The Fort Wayne Ballet opens its 58th performance season Saturday with a repertory program full of Fosse and packed with pas de deux.
The annual show, titled Danza this year, allows the company’s dancers to showcase their own creativity before buckling down for the season’s upcoming performances. Fort Wayne Ballet executive director Karen Gibbons-Brown says Danza – Italian for dance – translates into fun.
When I first came to the organization, (the repertory) was in the spring. The organization has grown since then, so there’s an opportunity to offer more, she says. This allows our audience to meet our dancers, because they will see them throughout the season, and to see them do something that is not the Nutcracker.’
This year, the program consists of a music revue that honors the renowned choreography of Bob Fosse and the big band sound of the 1940s. The show will also include traditional ballet pieces, like the pas de deux – a dance featuring two people – from Esmeralda; the ballet is inspired by the character in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Gibbons-Brown says that with the Nutcracker planned for December, followed by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in March, the variety helps the dancers warm up to the big stage for the season.
It’s something different – it’s not a romantic ballet. It’s just fun. It can be a little edgy, depending on the choreography presented, she says. It also allows dancers to test the stage. As a performer, I always appreciated the chance to go out on stage in a walk-on part before performing. It allowed me to warm up to the audience, and I think it helps give a stronger performance.
The dancers developed their skills as choreographers as well. Fort Wayne Ballet’s principal dancer and choreographer, David Ingram, and faculty member Tracy Tritz have developed the big band and Fosse segments for the program.
One of the things I feel strongly about: it’s our obligation to train the next generation. This program allows them the opportunity to present on the big stage their creative processes, Gibbons-Brown says. I do think that’s important, to stretch dancers artistically and emotionally. When you present these types of works, it’s a different kind of growth.
Concluding the evening is Ingram’s Big Band ballet, which will be accompanied with live music from the Hope Arthur Orchestra. Although Ingram has been working on the concept for almost three months, contributions by Gibbons-Brown and his fellow dancers have brought the idea into fruition.
He says he wanted to juxtapose the contemporary choreography and the music of the era.
You won’t necessarily see Dancing with the Stars,’ but you will see hints of ballroom dancing that morphs into our style and our movement capacity, he says. It not as regimented as ballroom, which has its own rules and structures. We’re hoping to dance around the idea.
The lindy hop and a multitude of jitterbug dances were born in dance halls as big band musicians played a new variation of jazz in the late 1930s – swing music. Ingram says the music of the era serves as a great backdrop to the performance because of its inherent creativity.
It was such a great time for America to have its own identity of music. We developed an American sound, Ingram says.
Gibbons-Brown says she wants the audience to feel as free as the dancers to have a good time.
When it comes to this particular show, I want them humming and tapping their feet as they leave, she says. I just want them to have a fun experience.