The Men Take Center Satge
Each year Fort Wayne Ballet follows a successful pattern of main stage performances at the Arts United Center. Although they have an increasingly busy schedule – which now includes three Family Series entries in their own studios and three intimate performances at the ArtsLab black box theatre – many fans of the ballet look forward to the lavish productions they have come to expect from FWB. The fall typically brings an eclectic sample of everything the company has to offer, from classical to contemporary, while December brings the beloved and traditional staging of The Nutcracker. But each spring Fort Wayne Ballet stages a story ballet, and while recent productions include the well-known and oft-performed classics like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, this spring Fort Wayne is in for something brand new. New to our local stages, that is, because the story of Don Quixote is as well-known and adaptable as any story in literature. From the Cervantes novel to the popular musical Man of La Mancha, the character of Don Quixote has been revisited time and again. But only recently has the ballet, which features the music of Ludwig Minkus and the choreography of French master Marius Petipa, come to Western stages. First performed in Moscow in 1869, it remained a captive of the former Soviet regime, only recently being shared with the world. “To my knowledge this ballet has not been performed in this area in its entirety before now,” says Karen Gibbons-Brown, executive and artistic director of Fort Wayne Ballet. “That’s the case with many of the Russian ballets which did not come here to the West until the Iron Curtain fell, and we gained access to all of these ballets that had never been performed in their entirety. There have been some pieces, some pas de deux, which have been performed, but it’s only recently that all of the pieces have been available.” Although the full story of Don Quixote runs the gamut of human emotion, Gibbons-Brown says the ballet offers a slice which still offers everything from comedy to tragedy to romance while providing the happy ending audiences so crave. Gibbons-Brown calls it a “snapshot of a young Don Quixote and his quest for love. It’s very much like The Nutcracker in that it focuses more on the light and happy aspects rather than the darker themes.” The cast for Don Quixote is, also like The Nutcracker, large enough to allow Fort Wayne Ballet to spotlight not only their corps of professional dancers, but also those students who have reached performance level classes. The ensemble, which features about five dozen performers, will also include some familiar faces from the community, including Phillip Colglazier, executive director of the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre. Gibbons-Brown offers a few other surprise guests to those who attend one of the three performances. While there will be guest performers from the area, people known within our community, what this spring production lacks is guest artists filling the male roles of the show. For the first time, Gibbons-Brown didn’t have to look elsewhere to put men on the stage. “During one of our rehearsals there was a line of seven men, and I just looked at them and enjoyed the fact that they’re all ours,” she says. “They’re from our professional company and from our school’s upper level classes, so for the first time, we have not needed to bring in a guest. It’s just thrilling to see that.” One reason for that accomplishment is the growing men’s program, helmed by David Ingram, which is drawing more dancers from not only the Midwest, but from around the country. Gibbons-Brown recently finished her national tour in which she auditions dancers interested in the ballet’s summer intensive program, its growing company of professionals and its still-new dance major program through the University of Saint Francis. The young men already in the program have also been gaining attention around the country. “Our boys and men have been dancing around the country, from San Francisco to Chautauqua, New York, and that’s not to mention the success that our women are having. We have many dancers from our own program who are gaining experience elsewhere, but we also have dancers coming to us from other cities because we’re earning a reputation outside our community. I recently had a young woman come here to audition, and I asked her how she came to us. She said her teacher at Butler University told her that she really needed to come here, that we could take her to that next level. So that’s very gratifying to know that dancers are interested in coming here to further their study of dance.” Education is a key component to the Fort Wayne Ballet mission, another reason Gibbons-Brown is happy for the opportunity to bring Don Quixote to our city. “There are many fun and interesting components to the show, like the Art of the Fan and castanets, which allow us to teach the dancers about other aspects of culture. And they get to understand some of the history about how these Russian ballets weren’t available for so long because it’s a world that many of them don’t know or remember. It was a time long ago, but it’s pertinent to what they’re doing. It’s good for them to learn about the past struggles that these artists went through. As usual, the spring production is also a collaboration with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic which also joins the ballet for the opening weekend of The Nutcracker. But the Philharmonic will be on hand for all three Don Quixote performances, both the two evening performances and the Saturday matinee. An opening night reception, held before the Friday evening performance, will take place in the gallery above the Arts United Center stage, and the post-matinee party for children (and the young-at-heart) will be held on Saturday afternoon. Gibbons-Brown knows audience members of all ages will enjoy this show and will be happy to finally have it available in the years to come. “It really is such a joyous, happy ballet,” she says.