This, said Molly Buchmann, is going to be big.
Big as in costing more than $300,000. Big as in bringing in more than 1,000 dancers and costumers and instructors and volunteers to downtown Baton Rouge. Big as in trucking in more than $130,000 worth of flooring just so dancers can dance.
And it’s all happening this week when dancers from five states swarm into the city for the 2016 Regional Dance America/Southwest Festival.
Dubbed the Ballet Bons Temps Festival, it will culminate with a public gala performance featuring nine dance companies on April 10 at the Baton Rouge River Center Theatre for the Performing Arts.
“I can’t emphasize enough how big this is, not only for us but for Baton Rouge,” said Buchmann, who with Sharon Mathews, is a co-artistic director of the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre. “This is a first for us in the dance community, and it’s a chance to showcase dance in Baton Rouge.”
In addition to hosting, Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre also is one of the nine companies handpicked to perform in the gala.
“We commissioned an original dance by the Martha Graham company in New York, and the juror, Jeffrey Gribler, was excited to see that we are doing this,” Buchmann said.
Gribler, a ballet master for the Pennsylvania Ballet for almost 30 years, was more than a little impressed with the companies who will be performing.
“Having done programs for several other regional dance festivals, I have to say that this is probably the best gala program I have ever seen,” Gribler said. “There is so much variety, so much really good dance and so much really great choreography that I know there is going to be at least one thing in the program that everyone will enjoy.”
Gribler spent three months visiting the 21 companies in Dance America’s southwest region in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma to select the choreography for the show. Included on the gala program are the Twin City Ballet company of Monroe in choreographer Joe Istre’s “Tables,” the Louisiana Dance Theatre of Shreveport performing choreographer Jon Lehrer’s “Chukchi” and the City of Houston Ballet dancing choreographer Luis Fuente’s “Contratiempo.”
Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre’s performance of Martha Graham’s “Celebration” incorporates Graham’s physical dancing style into the choreography.
“When you look at this dance, you realize that these dancers are really athletes,” Buchmann said. “Their bodies go through a lot, and they have to be in top shape to do it. They may not have a goal to one day play for big money on a professional football team, but they’re still great athletes.”
And though not all 21 companies will be performing in the gala, they all will be participating in the festival’s classes, seminars, workshops and Emerging Choreography concert on Friday, which is not open to the public, and the Showcase Performance on Saturday.
Buchmann said BRBT had to come up with more than $300,000 to fund what Buchmann calls a “once-in-a-lifetime event.”
BRBT raised the money, partly through sponsorships, for such expenses as the teaching staff of internationally acclaimed artists, box lunches, social events, $75,000 of scholarships to summer intensive programs and $131,000 of sub-flooring to make the River Center’s convention room floors safe for dancing. “One of our instructors will be Kee Juan Han, who taught David Halberg, the only American male principle with the Bolshoi Ballet,” Buchmann said. “We’ll also have our alumnus, Helen Daigle.”
Daigle now dances with the Louisville Ballet but has returned to Baton Rouge for guest solo appearances with BRBT.
“She’s taught classes for us, too,” Buchmann said. “She always gets rave reviews for her classes, and we wanted to include her in the festival, too.”
Though the region is called “Dance America,” it is made up only of ballet companies.
“Ballet is performed in different genres now, including pointe, jazz, contemporary and modern, and all of these things will be taught and performed here,” Buchmann said. “But this is still a ballet festival, and not only is it a wonderful opportunity for regional dancers to gain valuable perspective on their art through training and performance opportunities that might not otherwise be available to them, but it is also a unique opportunity to engage our own community through dance in new ways.”
Festival-related community outreach will include a student field trip, professional development opportunities for local dance teachers, and festival performance tickets distributed through BRBT’s Ballet Experience Initiative.