Ready for a live performance? Ballet, opera return to stage this month

Dayton Ballet dancers Isaac Jones and Nathaly Prieto rehearse for upcoming production of “Dance and Romance” Feb 12-14. CONTRIBUTED
Dayton Ballet dancers Isaac Jones and Nathaly Prieto rehearse for upcoming production of “Dance and Romance” Feb 12-14. CONTRIBUTED

Dayton Ballet to perform 3 shows at the Victoria over Valentine’s Day weekend

Picture this: Arts patrons seated in downtown Dayton theaters, once again enjoying the symphony, the ballet, the opera. Thanks to the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance, that scenario is now a reality. In addition to live streams and online recordings, the DPAA has returned to in-theater performances.

Live presentations kicked off Jan. 23 with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s “Beethoven 8 and Florence Price” at the Schuster.

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Next up is the Dayton Ballet’s Valentine’s Day weekend show on Feb. 12-14. “Dance and Romance,” which will be performed three times at the historic Victoria Theatre, will feature seven pieces connected to relationships and love. “They are also ballets that have very small casts or are just duets,” explains artistic director Karen Russo Burke. “In that way, I was able to keep the number of dancers working in the studio very small and distanced.”

The Dayton Opera is offering another live option. On Saturday, Feb. 27, “Don Giovanni: Essential Opera” will be presented in two performances at the Schuster Center. Artistic director Thomas Bankston says the program will focus on the essence of the opera’s music and drama in an abridged 90-minute production with no intermission. This opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.

A socially-distanced audience enjoys a DPAA live in-theater performance at the Schuster Center in January. “It was great to know that the orchestra members obviously appreciated having an audience, no matter how small, to play for,” one audience member said. CONTRIBUTED/ANDY SNOW
A socially-distanced audience enjoys a DPAA live in-theater performance at the Schuster Center in January. “It was great to know that the orchestra members obviously appreciated having an audience, no matter how small, to play for,” one audience member said. CONTRIBUTED/ANDY SNOW

Audience members respond

When the Schuster Center opened its doors on Jan. 23, about 120 were seated in the Mead auditorium, which has capacity for 2,300.

“It was weird, but in a good way,” says Barbara O’Hara of Dayton. “With few people in attendance, I was able to relish the expansiveness of the Schuster. It was joyous to see and hear the musicians while Neal (Gittleman) swizzled in his chair in order to conduct.”

O’Hara says she felt relaxed and comfortable and couldn’t have felt safer. “E-tickets were scanned upon arrival. We were physically distanced, everyone wore masks, no concessions were open, and the staff ushered us out row by row.”

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Miles Schmidt of Troy found it a special evening as well, a near-normal break in a COVID-restricted world. “We were delighted to get that opportunity to hear the orchestra again,” he says. “We certainly appreciate the work and energy that was required to make the concert happen. We enjoyed the evening … a reminder of good times past and more good times that will come.”

Phil Hinrichs of Dayton found it a “great but strange” evening. There was no one in the lobby when he arrived.

“It was great to know that the orchestra members obviously appreciated having an audience, no matter how small, to play for,” Hinrichs says. “The audience made an effort to show its appreciation and everything received a standing ovation.”

With so few people in attendance, he says he felt like the orchestra was playing just for him.

Gittleman says the atmosphere that first evening was very exciting and positive and that the musicians were “totally psyched about getting back to playing for a live audience.”

Dayton Ballet dancers Eric McIntyre and Ashley Griffin rehearse for upcoming production of “Dance and Romance “Feb 12-14. CONTRIBUTED
Dayton Ballet dancers Eric McIntyre and Ashley Griffin rehearse for upcoming production of “Dance and Romance “Feb 12-14. CONTRIBUTED

Thoughts from the Ballet’s Burke

Burke says the preparation for the upcoming programming has been challenging compared to other programs she’s done in the past.

“We started preparing for the dancers to come into the building weeks ahead of time,” she says. “The studios were taped out so each dancer had a certain place at the barre and air purifiers were placed in each one. We put away any workout equipment that is normally shared among the dancers. Since we needed to keep a limited number of dancers in each studio, we updated our studio TV monitors so we could communicate between the studios. I had to create two different work schedules for every day so that each group did not have the same lunch and free time and all the dancers had to learn every piece so they could step in, if need be, at a moment’s notice.”

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Burke says it has been wonderful to have the ensemble of 18 dancers back. “These are artists that have a limited amount of time to have a professional career,” she notes. “It needs to be when their bodies are young and able to dance at this extremely high level.”

She worries about the way in which all the closings of theater and dance companies will affect dancers’ careers. “Time is something we can never get back, which is one reason I have different dancers dancing each night. It is important for me to get everyone on stage because that is what truly creates an artist.”

On the program

The program will include “6 Feet Apart,” a piece choreographed by Burke, which focuses on our new normal: the elbow handshake, the 20-second handwashing and the heat flashes that face masks bring. “The hope is the work brings a smile to the faces of the audience as they recognize the ‘dances’ we are all doing in our worlds every day,” she says.

A world premiere, choreographed by Burke, demonstrates the ways in which socialization nourishes us in a way that feels similar to our need for water to survive. Another piece, “Vocalise,” is Burke’s tribute to colleague Bankston, in celebration of his 25th anniversary as artistic director of Dayton Opera.

Baritone Norman Garrett will play the role of Don Giovanni. CONTRIBUTED
Baritone Norman Garrett will play the role of Don Giovanni. CONTRIBUTED

Don Giovanni on stage

Don Giovanni, one of Mozart’s supreme musical achievements, centers around one of opera’s most compelling anti-heroes. Based on legends of the infamous Don Juan, the tale follows the title character through seduction, deception, ominous foreshadowing, and irreverent reveling. Never fear, he’ll get his just rewards in the end.

Gittleman says “Don Giovanni” has been on his bucket list for as long as he’s had a bucket list. “The essential opera approach that we’re taking is, of course, forced on us by the demands of the COVID era,” he explains. “No pit, no chorus, no costumes, no sets, only 90 minutes of almost three hours. But the interesting thing is that, despite no-this, no-that, I think we’ve got the heart, soul, and core of the opera there.”

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In addition to the live performances, both the ballet and opera programs can be viewed from the comforts of home. There are both live streaming and pre-recorded options.

One streaming option is the virtual stream membership, which depending on the membership level, provides access to all DPAA Reimagined Season live and recorded performances, as well as many programs from 2020. Visit daytonperformingarts.org/streams for more information.

HOW TO GO

What: Dayton Ballet’s “Dance and Romance”

Where: Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12 and Saturday, Feb. 13; 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14.

In-person tickets: $50, available at (937) 228-3630 or online at www.daytonperformingarts.org.

Live stream: Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. performance will be streamed. A live stream ticket is $25 and also provides access to on-demand viewing of the performance until June 30.

HOW TO GO

What: Dayton Opera’s “Don Giovanni: Essential Opera”

Where: Schuster Center, 1 W. 2nd St., Dayton

When: 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 27

In-person tickets: $50, available at (937) 228-3630 or online at www.daytonperformingarts.org.

Live stream: The 8 p.m. performance will be streamed. A live stream ticket is $25 and also provides access to on-demand viewing of the performance until June 30.

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