Gem City Ballet celebrates 30 years of dance

Gem City Ballet in George Balanchine's "Serenade." PHOTO BY ANDY SNOW

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Gem City Ballet in George Balanchine's "Serenade." PHOTO BY ANDY SNOW

Anniversary season concludes April 8-10 in Springboro.

For 30 years, Gem City Ballet has nurtured the artistry of young people in a pre-professional setting that has proven beneficial to the Dayton arts community and inspirational to its legion of dancers.

Founded by former Dayton Ballet principal dancer Barbara Pontecorvo and originally known as Ballet de Jeunesse, Gem City Ballet was formed for three purposes: to educate young dancers in the joys and rigors of ballet performance; to make quality ballet performances available to a wider audience; and provide both new and experienced choreographers an opportunity to create new works. The current roster consists of 21 dancers between ages 12 and 18.

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Gem City Ballet in Stuart Sebastian's "Fast Company." PHOTO BY ANDY SNOW

Credit: ANDY SNOW

Gem City Ballet in Stuart Sebastian's "Fast Company." PHOTO BY ANDY SNOW

Credit: ANDY SNOW

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Gem City Ballet in Stuart Sebastian's "Fast Company." PHOTO BY ANDY SNOW

Credit: ANDY SNOW

Credit: ANDY SNOW

“Over the years, audience members have been very impressed with the technical ability of the dancers, the emotional reach of the dancers, the aspects of the performance itself – the lighting, sets and costumes – and the professionalism of performance,” said Pontecorvo. “The common thread throughout my entire time with Gem City Ballet is to make the dancers, who are teenagers, understand that not only does Gem City Ballet deserve the best but they deserve the best too. So, I bring in guest artists all the time in order for the dancers to work on (routines) that are not only taught by me. The expectations of the dancers are great and the expectations of me are great to give them those opportunities.”

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Barbara Pontecorvo is founder of Gem City Ballet and Pontecorvo Ballet Studios. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Barbara Pontecorvo is founder of Gem City Ballet and Pontecorvo Ballet Studios. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

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Barbara Pontecorvo is founder of Gem City Ballet and Pontecorvo Ballet Studios. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Ballet has been the lifeblood of Pontecorvo, a New Orleans native, since a young age. She started dancing when she was 3 and received her first professional job at 17. She was a principal dancer with five companies, including Houston Ballet, joining Dayton Ballet in 1981, where she served as associate director of Dayton Ballet School, director of Dayton Ballet II, and ballet mistress until departing in 1991.

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Supported by her husband, community theater actor/director/designer David Shough, she opened Gem City Ballet in 1992 with a 4,000 square-foot building off of Wagner Ford Road in Dayton. Five years later, she moved to a larger, 9,600 square-foot building in downtown Dayton off First Street across from what is now Day Air Ballpark. In 2011, the organization moved to Springboro.

“Ballet has been the driving force of my life,” she said. “I always expected Gem City Ballet to grow, to continue, and never be a fly-by-night (endeavor). I am also grateful for all the help I have had, especially David, who is our stage manager and lighting designer. I value his opinion and expert work on my behalf.”

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Gem City Ballet in Barbara Pontecorvo's "Palette." PHOTO BY BARBARA PONTECORVO

Credit: BARBARA PONTECORVO

Gem City Ballet in Barbara Pontecorvo's "Palette." PHOTO BY BARBARA PONTECORVO

Credit: BARBARA PONTECORVO

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Gem City Ballet in Barbara Pontecorvo's "Palette." PHOTO BY BARBARA PONTECORVO

Credit: BARBARA PONTECORVO

Credit: BARBARA PONTECORVO

Kjirsten Frank Hoppe, an original Gem City Ballet member and current board secretary, is proud of the troupe’s impact, especially its vocational arts platform.

“When I was in high school, Gem City Ballet provided a dance education unlike anything available in the area,” said Hoppe. “In Gem City Ballet, the dancers have a chance to experience the kind of attention, the kind of performance environment, they would experience as a professional. The instructors do a really good job of teaching students how they should behave backstage and how to present themselves in front of an audience. It’s not just about learning the steps. Barbara has been able to create theater magic that magnifies the steps.”

Kelley King, a WDTN Channel 2 multi-media journalist, has fond memories of Pontecorvo’s tutelage. The Dayton native started taking classes with her at age 8, and by age 12, she was among a handful of students chosen to be a part of a professional training division, ultimately leading to her joining Gem City Ballet. Although she was diagnosed with leukemia at age 15, which brought her professional dancing aspirations to an end, the lessons learned were invaluable.

“Barbara is so inspiring, and she instills a passion for dance in all of her students,” said King. “Taking a couple of years off was heartbreaking for me, but after I finished chemotherapy treatments I went back to Barbara for dance, not with the company but for recreation. I still enjoy taking classes with her. Dance is an escape from the outside world, and I enjoy dancing my heart out. I still apply the things she taught in other aspects of my life and my job such as discipline and determination. I never do anything half-baked because that’s how it was with ballet. We were told to do everything full-out. Barbara is leaving a legacy and still building a legacy. I hope Gem City Ballet continues to leave an imprint on the community and the dance world.”

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Gem City Ballet in Stuart Sebastian's "Fast Company." PHOTO BY ANDY SNOW

Credit: ANDY SNOW

Gem City Ballet in Stuart Sebastian's "Fast Company." PHOTO BY ANDY SNOW

Credit: ANDY SNOW

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Gem City Ballet in Stuart Sebastian's "Fast Company." PHOTO BY ANDY SNOW

Credit: ANDY SNOW

Credit: ANDY SNOW

This year also marks the 30th anniversary of Pontecorvo Ballet Studios, which has produced over 40 professional dancers. The staff includes former Dayton Ballet principal dancer Gregory Robinson and longtime Dayton teacher and choreographer Estelle Bean.

“These teachers push my dancers technically,” Pontecorvo said. “When the students come into Gem City Ballet, they have to keep up their technique and do ballets that train them emotionally. So, they are trained in pretty much every form such as contemporary, modern and jazz. We try to push them in every respect. And students do not have to attend Pontecorvo Ballet Studios in order to dance with Gem City Ballet. Gem City Ballet, which is a non-profit organization, is open to any dancer in the Miami Valley.”

Gem City Ballet’s anniversary season concludes with a repertory program April 8-10 at the Stuart Sebastian Performance Space, which seats 112. The program will consist of Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 7,” choreographed by guest dancer Orlando Canova, “Weill Songs,” featuring the music of Kurt Weill framed within a Holocaust context choreographed by Mary Margaret Holt, the company premiere of “Chromatics,” choreographed by the late Suzanne Walker, and the wedding scene from “Paquita,” the first ballet the company performed three decades ago. Following the Sunday performance, the company will gather for an anniversary celebration at the Dayton Metro Library.

HOW TO GO

What: Gem City Ballet Spring Repertory 2022

When: April 8-10; 8 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Stuart Sebastian Performance Space, 20 Commercial Way, Springboro

Cost: $5-$15 (in-person tickets); $10-$20 (live streaming)

Tickets: Visit gemcityballet.org

FYI: Masks are required for all patrons.

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