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Art and Dance in Perfect Harmony


By Jennie McKeon

What’s better than watching a ballet performance or taking in an art exhibit? Combining the two into one, sensory overload, night of art.

Just when you thought Ballet Pensacola has reached the pinnacle of creativity, comes a new show that pushes the envelope even further. In their new production, “Possible Symmetry,” Artistic Director Richard Steinert and his wife, Ballet Mistress, Christine Duhon, created pieces inspired by contemporary art from the collection of the Anna Lamar Switzer Center for Visual Arts. The performances will be held inside the Pensacola Museum of Art, where the inspiration will be on display.

“It’s a way to collaborate,” Steinert said of the three organizations combining forces. “It’s good for us—it’s a good way to challenge the artist and reach out to new audience members.”

With the inspiration of five art pieces, come five new ballets. And the productions will be more than just an impressive light show. Production Designer, Lance Brannon, is creating videos and projections that put the audience and dancers inside the works of art.

“Our goal is for nobody to ever beat us to the punch at trying something new,” Steinert said. “You’re either moving forward or moving backward. You’re only as good as the last round of applause.”

The production will also be inexpensive—under $2000 Steinert said. It’s important to him that donations go to the talent and not flashy costumes.

“They become a great financial impact on the community,” he said of his full-time dancers and instructors. “They rent or buy homes. They invest back in the community.”

You wouldn’t be able to tell that the ballets were created on a “shoestring budget” as Steinert called it. However, beyond the rich music and the artwork are the dancers. They believe in the show and have just as much enthusiasm as the choreographers who created it.

“I’m really excited to dance closer to the audience,” said Erin Lapaglia. “I like connecting with them and seeing their reactions to things.”

In the Pensacola Little Theatre, where most shows are performed, the audience becomes “blackness” as Tyler Day put it. The proximity to the audience will have a great power on the dancers.

“Richard jokes we’ll almost be dancing in the audience’s lap,” he said with a laugh. “Seeing the audience’s reactions—the instant gratification—can change you.”

The small quarters will also mean that the inner workings of ballet productions will be on display. There won’t be a curtain to hide behind.

“I wanted to approach this show as ‘ballet unplugged’—like MTV’s ‘Unplugged,’” Steinert said. “You’re going to see the ‘backstage.’”

As the works of art are more abstract, the interpretations will be too.

“With a lot of ballets, there’s a story or a simple outline,” Day explained. “With ‘Possible Symmetry,’ we’re almost creating the stories ourselves. I couldn’t imagine doing this with classical paintings.”

Even the spectators can interpret it differently from the dancers.

“I’m excited and curious to hear what the audience is going to think,” Lapaglia said.

“A husband and wife may interpret it differently,” Day added.

Debi Marshall has been with the ballet for nine years. She began taking classes with Ballet Pensacola at the age of 11. Growing up in Pensacola, she has frequented the art museum and is thrilled that it will be the venue for the new show.

“It’s incredible to think that Richard and Christine made this possible,” she said.

She’s excited about dancing for the PMA supporters and introducing them to a new medium.

“That’s the part I’m most excited about—drawing them in on their territory,” Marshall said.

For Marshall, “Possible Symmetry” is a very personal show.

“Christine’s work is so emotional,” she said. “It gives me something to feed off of and draw off from those emotions. Richard and Christine put you on the path to find your own story. I love dancing Christine’s pieces. She’ll tell you the specifics, but it’s your job to find your own story in the work.”

It’s that creative leeway that keeps Marshall dancing in Pensacola.

“It grows as I do,” she said of Ballet Pensacola. “I’d like to stay here for the rest of my life.”

This isn’t the first time the ballet has helped showcase other art forms.

“Everyone came together in 2010 and we did Beethoven and Blue Jeans [with the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra],” said Lapaglia. “It was really different. We just had a little floor to dance on.”

It’s that kind of collaboration Day looks forward to in the future.

“I’d love to get back on stage with live music, with the symphony or Pensacola Opera,” he said.

If you’d like to impress your sweetheart with an original Valentine’s date, “Possible Symmetry” would be a perfect choice. And with only 100 seats available, it’s an exclusive night for art lovers.

“There are parts that will be emotional and romantic,” Marshall said. “It’s fun and exciting.”

POSSIBLE SYMMETRY
WHEN: 7 p.m. February 14-16, 2 p.m. February 17
WHERE: Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $18
DETAILS: 432-9546 or balletpensacola.com