The Beaumont Civic Ballet (BCB) is performing Spring into Dance at the Julie Rogers Theater on Saturday, March 22. A ticket provides access to a total of four outstanding performances including Prince Igor, restaged by Monique Zummo Steinhagen with diverse choreography featuring dance and acrobatics in a balletic interpretation of a scene from the opera, and crowd-favorite Peter and the Wolf, which features the Sting-narrated 1991 version of Sergei Prokofiev’s classical 1936 composition.
BCB board member Laurie Leister said the group is made up of area students whose dedicated dancers. The ballerinas, most of whom have been studying ballet their whole lives – some starting as early as age 3 – and the ballerinos, the male ballet dancers, are working hard to make this year’s Spring into Dance magnificent.
“These are area high-school students, many from Beaumont, whose dedication to dance is remarkable,” Leister commented, also remarking that many but not all of the dancers studied at the Marsha Woody Academy of Dance where the BCB headquarters is located.
According to Leister, the dancers’ grace and apparent effortlessness comes at significant personal sacrifice. The company dancers practice for hours a day four to five days out of the week. And they are all students, diligently toiling away on their studies in addition to relentlessly practicing their dance routines, which absorbs the majority of the time they would have for other extracurricular activities and for socializing with classmates.
“This is their football,” Leister said comparing the physically rigorous and time-consuming schedule of high schools’ most popular extracurricular activity with that of the dancers performing in the Beaumont Civic Ballet. “They have devoted so much time into this activity. It is a huge time commitment. Ballet teaches them discipline and encourages body strength. They have to do numerous exercises to strengthen their cores; they have to be extremely physically fit. Being ‘en pointe’ (when ballet dancers support all body weight on the tips of fully extended feet) is very physical. It’s not just standing on your toes. They have to rise up and transfer their weight. They have to defy gravity. Most people don’t consider dancers athletes, but that is what they are. These dancers are athletes.”
According to ballet instructor Megan Anderson, who performed in the Beaumont Civic Ballet’s 2001 production of Prince Igorand currently works with students performing in the same ballet in this year’s Spring into Dance, the sacrifice is worth the reward. She said the exhilaration of being on stage in front of so many friends, family members and total strangers is thrilling and confidence-building.
“The feeling you get when you are up on the stage looking out over the crowd – there is nothing like it,” Anderson asserted. “It’s a little scary at first, but it really fills you with pride and confidence. It’s phenomenal.”
Ultimately, the experience gained by the ballet dancers could also prove profitable for some. Anderson and Leister both said a number of ballerinas and ballerinos who have performed with the Beaumont Civic Ballet have gone on to dance in prestigious programs and even in paid performances and positions with prominent dance troupes around the country.
On the BCB website, founder Marsha Woody recognizes several former performers who have gone on to success in dance.
“We are so proud of our alumni that have progressed to become professional dancers with major companies, as well as dance teachers, school teachers, etc.,” Woody wrote. “To name a few are Edmund and Robbie LaFosse, Krissy Richmond, Margo McCann, Glen Edgerton, Jennifer Mattingly, Allison Odom, Kendra Snaufer and Josh Spell.”
She also noted, “Several of our young dancers were accepted for advance summer study with the School of American Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet.”
The BCB was founded by Woody and state chartered as a non-profit education organization with the late Dr. James Bridges as president of the Board in 1971. In 1983, Beaumont Civic Ballet became a member of the Southwestern Regional Ballet Association, now known as Regional Dance America, Southwest and was later promoted to Honor Company status. The company has grown consistently since that time and is now in its 42nd year with more than 75 dancers, including junior, senior apprentice and senior members.
BCB’s growing repertoire includes such ballets as Coppelia, Graduation Ball, Les Sylphides,” Nutcracker, Swan Lake – Act II, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Giselle, La Fille Mal Gardee, Raymonda Variations, Sleeping Beauty – Act III, Arora’s Wedding,and many original pieces staged by guest choreographers. The company has been carefully directed in its long-range plan to expose its dancers and audiences to a wide range of choreography including contemporary, jazz, and classical ballets.
Attendees of this year’s Spring into Dance on March 22 can look forward to quite a variety of subject matter and entertainment. Senior Company and Senior Apprentice dancers will present Pas de Quatre, Prince Igor, andPeter and the Wolf, and Junior Company dancers will perform in a piece with the barn dance music from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
“There’s something for everyone,” Anderson promised.
The ballet Pas de Quatre precedes the magnificent Prince Igorin the program schedule. Anderson said the audience will be intrigued by the ballet featuring four ballerinas, originally portrayed by rivals considered to be the greatest ballerinas of their time, according to the history behind the piece. It was first performed in 1845 in London, England and featured the talent of Marie Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Cerrito and Lucille Gahn.
“Pas de Quatreis a very interesting and very beautiful ballet,” Anderson said. “It is very feminine and sophisticated. The technique is a very different style than the girls normally do. They practiced for an extra day each week while preparing for the performance.”
She said the complex number requires the ballerinas to dance while also portraying the animosity between the original rival dancers, who all demanded equal stage time. BCB ballerinas Mary Williford, Reagan Healey, Grace Leister andJane Ellen McAteestar in the number.
Anderson said to look forward to non-traditional ballet including a focus on acrobatics in Prince Igorstarring Erik Freels-Vargas as Prince Igor, Gwen Cormier as Igor’s wife and McKayla Herink as the princess. Prince Igorwas first performed by the Ballet Russes in Paris, France on May 18, 1909. The featured scene takes place as the prince returns to his Polovtsian camp with his men after successfully kidnapping the princess. It opens with slaves performing for the Tartar warriors and their chief.
“Erik is dynamic and magnetic,” Anderson said of Prince Igor. “The girls are absolutely amazing. This ballet is very different. And the Houston Ballet loaned us the costumes, which are fabulous.”
In Peter and the Wolf, a bird, a cat and a duck assist the adventurous Peter as he attempts to outwit and conquer the Russian equivalent of the Big Bad Wolf in this classical musical composition. Each character is represented by a different classical instrument.
Anderson commended first-year performer Michael Keffer, who plays Peter, for his strong stage presence and called Gwen Cormier’s adaptation of the wolf “absolutely hilarious” and accurate. Other dancers performing in the ballet are Reagan Healy as the bird, Mary Williford as the cat, Alexandra Figari as the duck, Bryan Brassard as the grandfather, Jamaal Lane as a huntsman, and McKayla Herink as a huntswoman. For two scheduled school performances, the cast will change somewhat with Catherine Collins as the bird, MacKenzie Cumpian as the cat, Meagan Mankin as the duck, Erik Freels-Vargas as a huntsman and Jane Ellen McAtee as a huntswoman.
After Peter and the Wolf, the Junior Company will perform a lively dance set to the music of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
“It’s an art form,” Leister said of ballet. “Performing with the Beaumont Civic Ballet is a wonderful experience and opportunity for these dancers. It’s amazing, and it is really good for the young performers to get up onstage and perform publicly, especially with all the seats filled.”
So fill up those seats, Southeast Texas, but be warned! The performance is at the Julie Rogers Theater only on Saturday, March 22, at 2:30 p.m., and tickets will be in high demand with the wide variety of talent dancing in the four awe-inspiring performances, so call now to get your discounted tickets for $15 to $20. Regularly priced tickets can be bought at the door, pending availability. Both are half price for students and seniors. Contact the Beaumont Civic Center ticket office at (409) 838-3435, ext. 1, for ticket information.