By Mindy Beaumont
A full theater celebrated Albemarle Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) 10th anniversary spring dance gala May 17 at The Dickinson Theater at Piedmont Virginia Community College. The hall brimmed with dance parents and a community that follows ABT’s ballets and diverse dance performances.
The show opened with a playful duet by sisters Veronica Hart and Nicky Hart Coelho. Set to Doc Watson’s folky blues songs, “Shady Grove” and “Deep River Blues,” the sisters’ whimsical choreography told their story of a childhood spent growing up on an Albemarle County farm. Watching these two professional dancers, daughters of Sally Hart, a former Joffrey Ballet dancer, showcase their talents in this lighthearted piece was especially enjoyable.
The second act began with dim lights and a quiet stage. A single dancer, barefoot, walked into the light, then walked off. Another walked across the stage, more quickly than the first, and disappeared. Two more came out from behind the curtain, then another. Suddenly the air was filled with different tempos, syncopated sounds, but no music, just the rhythm of footsteps moving across the floor. The audience glued its eyes to the dancers clad in black and white. They moved independently, seemingly unorganized, and suddenly melded together as one. The haunting melody “Nagoya Marimba” by Steve Reich began as this tight entity of dancers rushed across the stage as one. The dancers created fluid images inspired by Jackson Pollock’s painting #14 and the Ebola virus, both of which inspired Veronica Hart’s choreography. It was exciting, emotional, enthralling. The percussion slowed and stopped; the bodies stilled and dropped and the stage was quiet. As the dancers stared out into the distance and took a deep breath as one, the lights went down and the theater exploded in applause! The mom to my left looked over at me, with her jaw dropped open. “That was the most incredible modern dance I have ever seen—and performed by these kids!” It was what you expect from professionals, yet these dancers are only 12 to 18 years old.
The third act paired Albemarle High senior Eileen Boyle with Veronica Hart in a rousing rendition of “Hot Honey Rag” from Chicago. The duo embodied Roxy Hart and Velma Kelly’s characters from this iconic musical in their energetic interpretation of the show-stopping finale, originally choreographed by Bob Fosse and restaged by Hart. Eileen joins Joffrey’s jazz trainee program this summer.
The final act of the gala, “Little Red Riding Hood,” a comedic ballet, was a true testament to the hard work and dedication of the entire ABT family. From the tiniest 6-year-old flower to the school’s most advanced dancers, they performed with polished poise, personality and humor. Along the way to Grandma’s house, Little Red’s family, village friends, and a cast of woodland creatures entertained us.
Originally created by the Hart sisters, ABT’s Ashley Geisler, Dinah Gray and Sally Hart collaborated on updating the choreography. From the graceful birds and butterflies, to the advanced dancers en pointe, to the athletic antics of Veronica Hart as the wily Wolf, the performance kept the audience applauding and laughing. The additional dancing, acting and comedic styling of Ashley Geisler as the mother and local professionals Zach Bush, Richard Jones, and Barbara Roberts added to the story-telling, making this a breath-taking and entertaining performance for all ages.
Beautiful handmade costumes, many sewn by parents and other family members, set upon a professional backdrop, added to the reality that this was not your typical ballet school dance recital. This was truly a gala performance of a professional scale. At times, we forgot that these were our local children, many new to the world of dance.
As the red velvet curtain closed, backstage the dancers beamed. Over 60 performers hugged, high-fived and twittered with post-curtain call energy. The continuous rousing applause told them their hard work and dedication truly paid off.
Members of the Crozet Lions Club volunteered over 50 hours along with friends from the Olive Tree, Western Albemarle students and other volunteers to work backstage handling props, curtains, organizing performers and ushering. Dancers’ parents and grandparents sewed, crafted headpieces, applied stage makeup and dressed these young artists.
The work Albemarle Ballet Theater does is like none other I have experienced as a parent of a dancer. At this school, our children have not only learned ballet positions or classic jazz techniques. They learned how to put what they are taught in the studio into practice on the big stage. They learn to come together as many parts of a whole to create a large-scale production, with all of the intricacies that it involves. They have not only learned to dance, they have learned how to perform.