What a whirlwind of a Saturday evening, I knew that I would be running to see Dayton Ballet and then off to the most delirious and over the top fundraiser party in Dayton, ARC’s Masquerage. This is proof positive that there are a plethora of really amazing events happening in our midst. Both events inspire the terpsichorean muse in us all as performers and spectators and illuminate the unseen threads that connect both of them.
Being the 75th anniversary of the Dayton Ballet, this year affords us a rare opportunity to envisage the past, present and future versions of the organization. At first I was very apprehensive about this upcoming season turning into an indulgent trip down memory lane, but after Saturdays concert, my fears have been silenced.
The concert opened with a restaging of Mozart Dances, a work by former Artistic Director, Stuart Sebastian. A structurally sophisticated and cheeky ballet for nine dancers, that reminds us as viewers of the former glory that this institution could possibly reclaim. With a mixture of stalwart veterans and energized newcomers all elegantly coached by Laura Frock Hinders, Mozart Dances highlights a major skill of Stuart’s; his ability to weave intuitive musicality with a wicked sense of humor that never stopped providing pleasures for this reviewer. I marveled at how he transitioned dancers on and off the stage that made the tropes of jeté’s on the diagonal fresh and interesting.
The added bonus to this performance of Mozart Dances was having the live accompaniment of the Dayton Philharmonic. The rarity of having live versus canned music highlights another positive outcome of the newly formed Dayton Performance Alliance. The joy of watching Neal Gittleman conduct was seeing how connected he was to the dancers. They way he maintained tempos and adapted according to the needs of the performers was a joy to behold.
The second ballet on the program was a world premiere of Chasing Ghosts, choreographed by Amy Seiwart. Ms. Seiwart was named one of the “25 to watch” by Dance Magazine and she lives up to the moniker. Watching Chasing Ghosts with the waves of stark and emotionally textured choreography, I was reminded of the power of a beautifully and skillfully constructed work to elevate and inspire. The surging entrances and exits of the dancers combined with the intimate partnering sections of a sensuously ambiguous tactility, which alludes to a mysterious and unknowable narrative. It reminded me of the undercurrents of the painter Edward Hopper combined with the enigmatic directorial skills of Wim Wenders and his seminal film Baghdad Café (This is worth checking out on NetFlix)
The solo work of newcomer Jammie Walker was heartbreaking and artistically so rewarding it deserved to be singled out. To be so thoroughly engaged and mesmerized by a work, I consider Chasing Ghosts to be work that is worth repeat viewings. This bodes well for the future.
While I am not a fan of the final ballet, Sleepy Hollow, I will credit the skills of the dancers in helping to elevate this into an average work at best. After seeing the first two-thirds of this program, Sleepy Hollow felt like an anti-climatic moment for the company. I would have love to have seen one of Karen’s non-narrative works which plays to her strengths as a choreographer and director. As a part of this concert it would have been a better programming choice.
As I entered the Vixen and Villains themed Masquerage, The 11th annual charity fundraiser conducted by the Aids Resource Center, on a perceptible high from the ballet performance, I thought about Stuart Sebastian. We were afforded the opportunity to see his particular brand of craft, wit and musicality as a part of this seventy-fifth season one more time and wistfully recall the potential we lost with his passing from AIDS over twenty years ago. What we lose by not marshalling our collective efforts supporting the cause of the ARC goes beyond a loss for the stage and speaks to the loss of creative voices of a generation and it’s impact on our community, nation and the world. The opener of the Seventy Fifth anniversary season of Dayton Ballet made the compelling case for another seventy-five years of artistic output. Dayton Ballet is now ripe for re-discovery.