The time has come for Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre to put the spotlight on its own locally grown talent.
"After years of providing training for dozens of dancers and launching them into professional careers, bringing in guest choreographers to create work for our company and hiring guest artists to perform headliner roles, we thought that this year we would instead feature some of our homegrown dancers to do those very things," said Molly Buchmann, co-artistic director of BRBT.
"They have been such an inspiration to our company dancers, and we are so proud to share with audiences the rich talent of these Baton Rouge artists.”
To that end, alumni from near and far are returning to Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre to choreograph for and dance in the company's season finale concert, "Homecoming Dances," on May 3-4 in the Manship Theatre.
Le'Tiger Walker will coming in from Rochester, New York.
"I haven't danced with the company since leaving, and there are so many things I'm looking forward to," he said. "The people, the weather, the warmth, the culture and the good food. There's no place like Baton Rouge."
Walker trained and danced with the company while attending Baton Rouge Magnet High School, then he entered New Orleans' Loyola University in 2014 to major in accounting. His college career lasted only a few months when the Garth Fagan Dance Company offered him a chance to audition and then a place in the company.
"A career in dance was the goal, and it's weird how it works out," he said. "It was all destined in the end."
Now he's returning with his own original solo for "Homecoming Dances." He'll also perform a duet with BRBT's alumna Richell Maxwell, with whom he shares a history. Both are graduates of Baton Rouge Magnet High and both are members of the Garth Fagan Dance company.
"I started training with Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre while I was at Baton Rouge High," Maxwell said. "Sharon Mathews was my teacher there, and she asked me to come train at the Dancers Workshop."
Mathews is the company's co-artistic director, and the Dancers Workshop is the ballet school connected to BRBT. While Maxwell trained at the school, she never performed in the company's productions.
"I was doing some different kinds of dancing before that. I'd done some contemporary dancing, and I was dancing ballet in high school," she said. "But it's important to get a foundation in ballet, and Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre gave me that. I believe it helped me tremendously."
She has been dancing with the Garth Fagan company since 2015.
"It's surreal when you get something that you never thought could ever get," she said. "I'm so grateful and blessed to be living my dream."
Walker's solo will be a jazz style dance to "My Funny Valentine."
"Then Richell and I will recreate a dance we're doing with our company to give everyone here a taste of what we're doing in Rochester," he said.
Also performing will be Emelia Perkins, who was only 4 when she started training with the Dancers Workshop and performing in numerous company productions before leaving at 16 to train with the Houston Ballet Academy. At 18, she joined the Kansas City Ballet and now dances with the Sarasota Ballet in Florida, where she's about to be elevated from studio dancer to apprentice dancer.
She'll return to Baton Rouge with dance partner Yuki Nonaka to perform the wedding pas de deux from the third act of "Sleeping Beauty." And, she admitted, she's a little nervous about dancing before her hometown crowd.
"My friends haven't seen me dance since high school, and though I know I've improved, you never see the progression in yourself," she said. "I just don't want to let them down. Then again, I know there's no need to worry, so I may be more excited than nervous."
Having grown up dancing in the BRBT, Perkins said she can look back and see the value of her training.
"Baton Rouge Ballet gave me a chance to fall in love with ballet before I went into the dance world," she said. "When I started out, I didn't get it. I didn't understand the value in the details. But then everything clicked, and I'm grateful for what I learned there. If I can inspire any of the dancers there to follow their dreams to pursue dance as a career, nothing would make me happier."
The show also will feature alumni choreography, including "Beacon" by Helen Daigle, former professional dancer and current ballet mistress of Louisville Ballet; "Affinity," by Julia Mayo, a graduate of the Juilliard School and current assistant professor at DeSales University; "Tittle Tattle Ya-Ya" by choreographer and teacher Taylor Mitchell; and "Alone Together" by Whitney Dufrene, member of Doug Varone and dancers.
A Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre concert
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. May 3, 2 p.m. May 4
WHERE: Manship Theatre in the Shaw Center for the Arts, 100 Lafayette St.
TICKETS/INFO: $25-$45. (225) 344-0334 or manshiptheatre.org