Ballet Concerto continues to keep the art of ballet alive with its annual Summer Dance Concert. For the last 30 years Ballet Concerto, lead by mother and son Margo and Webster Dean, have been bringing in guest artists from major ballet companies each summer to perform at this free outdoor event.
Webster Dean is currently on faculty at the Margo Dean School of Ballet and teaches the company class for Ballet Concerto. Along with being associate artistic director, Dean also serves as the Company's grants coordinator and administrator. Dean has a BFA in ballet from the University of Utah and has danced with Ballet West, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the Milwaukee Ballet, the Colorado Ballet and the Richmond Ballet.
TheaterJones asks Webster Dean about keeping the Summer Dance Concert fresh, their F.I.N.D. (Find and Inspire New Dancers) program and the future of ballet.
Ballet Concerto's Summer Dance Concert runs June 21-24, 2012 at the Trinity Park Pavilion in Fort Worth. The performances start at 8:30 p.m. Seating on the lawn is free (bring picnics), and table seating is available for purchase.
TheaterJones: What can viewers expect to see at this year's event?
Webster Dean: We're doing three really great ballets this year. We are repeating Luis Montero's Carmen, which received its world premiere with us 11 years ago. We repeated it 9 years ago and we haven't done it since then. And we have a stellar cast that includes Michele Gifford, Brandon Nguyen and Shea Johnson. Gifford previously danced with Texas Ballet Theater and the New York City Ballet; Nguyen came up through our school and now dances professionally with the Atlanta Ballet; and Johnson dances with Ballet Arizona as a principal.
I have also restaged two ballets we have done previously. One is called Jazz Swing, which is a real lively upbeat ballet. With music by Louis Prima and original choreography by Fernando Bujones. Jazz Swing is always a crowd pleaser and it's opening our program.
And lastly we're doing Michael Vernon's Western Sweet with cowboy hats and shirts. Vernon is a British choreographer who now lives in the States and he choreographed this piece for us in 1994.
So, I think it's a tremendously varied program and it's a very unique event that we present.
What was the inspiration for the Summer Dance Concert?
My mother actually conceived the idea. She saw a free outdoor symphonic concert in Central Park 30 years ago and thought we needed to do that for ballet in Fort Worth. So, it's her brain child and it has really grown and developed in the ensuing 30 years. She also wanted to make it free to the community so that everybody, whether they were seasoned ballet goers or first-time ballet goers, would be able to attend.
Does this tie into Ballet Concerto's mission?
Absolutely! Part of our mission is to make available the art of ballet to people of all ages and socio-income levels. We also have outreach programs through the schools and one of our lead dancers was discovered through the program when he was 9 years old. We also have a performance in December where the school kids are bussed in to see the show.
To what do you attribute the Summer Dance Concert's success?
Probably just longevity and keeping at it year after year so people know about it. And also the quality that we present. It's a great show and people are always amazed at the quality and the magic of seeing an outdoor ballet. It's not a recital with children. It's a professionally done performance and I think that's probably the most attractive thing about it.
After 30 years how do you keep this event fresh?
Usually we represent new choreography, but this year these are all ballets we have already done. For people who have gone before, we haven't done these ballets in a long time so it will feel like they're seeing it again for the first time. And I also think the people just love to be there.
Can you tell me a little bit about your F.I.N.D. program?
It stands for Find and Inspire New Dancers. It's our outreach program where we go into the underprivileged schools where the kids don't have any opportunities to study ballet. We go to four schools in the Fort Worth ISD and we have a teacher go once a week to give lessons to these kids. The kids who are serious are sometimes invited into our school to continue lessons. It's real popular and I think the kids really appreciate the opportunity.
There is constant talk about ballet's place in today's society. What are your thoughts? Is ballet a dying art form?
I think all performing arts are being challenge today because there is so much competition from other forms of entertainment, including video games, T.V. and things like Netflix. I don't want to say ballet is a dying art form, but I don't think we are experiencing the same popularity of the art form that we did in the '60s and '70s during the dance boom in our country. So, I think there are still challenges; however, I do think there are people who still love going to the ballet.
◊ Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com