Photo by Gabriel Bienczycki featuring dancer Laura Feig
Used with permission from Ballet X
On April 18th, a sunny Sunday morning, families gathered at the Wilma Theater. They were there to attend “Inside the Mind of a Dancer,” a lecture-demonstration presented by Art-Reach Arts Partner organization, Ballet X.
Founded in 2005, “BalletX produces original choreography that expands the vocabulary of classical dance for all audiences.”
Children chattered and anticipation filled the air as co-artistic director, Christine Cox walked on-stage, carrying her young son. This was truly a family affair. Cox began by asking the audience to write down emotions on a slip of paper. Then 6 of Ballet X’s dancers came on stage and took their places around 2 portable ballet barres.
Cox explained, “A dancer, everyday, 6 days a week starts by working out at the barre.” The dancers demonstrated some of the common moves they practice, such as pliés and pirouettes.
Dancing is not as easy as professional dancers make it look. “A lot is going on in our brains as we warm up,” said Cox. Dancers need to think about the position of all their body parts as they move.
After warm-up exercises, the dancers showed the captive audience some floor routines. They collected the papers with emotions written on them. Co-artistic director and choreographer Matthew Neenan picked a paper that said “relaxed.” Neenan then designed a dance and taught it to his fellow dancers. The relaxed ballet told the story of waking up on a lazy Sunday morning.
The audience saw that dancers need a great memory. Neenan explained they might have 1 or 2 weeks to create and learn a 20-minute ballet. He said, “People don’t realize how quickly we have to come up with movement.”
The dancers then created mini-ballets based on the audience-suggested emotions “excited”, “anxious” and “tired”.
Cox re-emerged and invited the kids in the audience on stage to learn a routine. Young dancers and some parents got up and practiced their 1st positions, their relevés and their arabesques. To end the family friendly morning, Cox choreographed a routine to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” and everyone danced happily.
Jim and his family attended the event with Art-Reach member, St. Mary Interparochial School. “My family and I truly enjoyed the performances. Our seats were very close to the stage and this made for a truly memorable afternoon and morning of excellent dancing and informative demonstrations into how a choreographer creates their performances.”
St. Mary Interparochial School has been a long time member of Art-Reach, using the arts creatively to foster family time spent together both during and after school hours. They have found that this approach works to build their school community, increase parent involvement and provide students and their families with fun learning experiences. Jim could not agree more. “I look forward to enjoying many more cultural experiences which are provided by this wonderful program,” says Jim.
After the presentation, Matthew Neenan was kind enough to offer a peek behind the curtain and talk with Art-Reach about Ballet X’s community outreach.
Art-Reach: What are some common misconceptions people have about ballet and dancers?
Matthew Neenan: There’s the misconception it’s a hobby. It’s our job. There are days I don’t feel like doing it, like any job, but I have to do it. Kids don’t realize it’s hard work. You have to be resilient.
AR: Why is it important for Ballet X to engage in community outreach?
MN: We have to. Community outreach introduces people to the ballet, develops audiences, and sells tickets. It gets the audience involved. It’s fascinating for adults and children alike. To get grants, we need show outreach efforts.
AR: What inspired Ballet X to create this event?
MN: We wanted to teach about ballet. We’ve done demonstrations before but never for an audience this young. It was kind of an experiment to see if we could hold their attention. We wanted to show toddlers live movement. It’s better for them to see something live than watch TV. We wanted to do an event at the Wilma. There’s not a bad seat in the house. The audience can really see the dancers for who they are and see the passion and drive very clearly.
AR: What do you hope the audience takes away from the event?
MN: Appreciate the art form, the training, and how smart the dancers are.
~by Danielle Bullen
Danielle is a Special Projects Ambassador with Art-Reach's Ambassador Program