Under the guiding hand of Lisa Bohnert, Director of the Fredericksburg Youth Ballet Ensemble, special guest Allen Abrams and local student Emma Hill prepare for their roles in Swan Lake, to be performed along with Narnia the weekend of November 12 and 13. Photo by Phil Houseal
Tickets are $13 for adults and $7 for students, and are available at Ms. Rhonda’s School of Dance, 202 E. Creek St. Call 997-0756 for information.
by Phil Houseal
The holidays are approaching. That means it’s time for a sugarplum serving of that seasonal staple - The Nutcracker.
But not this year - at least not in Fredericksburg. For the first time in a dozen years, Lisa Bohnert, Director of the Fredericksburg Youth Ballet Ensemble, will not be presenting the traditional tale of twirling candies, fighting mice, and magical trees.
But do not fret. Bohnert and her young dancers will stage another ballet - one that will challenge both dancers and audiences.
“There is so much more to ballet than Nutcracker,” Bohnert said. “I love Nutcracker, but if people think that is the beginning and end of ballet, they’ve missed the depth of dance that can develop. Our dancers came to the point where they’ve not outgrown Nutcracker, but they needed to grow beyond it.”
That new performance is Swan Lake (which will be paired with Narnia, an original production that premiered last year, choreographed by Bohnert and composed by Mark Hierholzer - Read article).
“This act of Swan Lake is the epitome of classical ballet,” said Bohnert, who has studied at the National Academy of Arts, Lyric Opera Ballet of Chicago, and the Evanston School of Ballet. “It is the most classical, stylized, traditional ballet in the world. It is also the most beautiful... so beautiful.”
Underlying that beauty is a world of challenge for the FYBE’s 20-member corps. Bohnert recognizes it is “nothing but hard work” for her young dancers.
“It’s not that the steps are hard, but it is getting the precision of lines and angles. Even if your body is turned a half a degree from another girl, you’re off and it looks wrong. It’s about precision, and at their level it’s a great learning experience.”
Another challenging element is the introduction of a male lead dancer, something the ensemble rarely has experienced. That dancer is accomplished performer Allen Abrams, who is based in Los Angeles with the Luminario Ballet and also was a principal with Ballet Austin.
He sees himself as not only dancing the lead male role, but serving as a teacher.
“In this situation with younger dancers, I try to be more nurturing,” Abrams said. “Because that’s what I wanted at that age. I was a sponge, and still am to this day. No matter what level you get to, there is always room for growth.”
Abrams acknowledges that in the rarified world of professional dancers, there are those who bring egos to the stage. This is not the place for that.
“Those need to be pushed to the side,” he said. “Just because I’m dancing with students doesn’t mean they don’t have a point of view. That’s why I try to be more nurturing. I try to be open minded and open hearted.”
Just as a swan’s apparently effortless swimming is accomplished with furious paddling below the surface, an intense amount of hard physical work goes on behind the beauty and grace of partnering. Abrams emphasized that dancers also need to be extremely smart.
“You have know what your body is doing at any given time, then you have to know when to fix it,” he said. “It’s all about control. If you think of your body as an instrument, you have to tune it.”
Bohnert hopes local audiences realize what a treat it is to have a dancer of Abrams’ caliber perform.
“We are blessed beyond measure to have him here,” Bohnert said. “Allen is a fantastic experienced partner who knows how to bring out the best in the girls. He’s patient, he’s kind, and you don’t necessarily get that combination in a dancer.”
And what is the response of those most intimately connected to the performance - the dancers themselves?
“’Awe’ would be about the best word,” Bohnert said. “One student turned to me in rehearsal and said, ballet has always been pretty, but when you add a man and a woman all of a sudden it goes above and beyond anything they’ve been able to do. The artistry of a male and female merging into a unit to do ballet together is something they don’t get to see every day.”
Local audiences will be able to share that amazement, even without our friends Clara, Fritz, and Drosselmeyer.
“The music in Swan Lake is brilliant, and this city is so blessed to have an artist like Allen come here and dance. If they don’t come out to see this, they have missed the best thing.”