Ballet Hartford stages Handel’s ‘Messiah’
A ballet company is bringing a Christmas tradition to town — Handel’s “Messiah.”
Hallelujah! A new ballet company is bringing a new Christmas dance tradition to town — Handel’s “Messiah.”
Vivid Ballet, founded in 2016, changed its name recently to Ballet Hartford. The company took part in the 5x5 Dance Festival Nov. 3 at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, where Ballet Hartford will be dancing its original ballet adaptation of Handel’s “Messiah” Dec. 8 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. The “Messiah” ballet premiered last year in the same theater.
Elizabeth McMillan, the founder of Ballet Hartford (and of Vivid Ballet) — hails from Houston and has lived in Connecticut for the last eight years. For the last four years, she has taught in the dance program at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School.
McMillan says several of the 18 dancers in the company have moved here to help her start the company. She has also brought in guest choreographers and instructors such as Ballet Hartford’s current artist-in-residence Silas Farley of New York City Ballet. The company, which has performed at colleges and festivals in the Midwest and in Texas besides its Hartford shows, opened its own dance school at 224 Farmington Ave., in September. The space also serves as the dance company’s headquarters and rehearsal space.
She decided to change the company name because “I felt embraced by Hartford. Being Hartfordbased, I identified the need for a ballet company to be part of the city. We belong to the city. We’re for the city.” Ballet Hartford has no connection to Hartford City Ballet, the defunct Hartford Ballet Company or other similarly named companies.
The “Messiah” performance involves a live chorus and orchestra. McMillan’s friend and collaborator Hannah Schneider has gathered the local musicians and singers and will serve as the conductor.
Handel’s composition has been shortened for this project, and McMillan describes the dance as “abstract and non-literal. Since I was young, I’d imagined a dance in my mind to that incredible score.”
Also happening in December is a performance by students at the School of Ballet Hartford, at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15 at the theater space in Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum. The student performances are separate from the adult dance company’s activities, though upper level students are sometimes brought into the larger company dances.
“We believe performance is an integral part of young dancers' education,” McMillan says. “Our students have performed, or will perform, locally at West Hartford Senior Center, Simsbury Celebrates, etc.”
The school has three main performances a year. The Dec. 15 performance includes two ballets: Giacomo Meyerbeer's “Les Patineurs,” which evokes a Victorian skating party; and the second act of Tchaikovsky's “The Nutcracker.” A March dance showcase will feature original works by McMillan, the school's director Susannah Israel-Marchese and Ballet Hartford professional dancers. There will also be a June show to mark the end of the school year.
“Ballet Hartford is the parent company for School of Ballet Hartford,” McMillan explains. “I serve as artistic director of both the company and the school to ensure that there is artistic synergy and unity between both entities and several of my company dancers teach in the school as well. The vision is for the school to feed into the professional company much like the relationship between New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet and most major ballet companies.”
On May 19, also at the University of St. Joseph, the Ballet Hartford company will present an evening of four original works choreographed by McMillan, Farley, Hartt School Dance Division director Stephen Pier and Michelle Thompson Ulerich of Ballet Austin in Texas. A classical piece will also be part of the program; Chopin's “Les Sylphides” is being considered, but McMillan says “we've had some potential, exciting collaborations surface that are causing me to re-think what classical excerpt we will present.
“I believe that to be viable in the present day, we have to do both contemporary and classical dance,” McMillan says. “Vivid Ballet had more of a contemporary edge. As we grew, we realized more and more that we wanted to uphold the classical tradition as well.”
Before they are seen in Hartford, Ballet Hartford will present the four new works (without the classical section) April 14 at the Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theatre on 55th Street in New York City. McMillan says other out-of-town engagements are being negotiated.
McMillan says that the Hartford-area dance community has been very welcoming.
“The other dance companies in the area are all friends of ours,” she says. “We want to know what came before us. We want to offer a fresh voice in the community as well as be a part of that community.”
BALLET HARTFORD will dance its original ballet adaptation of Handel’s “Messiah” on Dec. 8 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. in the Bruyette Athenaeum on the campus at St. Joseph University, 1678 Asylum Ave., in West Hartford. Tickets are $22 and $32. On Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m., the school will present its winter performance in the theater at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, which will include two ballets: “Les Patineurs” and the second act of “The Nutcracker.” $25. ballethartford.com
Dancers, from left, Leyna Doran, Rorey Fraser, Caroline Sheridan and Libby Kroeger rehearse at the ballet’s Farmington Avenue school in Hartford.
Elizabeth McMillan is founder and artistic director of Ballet Hartford.
Ballet Hartford plans to present both contemporary and classical dance as it develops its repertory.