In a small dance studio off Broadway Avenue, 30 Ballet San Antonio company members stretch and flex, keeping their muscles warm while fixating on the words and moves of an American ballet legend.
“When you put her down, step out, get away from her, so the next boy has space,” Janie Parker playfully instructs the dancers as she marks ballroom scene steps from Cinderella, the venerated Ben Stevenson ballet in which she once starred and that opens Ballet San Antonio’s 2013-2014 season Oct. 10-13.
Parker danced for Houston Ballet as a prima ballerina and was the first American winner of one of the ballet world’s foremost international competitions.
Parker’s work with Ballet San Antonio – Stevenson will also soon be in town to assist with last-minute touches – marks a significant artistic breakthrough for the city’s professional ballet company as it eyes its move to the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
Cinderella takes place at the Lila Cockrell Theater, but its large cast, lavish costumes, grand sets and association with acclaimed global artists illustrates what awaits San Antonio audiences on Tobin stages next year, said Gabriel Zertuche, the company’s artistic director.
“Ben Stevenson's Cinderella is a major milestone, the first time a world-renowned choreographer is staging a world-class production with our company,” Zertuche said. “And this is just the beginning: As the Tobin’s resident ballet company, we plan to perform even bigger ballets, including Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake, thanks to a large stage and wing space and an orchestra pit for live music that will further provide the audience an even richer experience.”
Since assuming his position two years ago, Zertuche has been leading Ballet San Antonio on an artistic path resembling that of other metropolitan ballet companies affiliated with major performing arts centers. He has diversified the repertoire to include well-known classical ballets and more contemporary works, and is adding a mix of his own pieces and established choreographers like Stevenson.
Working alongside him as Ballet Mistress is Dede Barfield, former principal dancer of the Pennsylvania Ballet, reinforcing Zertuche’s goal to provide dancers with the highest quality ongoing training.
Zertuche and Courtney Mauro Barker, Ballet San Antonio’s president and executive director, said the company’s move to the Tobin comes with broader community responsibilities.
The duo has been on what it calls “a mission” to introduce more of San Antonio to both the art form of dance and its value to business and the economy. It's a challenging task in a city better known for its love of sports, but Ballet San Antonio has seen growing audience numbers, especially for productions with recognizable names such as Zertuche’s Dracula and The Nutcracker, performed with the San Antonio Symphony.
“This is the country’s seventh largest city, and there are smaller cities with larger ballet companies than ours, so we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what is possible,” said Barker, a San Antonio native. “Having a superb ballet company in our city is one more reason to live or visit San Antonio, and it has therefore been one of my top priorities to reach out to individuals, foundations and corporations.“
Ballet San Antonio’s current operating budget of around $600,000 is about one-tenth of Ballet Austin’s budget and a mere fraction of Houston Ballet’s nearly $21 million budget. Ticket sales, meanwhile, make up 40 percent of Ballet San Antonio’s budget and do not begin to cover its operating costs. In contrast, an established ballet company like the Tulsa Ballet generates 60 percent of its budget from individuals, philanthropists, foundations and corporate supporters.
Barker hopes the added allure of the Tobin affiliation will drive ticket sales and encourage more sponsorships and individual donations.
A key portion of Ballet San Antonio’s resources is invested in youth education and performances, which the company is intent on expanding once in the Tobin. Over the past few years, the dance company's Learning that Moves You program has served more than 35,000 youth through free ballet classes, Title 1 in-school lectures and demonstrations, student performances, and special appearances.
Next week, Ballet San Antonio dancers will visit the Children’s Bereavement Center and perform an excerpt from Cinderella. The following week, the company is holding a Cinderella Children’s Ball that will include children from the Bereavement Center and the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Antonio, an organization it has partnered with for two years.
Like other metropolitan ballet companies, Ballet San Antonio seeks to build a ballet school that trains dancers and eventually hires them, along with developing scholarship programs and free, in-studio performances for the public.
For the immediate future, Ballet San Antonio is focused on Cinderella. Dancers say that working with Janie Parker on such a renowned ballet has been a highlight of their career. They are hopeful San Antonio audiences will embrace the production.
Lydia Relle, a soloist with the company, summarized the sentiment: “This being my third season so far, I can say this is probably one of the most spectacular performances we have put on.”
Ballet San Antonio performs Cinderella October 10-13. In addition to Cinderella, the company will perform Gabriel Zertuche’s The Nutcracker, Firebird and a public performance in La Villita. For tickets, visit ticketmaster.com or balletsanantonio.org.
With roots in both international journalism and the global corporate world, Kirsten Gallagher partners with myriad organizations on strategic planning, marketing and editorial initiatives through her company, KHG Marketing & Communications. She has a longstanding passion for dance, supporting Ballet San Antonio as it continues to build its brand in our city and beyond.