Swarthmore Ballet Theater Production Surveys 30 Years of Exhilarating Dance
Thirty years ago, in a picturesque Arts & Crafts style edifice that was once the Swarthmore Women’s Club, Swarthmore Ballet Theatre was born. Artistic director Lori Ardis had been dancing and teaching professionally for many years already, but something magical happened when she brought her love for the art form and practice to its home at 118 Park Avenue in Swarthmore. Since 1989, SBT has nourished thousands of students with self-discipline and joyful learning, and treated audiences to wonderful performances through the non-profit that shares SBT’s home, The Lori Ardis Ballet Company.
In celebration of SBT’s 30th anniversary, Mrs. Ardis and her daughter, Amber Flynn, choreographed a sumptuous production featuring the absolute fan-favorite dances from three decades of performances. This production, presented in early June, soared from the sweet strains of The Nutcracker o the drama of Giselle, seeming to touch on familiar work representing all moods in between. The program also sampled original creations, including The Dream Weavers conceived by Ardis & Flynn, and two ballets written by SBT resident composer Ray Lindsey.
The anniversary collection program allows SBT to highlight many more dancers than in a single ballet production — more than 50 dancers take part in the 43 dances, Ardis said. Behind the scenes, more than 100 volunteers are responsible for dozens of sound cues, hundreds of beautiful costumes and thousands of hours of classes and rehearsals. Their efforts culminated in a breathtaking and truly beautiful program which surveyed and celebrated SBT’s 30 years of choreography and performance.
The production opened with a pas de deux from The Firebird. Eleanor Runiewicz, magnificently birdlike in her manner, and Donn Guthrie as the Prince performed thrilling lifts and danced with a crisp formality appropriate for a man accepting a magical feather from a fantastical fowl. Other wonderfully dramatic dances included the death-defyingly difficult Arabian pas de deux from The Nutcracker (Elizabeth Si and Donn Guthrie), a swift and spine-tingling pas de deux between The Black Swan and the Prince from Swan Lake (Mia Davis and Donn Guthrie) and a dance from Giselle that had veteran SBT ballerina Grace Hodges descending believably into madness in a solo that puts the final episodes of Game of Thrones to shame.
The production burst with amazing solos, including two lovely performances by Ellen McCullough as Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, Michaela Venuto’s lively tarantella from La Boutique Fantastique, Geraldine Leach’s sweet Raymonda, Naomi Nelms’s delightful jester from Sleeping Beauty, and Leticia Prosser’s hauntingly beautiful Odette from Swan Lake. The energy in the intimate space was at its peak during joyful dances like Kitri and Basilio and their tornado of pirouettes in Don Quixote (Rose Hodges and Theo Runiewicz), the Hungarian from Swan Lake (Lillian Hodges and Alexander Voelker) and the stageful of energetic dragonflies from Cinderella.
Though we seldom think of the ballet as a place to go for laugh-out-loud humor, SBT’s classic light touch got roars from the audience in dances like the hilarious musician with the mischievous ballerina playing all his instruments from Cinderella (Mia Davis and Theo Runiewicz) and the rescue scene from Coppelia, in which Dr. Coppelius (William Hodges) tries to make a doll (Elizabeth Si) into a real girl and is tricked by Swanilda (Naomi Si) into believing he has accomplished this goal. Swanilda’s antics and the doctor’s deluded dismay absolutely brought the house down.
In all, Ardis and Flynn flew the audience through 43 dances from 14 ballets, in a tight two hours that felt much shorter. The small stage was transformed again and again, and was occupied by dozens of dancers, each fully committed to his or her role. This daring production delivered a performance worthy of the decades of dance it represented.
Carrie Piccard is a Realtor with D. Patrick Welsh in Swarthmore. This article originally appeared in different form on her blog at swarthmoreagent.com.