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.

On May 3, 1963, the first Arkansas Arts Center produced show took place in its theatre

The Arts Center Theatre view from the stage in 1963

On May 3, 1963, at 8:30 pm, the curtain rose as the Arkansas Arts Center produced its first show in its own theatre.  Though the building would not be officially dedicated until later in May (more about that later), programming had been taking place in the facility for several months.

In December 1962, a community theatre production was the first play in the Arkansas Arts Center theatre.  Over the ensuing months, it would play host to a variety of concerts and performances.  At the time, the Arkansas Arts Center planned to use the theatre as a house for its own productions (one series geared to adults, the other series geared to kids), other shows produced by Little Rock organizations, and touring shows which might be too small for Robinson Auditorium.

Friday, May 3, 1963, was a momentous evening, as the Arkansas Arts Center presented Rumpelstiltskin.  (Since the theatre space has been focused on children’s theatre since the late 1970s, it seems prescient that the first AAC produced play was a children’s production some fifteen years earlier.)

The production was overseen Joseph N. Carner, who was the theatre director.  It was his hope that the Arts Center plays geared toward children would also encourage other groups throughout the state to produce plays specifically for younger audiences.  Margaret Davies Carner, who taught speech at Little Rock University, directed the play.  She also taught drama classes at the Arts Center.

The cast included Garry White as the title character with Dell Blaine, Michael Hosman, Lesie Smith, Tom Abraham, Dickie Atchison, Butch Lashee, Henry Fletcher, Charles McRaven, Ann Thomson, Dannette Joe Baker, Sallie Penn, Paul Motes, Leslie Newell, and Robin Hosman.

In addition to a Friday night performance, there were 2:30 matinees on Saturday and Sunday that were geared toward children’s audiences.

Little Rock Look Back: MOCKINGBIRD TREE sculpture installed on April 21, 2016

Photo by LRCVB

On April 21, 2016, Michael Warrick’s Mockingbird Tree sculpture was installed at the corner of Chenal Parkway and Chenal Valley Drive.

The piece was commissioned by Sculpture at the River Market after winning the 2015 Public Monument Sculpture competition.

The eighteen (18) foot tall sculpture is made out of stainless steel. It presents a fanciful version of a tree with cloud-like foliage.  Nestled in the tree are bronze mockingbirds (Arkansas’ state bird).

Warrick is a professor in the Department of Art at the University of Arkansas Little Rock and has been an artist and educator for 30 years. His work has resulted in more than 150 solo and group exhibitions and has been represented in 29 private collections and 34 public venues.

Final 2018-2019 Evening with History focuses on End of Reconstruction

Join the UA Little Rock History Department for the last lecture in this year’s Evenings with History series!

In his last public lecture before retirement, Dr. Carl Moneyhon will present “The End of Reconstruction and the Long-Term Cost of Conservative Redemption.” His talk will examine the tactics of Conservative and Democratic opponents of biracial governments during Reconstruction and the long-term social and economic impacts on the South and nation.

The program starts at 7pm at Historic Arkansas Museum.

Fringe Festival of New Student Work presented this week by UA Little Rock Theatre Arts and Dance

Image may contain: 1 person, textFringe Festival of New Student Work, Presented by the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. The festival (Fringe V), includes 12 new plays, monologues, and choreographic work from 11 playwrights and one senior capstone.

The festival is divided into two events: PG to OMG night and Women’s Voices night. The events will run in rotating repertory (PG/OMG April 2 – 4) and Women’s Voices (April 3 & 5). Much of the work was created in a Special Topics course: Page to Stage taught in the fall.

This semester student playwrights and directors have revised the written work and brought the pieces to life onstage. Other works on the festival include a Senior Capstone, by Jessi Ley and work generated from Dr. Lawrence Smith’s Intro to Theatre & Dance course. The plays offer a range of content and theatrical styles. Students have been free to explore subject matter that inspires and challenges their ideas of theatre-making.

Fringe V is directed by students and alumni, and for the first time, the Fringe has a design component. Theatre major, Thomas Jackson’s scenic design serves as his senior capstone. In addition, Conor Van Lierop serves as lighting designer and Blake Morris serves as Sound Designer. Mykenzie Gordon, Jessi Ley, Thomas Jackson, and Conor Van Lierop’s work is supported by Signature Experience grants. Stacy Pendergraft, Associate Professor, is the Artistic Director for the event.

WHEN: April 2 & 4 (PG to OMG Theatre), April 3 & 5 (Women’s Voices); All performances are at 7:30pm

WHERE: Haislip Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts on the UA Little Rock campus + Google Map >

BOX OFFICE & TICKETS: As a grassroots, a student-driven theatre event, the performances are FREE. Tickets are distributed on a first come first seated basis. The theatre doors will open at 7pm.

CONTENT ADVISORY: All viewers should be advised that both nights of theatre contain Adult Themes, Strong Language, Sexual Content & Graphic Violent Situations. The event is suitable for ages 18 and up.

Women Making History: Dr. Raye Montague

In February 2017, Raye J. Montague, RPE was recognized on “Good Morning America” for her work as a pioneering scientist. She was not only the first woman to design a U.S. Naval ship using a computer, or the first African American to do so, she was the first PERSON to do so.

She began a career in Washington, DC with the United States Navy in 1956 and retired in 1990 after serving in numerous leadership roles during her tenure of thirty-three and one-half years. Her work designing the FFG-7 Class in the early 1970s revolutionized naval ship design.  She also served as the first female Program Manager of Ships in the US Navy and was the first female professional engineer to receive the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Achievement Award.

Throughout her career she received many honors, and was often the first woman of any race to achieve statuses in the engineering profession.

In 2006, she returned to Arkansas.  She is involved with numerous civic activities including mentoring students in the sciences at UA Little Rock and also eStem Public Charter School.  She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2013.

Dr. Montague died in October 2018. She will posthumously receive the Fribourgh Award from UA Little Rock later in 2019.  In her honor, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. declared today (March 28, 2019) as Dr. Raye Jean Montague Day.