By Tracy Courage | Photography by Jamison Mosley
Ballet Arkansas, which got its start in 1978, has grown into Arkansas’ premier professional ballet company, and the organization shows no sign of slowing down. The 2018-19 season includes the largest company of dancers performing a more extensive repertory of work than ever before.
On March 30, Ballet Arkansas hosts the 8th Annual Turning Pointe Gala, its signature fundraising event. Around 400 people are expected to attend the event in Dassault Falcon Jet’s newest addition, Hangar 14. The trendy, modern space will provide the stage for BA’s professional dancers to showcase their blend of classical and contemporary dance, for which Ballet Arkansas has become known.
“This year’s gala commemorates Ballet Arkansas’ 40th anniversary season,” says Stacy Wilson, who is co-chairing Turning Pointe with her husband, Ivan. “We will certainly be highlighting our past and sharing our bold plans for the ballet’s future.”
Guests will be treated to performances by Ballet Arkansas’ professional dancers, a cocktail reception, silent and live auctions, a seated dinner, and live music by Dizzy 7.
Among this year’s live auction items up for grabs is an African safari, a weekend in wine country at Ketcham Estate in Healdsburg, California, with a private wine tasting, a necklace from Jones & Son valued at $3,400, and more.
The gala, presented by Parker Audi, raises money to support Ballet Arkansas’ commitment to cultural enrichment through the presentation of world-class education programs and productions to thousands of Arkansans each year, Wilson says.
“Proceeds from the gala spread into so many areas,” says Catherine Fothergill, Ballet Arkansas’ associate artistic director.
“Just a little bit of money can really go a long way. We can build a variety of large-based programs from one gift.”
One such gift enabled Ballet Arkansas to launch the Ballet Arkansas Live Stream in 2017. Performances are now broadcast into rooms at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and are also used as educational outreach in schools.
“Our live stream is a way for us to access more rural areas and reach those who can’t travel to where our performances are,” Fothergill says. “As long as someone has an Internet connection, they can be there live with us.”
Financial support also enables Ballet Arkansas to build sets and costumes which can then be rented to other ballet companies to earn additional revenue.
Since Ballet Arkansas’ founding in 1978, more than 100,000 people have experienced ballet performances, and another 13,000 people will be reached this season.
Increasing access to professional dance performances has been a goal of the husband and wife team of Michael Fothergill, executive and artistic director, and Catherine, who have led the organization since 2017.
“The first year, we had a lot of things we wanted to accomplish, and we just ran as fast as we could with our ideas,” Catherine says.
The Fothergills also added two dancers to the company, bringing the total to 14 professional dancers, the company’s largest to date. More than 300 dancers from across the country applied for the two jobs, she says.
“We have a diverse company of dancers, and they are all very talented artists and dancers,” Fothergill says. “They are strong in both classical and contemporary works.”
Under the Fothergills’ leadership, Ballet Arkansas has expanded its season line-up, which now includes four main stage productions in Little Rock and at least one or two tours throughout the region.
“Ballet Arkansas is not only about presenting the beauty and brilliance of a professional dance performance,” Fothergill says. “We are committed to our community and to arts education. Through partnerships with organizations such as Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Arkansas Arts Center, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and UA-Pulaski Technical College, Ballet Arkansas is driven by the belief that together we can accomplish much more to further our communities and enhance our quality of life.”
Ballet Arkansas’ Nutcracker Spectacular in December featured more than 250 community dancers – its largest cast ever.
In fall 2017, the couple founded the Ballet Arkansas Interactive Children’s Series, designed specifically for younger viewers. Ballet Arkansas staged Mary Poppins and the company presented a Valentine’s Day spectacular “Fire and Rain” which featured three love stories, including parts of Romeo and Juliet, Don Quixote, and a tribute to James Taylor.
Each year, Ballet Arkansas also includes one or two works by choreographer George Balanchine, who is considered the father of modern American ballet.
The 40th Anniversary season concludes in May with a mixed repertory program featuring a blend of classical and contemporary works including George Balanchine’s famous Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux; Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Act 2: a contemporary work by world-renowned choreographer Ma Cong; and a contemporary world premiere by Michael Fothergill.
“We try to be very diverse in our programming,” Fothergill says. “We like to program what’s popular on the national dance scene and make it accessible here. It is important to perform world-renown works as well as full-length works and new commissions.”
“We’re trying to get people to have an experience,” Cameron says.
For more information on the Turning Pointe Gala, visit balletarkansas.org.