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Dayton Ballet celebrates 75 years with season-ending performance

Concert will feature works from past directors, contributors

In its final concert of the season, The Dayton Ballet will pay tribute to the founders, artistic directors, choreographers and teachers who have built and sustained the company over its 75-year history.

“Celebration!” will be on stage at the Victoria Theatre for five performances from Thursday, March 21, through Sunday, March 24. The mixed-media retrospective will include historic pieces from the Ballet’s 75 years as well as video and photo montages and film clips.

It was 75 years ago that two Dayton sisters — Josephine and Hermene Schwarz — opened The Schwarz School of Dance. In May 1937, they gathered together the school’s finest dancers, named the troupe “The Experimental Group for Young Dancers” and staged a performance at the Dayton Art Institute. That was the first performance of what was to become the second regional ballet company in the United States.

Over the years, the Dayton Ballet has given birth to more than 300 new works.

“I felt that from the beginning, starting with Miss Jo and Hermene, each director has brought something important to the organization,” artistic director Karen Russo Burke said. “Their legacies have given the community artistic and entertaining ballets that have touched hundreds of people through the years. So many different generations of dancers, students and audience members have experienced different generations of the Dayton Ballet.”

The upcoming program

The Celebration! concert will open with the Joffrey Ballet’s “Confetti!,” a 12-minute piece choreographed by Gerald Arpino, co-founder and former artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet.

“Confetti is a wonderful and exciting bravura ballet,” Burke said. “I chose this ballet because of the celebratory energy it has.”

Burke said there is also a Dayton connection: Rebecca Wright, former student of Miss Jo’s, was the first to dance the Green Girl role when the ballet first premiered. Wright, who died in 2006, went on to perform with the American Ballet Theater, on Broadway and with the Joffrey Ballet.

The concert will include a short film montage of the founders and a dance piece titled “Two Sisters,” choreographed by Burke. It will also include a short film on former artistic directors Jon Rodriguez and Bess Saylor Imber and their dance pieces “Bushido” and “Inner Geist.”

Other highlights: a short film on former artistic director Stuart Sebastian followed by two of his dance pieces — an excerpt from “Fast Company” and a pas de deux from the ballet “Dracula.” Former executive director and artistic director Dermot Burke will be represented in a film clip followed by two of his dance pieces, “There Was a Time” and the finale from “Basics.”

Also on the program: photos of past ballets; a pas de deux from the ballet “Fluctuation Hemlines” choreographed by Septime Webre, artistic director of the Washington Ballet; the White Swan pas de deux from “Swan Lake”; an excerpt from the ballet “Orchids” choreographed by Gregory Robinson; and the last movement from the ballet “Canyons” choreographed by Burke.

“The Dayton Ballet, from the very beginning, embraced the idea of performing both classical and neo-classical ballets, repertory and full-length ballets, and historic ballets and world premieres,” Burke said. “This is what defines the Dayton Ballet and will continue to do so for many more years.”

Future plans, she says, will include Signature events — productions that include artists and input from the Dayton Ballet, Dayton Opera and Dayton Philharmonic.

Carol Jean Heller, administrator of the Dayton Ballet School for the past 10 years, began taking a daily adult dance class from “Miss Jo” at the age of 20.

“There have been a lot of changes in the 50 years I’ve been associated with the Dayton Ballet,” she said. “Each new director has brought a new perception. I believe it has made the company stronger with each administration. It is important to remember the history of the company, but also important to be positive as we move ahead into a new era.”

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