For 25 years, Friends University has offered audiences an array of noteworthy ballet performances. This weekend, that quarter-century milestone will be crystallized in the Spring Ballet, a wide-ranging production that will bring whimsical movements and striking sounds while taking audience members on a journey through five distinct repertoires. It’s an event that will bring in acclaimed talent while showcasing the local ballet department.
“When people think of Friends’ ballet, they often think about ‘The Nutcracker,’ which we do for two weeks in the winter,” Stan Rogers, associate professor of dance at the university, said.
The department does so much more, he said, including experimental pieces and contemporary and classical ballet.
The Friends program began in 1988 with funding from the Koch Foundation. Friends is one of a handful of universities that offer not just a dance degree, but one focusing exclusively on ballet, Rogers said. People from across the country, and even internationally, have been part of the program, he said, and the quarterly events receive a high level of interest.
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Rogers, who is directing the production and choreographing several pieces, said the Spring Ballet is an example of dexterity. Five distinct performances will be part of the hour-and-45-minute show, each with its own style and mood. Twenty-seven dancers will perform in pieces that showcase movement and music.
“If you don’t like one ballet, wait 15 minutes and you’ll see another,” Rogers said. “It’s kind of like the Valentine’s Day chocolate box. It will be an evening of interesting ideas, movements and beautiful music.”
Dominic Walsh of the Dominic Walsh Dance Center in Houston has put together a new piece for the dancers that mixes different styles, including old English folk songs. He and Rogers co-choreographed a fresh version of Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme” that Rogers characterized as classical, beautiful and spunky. Walsh, who has won several awards for his choreography, is a principal dancer with the Houston Ballet.
A Tchaikovsky piece, “Serenade for Strings,” will be a lush, striking piece involving a large group of dancers. Rogers called it an audience favorite.
St. Louis-based choreographer Nick Blaylock will be staging two performances. “At the End of Day” is a playful duet. The other is a piece that received numerous accolades and caught Rogers’ attention last year during the American College Dance Festival.
“I asked him to set the piece that he did there and also choreograph another piece,” Rogers said. “It’s fairly modern. He has an interesting way of moving and choreographing. It’s a fun piece to watch.”
Rogers said the inclusion of out-of-state talent for this production will augment the event.
“It’s a way to have our dancers work with different choreographers,” he said. “I want to try to do this every year so that they get to work with other artists. It’s good for them, and it’s good for the audiences, too.”