Beyond Ballet - Pacific Northwest Ballet

On Wednesday, May 3, 2017, Pacific Northwest Ballet hosted Beyond Ballet: A Town Hall, which investigated aesthetics, diversity, equity, and the efforts to redesign arts institutions. Invoking the spirit of “We the People,” Pacific Northwest Ballet, Spectrum Dance Theater, and Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet (MOBB) invited you to share your thoughts, feelings and experiences in a Town Hall format. Ballet—its aesthetics, lack of diversity and equity—is the springboard from which we begin to examine these issues in the theater and arts at large.

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Panelists for this event are Donald Byrd, Artistic Director, Spectrum Dance Theater; Peter Boal, Artistic Director, PNB; Andrea Long-Naidu, Ballet Instructor, Dance Theatre of Harlem & CityDance Conservatory; Erica Edwards, Director of Community Engagement at The Joffrey Ballet, and Kiyon Gaines, former PNB soloist and PNB School faculty member. The evening will be moderated by Theresa Ruth Howard, founder and curator of MOBB. While the format of the program allows for diverging conversations, perspectives and stories from the field, planned topics for this event include:

  • The History of Blacks in Ballet: A Legacy as Long as America
  • The Aesthetics of Ballet: What do Classicism and Tradition “Look” Like?
  • Teachers and Administrators of Color: Why They are an Essential Component in Diversification

Beyond Ballet is an important piece in PNB’s ongoing work in the area of racial equity and inclusion. This important community event is made possible with generous support from Bank of America.

Theresa Ruth Howard / Moderator

Theresa Ruth Howard began her professional dance career with the Philadelphia Civic Ballet Company at the age of twelve. Later she joined the Dance Theatre of Harlem where she had the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the United States, Europe and Africa.

She has worked with choreographer Donald Byrd as a soloist in his staging of New York City Opera’s Carmina Burana, in his critically acclaimed Harlem Nutcracker, as well as the controversial domestic violence work The Beast. In 2004 she became a founding member of Armitage Gone! Dance, and was invited to be a guest artist with Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s 10th anniversary season.

Ms. Howard has been a member of the Ballet faculty at the Ailey School for over 18 years. She has been an Artist in Residence at Hollins University, and New Haven University in addition to teaching at Sarah Lawrence College, Marymount, Shenandoah, Universities, University of the Arts and the historical American Dance Festival. Ms. Howard was had adjudicated arts competitions and taught in Russia Italy, Canada, and Bulgaria. She had taught at the Joffrey Ballet School (NY) as well as co-facilitating a Body Awareness workshop or the Jazz Contemporary division of the program.

As a writer Ms. Howard has contributed to The Source, as well as Pointe and Dance Magazine, Germany’s Tanz, and  Italy’s Expressions. She is a contributing writer for Dance Magazine online. Her articles about body image prompted her to create mybodymyimage.com which endeavors to help others build positive body image through Respect, Acceptance and Appreciation. Her article, The Misty-rious Case of the Vanishing Ballerinas of Color: Where have all the Others Gone? Was as the subject of Race and Dance Townhall: REAL TALK at the Dance/USA conference in June 2015. Ms. Howard launch MoBBallet.org digital archive the Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet. One of MoBB’s first projects was to help organize and facilitate the first ever audition for Black Female Ballet dancers for major Ballet organizations at the 2015 International Association of Blacks in Dance conference. MoBBallet is a 2016 Knight Foundation grantee for the documentation of Philadelphia’s Black Ballet history.

~We are only as strong as our stories~

Peter Boal / Panelist

Peter Boal was raised in Bedford, New York. At the age of nine, he began studying ballet at the School of American Ballet, the official school of New York City Ballet. Mr. Boal became a member of New York City Ballet’s corps de ballet in 1983 and became a principal dancer in 1989.

In 2005, he retired from New York City Ballet after a 22-year career with the company. Mr. Boal was also a full-time faculty member at the School of American Ballet from 1997 to 2005. In 2003, he founded Peter Boal and Company, a critically acclaimed chamber ensemble.

Among the many ballets in which Mr. Boal was featured at New York City Ballet are George Balanchine’s AgonApolloA Midsummer Night’s Dream (Oberon), and Prodigal Son; Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering and Opus 19/The Dreamer; Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels; and works by William Forsythe, Peter Martins, Twyla Tharp, and Christopher Wheeldon.

In addition to touring with New York City Ballet, Mr. Boal performed as a principal dancer with Ballet Arizona, Ballet du Nord, the Maryinsky Ballet, Norwegian National Ballet, the Royal Birmingham Ballet, and Suzanne Farrell Ballet. In 1996, Mr. Boal received the Dance Magazine Award, and in 2000, he received a New York Dance and Performance Award (Bessie) for his performance in Molissa Fenley’s State of Darkness.

In 2005, upon his retirement from New York City Ballet, Mr. Boal became Artistic Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) and Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Founded in 1972, PNB presents more than 100 performances annually of full-length and mixed repertory ballets at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall and on tour. The Company has toured to Europe, Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada, and throughout the United States. Under the direction of Mr. Boal, PNB has diversified its repertory to include new works by Trisha Brown, Ulysses Dove, Marco Goecke, Jiri Kylian, Jessica Lang, Jean-Christophe Maillot, Susan Marshall, Mark Morris, Victor Quijada, Alexei Ratmansky, Twyla Tharp, and Christopher Wheeldon, as well as additional works by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. Mr. Boal has staged the works of George Balanchine (ApolloDivertimento from “La Baiser de la Fée”Duo ConcertantGeorge Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™Prodigal SonSquare DanceLa Sonnambula, and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux), Ulysses Dove (Red Angels), and Peter Martins (Valse Triste) for the Company and elsewhere.

In 1992, he married New York City Ballet soloist Kelly Cass. The couple has two sons, Sebastian and Oliver, and one daughter, Sarah.

Donald Byrd / Panelist

Donald Byrd’s career has been long and complex and his choreographic and theatrical interests are broad. The New York Times describes him as “a choreographer with multiple personalities … an unabashed eclectic.”

It continues, “Yet he does more than hop like a magpie from style to style, taking any subject matter and imagery he finds along the way that strike his fancy. His unruliness is accompanied by a love of order.” In the same article it states, “Mr. Byrd has repeatedly alluded to George Balanchine in his works. Balanchine was an unparalleled master of form. Yet he could also present haunting visions of chaos. Mr. Byrd, like him, is preoccupied with harmony and disruption.” To this point Donald Byrd is equally at home creating cool, abstract pure dance works such as his 2012 work LOVE set to the complete cello suites of Benjamin Britten and the 2011 Euclidean Space set to the music of Amon Tobin, virtuoso sound designer and influential electronic music artist; to his theatrical narrative driven pieces like the ‘carny’ Petruchska and storefront Miraculous Mandarin, his revisionist versions of iconic early 20th Century ballets. Yet he is also known for creating lovely valentines to 19th Century classical repertory including The Harlem Nutcracker (1996) and The Sleeping Beauty Notebook (2005). As well as imaginative choreographic tributes to jazz legends and composers including In A Different Light (2000) set to the lesser known piece of Duke Ellington, Burlesque (2002) created to early recordings of Louis Armstrong, and Jazz Train (1998) to commissioned scores by Vernon Reid, Geri Allen, and the late great Max Roach. These works along with The Harlem Nutcracker with its score by Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn and David Berger were critical and audience successes and toured extensively.

Mr. Byrd, a TONY nominated (The Color Purple) and Bessie Award winning (The Minstrel Show) choreographer, became Artistic Director of Spectrum Dance Theater in December 2002. From 1978 – 2002, he was Artistic Director of Donald Byrd/The Group, a critically acclaimed contemporary dance company, founded in Los Angeles and later based in New York, that toured extensively, both nationally and internationally. He has created over 100 modern and contemporary dance works for his own groups as well as for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, and Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco), among others; has choreographed for classical companies, including Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Dance Theater of Harlem, Aterballetto, MaggioDanza diFirenze, and Oregon Ballet Theater.

His non-dance company work has been with some of the most prestigious theater and opera companies in the U.S., including The New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, the Intiman Theater, Center Stage, San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera and New York City Opera. He counts among his numerous collaborators an eclectic mix of distinguished artists including Peter Sellars, Anna Deveare Smith, and the late Max Roach. daughter, Sarah.

Erica Lynette Edwards / Panelist

Erica Lynette Edwards joined The Joffrey Ballet after being one of the first dancers in the Arpino Apprentice program in 2000. She trained at the Salt Creek Ballet School where she performed major roles in their pre-professional ballet company.

Ms. Edwards attended summer intensives at the School of American Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Bryant Ballet on merit scholarships, American Ballet Theater, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Ruth Page Foundation. She also trained two years and received her Associate of Arts at Butler University in Indianapolis on talent, academic and leadership scholarships.

Since joining The Joffrey, Erica’s vast repertoire includes Apollo, Appalachian Spring, Cinderella (Fairy Godmother), Dark Elegies (4th Song), Deuce Coupe (Lead), The Green Table (Partisan Woman), Light Rain (Pas de Deux), The Nutcracker, N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz! (Static Girl), Les Patineurs (Red Girls), Square Dance, Le Sacre du Printemps (Chosen One), Stravinsky Violin Concerto (Aria 1), Suite Saint Saens, and Viva Vivaldi (Soloist).

She believes that it is important to share the experience of dance with others. Erica does this by teaching at various community, school, and outreach programs throughout Chicagoland. In 2001 the Chicago Sun-Times spotlighted Erica as a “Black History Maker,” and in 2002 she was The Joffrey’s nominee for the Princess Grace Foundation Award. Ebony magazine featured Ms. Edwards as a Young Leader of the Future in the Arts in February 2003. She is featured with The Joffrey Ballet in Robert Altman’s movie, The Company and has been seen giving a tour of the Joffrey facilities on TV’s “Chicago Tonight.” Her pictures serve as the face for many marketing campaigns and she is even presented in the children’s book “Beautiful Ballerinas” as a famous ballerina.

She retired on December 28, 2014 after a 15 year career as a ballerina with the Joffrey Ballet and is now the company’s Director of Community Engagement. In this role she is responsible for managing all Joffrey arts education programs through Chicago Public Schools and the community to increase access, awareness, and appreciation for the art of dance. This year, Ms. Edwards serves as the co-chair for Dance for Life Chicago and was chosen to serve on the Partnership and Professional Learning Panel of Ingenuity’s Collective Impact Panel where she will help shape the policy, practice and landscape of arts education in Chicago Public Schools. And most recently Crain’s Chicago Business selected Erica as a member of 40 Under 40.

Kiyon Gaines / Panelist

Kiyon Gaines (Ross) is from Baltimore, Maryland. He trained at Baltimore School of the Arts, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, the School of American Ballet, and Pacific Northwest Ballet School. He joined Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2001 and retired as a soloist in 2015.

He currently teaches on the faculty of PNB School, works with PNB’s DanceChance program to bring classical dance training to the students of Seattle Public Schools, and has been program manager of PNB’s annual NEXT STEP choreographers’ showcase since 2012. Mr. Gaines is also an established American choreographer. Since creating his first work in 2001, he has made ballets for PNB, PNB School, New York Choreographic Institute, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Cornish College of the Arts, and Spectrum Dance Theater.  Mr. Gaines has been resident choreographer at Ballet Arkansas since 2015.

Andrea Long Naidu / Panelist

Thirteen years principal dancer at Dance Theatre of Harlem, Andrea Long began her career dancing with the New York City Ballet and remained there for over eight years. Internationally renowned, she continues to inspire in an arduous profession.

She dances as guest artist with many regional ballet companies and is considered exemplary and demanding as a ballet instructor. Andrea Long was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her parents encouraged her love of dance at a young age. Her early ballet training included the Pennsylvania Ballet School, Philadelphia, the American Ballet Theatre School, and the School of American Ballet, both in New York City. Invited first to join the Pennsylvania Ballet, in 1985, Long left to become a member of the New York City Ballet. After dancing in the corps, she found greater opportunities with The Dance Theatre of Harlem. She has received continuing critical acclaim as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Balanchine’s classical version of The Nutcracker as well as his Allegro Brillante, among others; in contemporary dance works of Robert Garland, Dwight Rhoden, Jerome Robbins, Laveen Naidu, to name a few. Long has danced with Ballet New York, New York City Ballet Touring Group, and Complexions Contemporary Dance, New York. She has performed on tour across the United States and Europe. Long has been a continuing inspiration to young women and particularly women of color through teaching at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and school and master classes elsewhere. Referring to her solo performance ten years before in The Firebird, she inspired her students to, “Be a bird, your bird.” In teaching Long has stated, “It’s about making incredible dancers. I’m not interested in making little corps dancers. I wanna make stars!” Long sees a growing respect for the art of ballet in popular culture and joins in encouraging such groups as The Swan Dreams Project in a goal to increase minority participation in ballet. A number of young dancers in the program have cited her encouragement as the reason for their presence in the Swan Dreams Project. Andrea Long is married to Laveen Naidu, Dance Theatre Harlem’s Executive Director. The couple wed in 2004. They live in New York City. Both continue to support the development of Dance Theatre Harlem

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