7th, 8th or 9th public shows to The Nutcracker, visit www.balletarkansas.org or call 501-666-1761. Tickets range from $20-$45.

Ballet Arkansas performances of The Nutcracker are generously sponsored by: Orthodontic Associates, Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Pleasant Ridge Towne Center, The Dance & More Store, Arkansas Times along with support from the Arkansas Arts Council.


Ballet Arkansas honors Kolb, announces 2012-13 season

Earlier this month, Ballet Arkansas hosted its annual spring soiree.  At the evening, Joseph F. Kolb was presented with the “Above the Barre” award.  Kolb was recognized for his past leadership on the Ballet Arkansas board.  In the early 2000s, Kolb served as the producer of the annual Ballet Arkansas production of The Nutcracker when there was no staff available to do so.

Joe and Cindy Kolb

Kolb has also been an active board member of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and Historic Arkansas Museum. He and his wife Cindy have two daughters. The oldest one is taking dance classes, so he now his most important connection is a ballet dad instead of being a ballet board member.

Also at the soiree, Ballet Arkansas announced its 2012-2013 season and featured dancers presenting preview moments.   The season will kick off with American Images on October 12 – 14, 2012. The dancers will interpret iconic pieces of art in dance. The performances will take place at Wildwood Park for the Arts in conjunction with Wildwood’s Harvest Fest.

Next up will be the annual production of The Nutcracker from December 7 – 9, 2012 at Robinson Center Music Hall.  This holiday tradition will featured not only Company members and Ballet Arkansas II but also dozens upon dozens of local dance students.

Ballet Arkansas spring into Spring at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. From April 5 – 7, 2013, it will present Spring into Motion which will feature a variety of dances.

Throughout the season, the Company tour beyondCATEGORY throughout the state. In conjunction with this tour, the Company will also offer workshops.

Lauren Quick Strother is the Executive Director of Ballet Arkansas.  The guest artist and artistic advisor is Michael Bearden, courtesy of BalletWest.  Guy Couch is the Tour Director. The 2012-2013 Company includes: Leslie Dodge, Lauren McCarty Horak, Toby Lewellen, Anna Maris, Sean Porter, Laurel Dix, Paul Tillman, Katchiri Feys Tillman and Amanda Sewell.


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March of the Nutcracker

Ballet Arkansas continues the tradition of presenting The Nutcracker this weekend at Robinson Center Music Hall.

The title role is being essayed by Ballet Arkansas company trainee Jake Catlett while Michael Bearden, Ballet Arkansas’ artistic adviser, is a guest artist and dances the role of the Cavalier.  Alternating in the role of Clara are Lauren Frances Wood and Kathryn Latham.  Other roles are being danced by Leslie Dodge (Sugar Plum Fairy), Lauren McCarty Horak (Snow Queen),Toby Lewellen (Snow King),  Anna Maris (Frau Von Stahlbuam and Dew Drop Fairy), Sean Porter (Rat King), Stephen Stone (Drosselmeyer), Allison Wilson (Rat Queen) and Perry Young (Herr Von Stahlbaum, Mother Ginger).

The choreography for this production was created by a Jana Beard, Sydney Ippolito, Marius Petipa, Traci Presley, and Allison Wilson.  Geoffrey Robson, associate conductor of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, will conduct musicians from the ASO in performing Tchaikovsky’s ballet score.  Tickets are available from the Arkansas Symphony box office at 666-1761 or http://www.arkansassymphony.org.