Bal­let’s ‘Mes­siah’

Bal­let Hart­ford stages Han­del’s ‘Mes­siah’

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Christo­pher Arnott [email protected]

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

CLOE POISSON / HART­FORD COURANT

Dancers, from left, Leyna Do­ran, Rorey Fraser, Caro­line Sheri­dan and Libby Kroeger re­hearse at the bal­let’s Farm­ing­ton Av­enue school in Hart­ford.

CLOE POISSON / HART­FORD COURANT

El­iz­a­beth McMil­lan is founder and artis­tic di­rec­tor of Bal­let Hart­ford.

CLOE POISSON / HART­FORD COURANT

Bal­let Hart­ford plans to present both con­tem­po­rary and clas­si­cal dance as it de­vel­ops its reper­tory.

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