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Ballet San Antonio (BSA) performs their first full length Swan Lake at The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, Oct. 9-11. Entering the company’s new rehearsal studio located at the Instituto Mexicano Cultural San Antonio last week, the dancers were hard at work.
For this rehearsal, the cast is led by Carol Tang in the dual role of Odette/Odile with José Gonzalez as Prince Siegfried. Tang and Gonzalez were both promoted to Soloist with the company after both gave outstanding performances in Balanchine’s Donizetti Variations and Zertuche’s Butterflying at the close of last season. These dancers will be performing for the Sunday matinee. Principals Ian Morris and Sally Turkel will take the leading roles on Friday and Saturday evening.
Ballet Mistress Amy Fote and Company Manager Danielle Campbell Steans have been working with the dancers in preparation since August. Fote started with the principal roles a few weeks early and Steans has been trusted with the corps de ballet. In a nod to the 21st century, this rehearsal was also in Skype mode with Dominic Walsh, who has set the ballet on the company, in addition to working extensively with the company for Romeo & Juliet. Via laptop, Walsh sat in on the rehearsal from Japan, giving notes at the end of the session.
Originally performed by the Bolshoi Ballet in 1877, Swan Lake is the gold standard among the classics and the mastering of the choreography is nothing to be taken lightly. Over the centuries, this ballet has been reworked many times, the touchstone version being the Ivanov-Petipa revival choreographed for the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1895.
In this version, Sir Ben Stevenson is the choreographer of Swan Lake and serves on the advisory board of Ballet San Antonio (BSA). He is the artistic director of Texas Ballet Theater. This week, Stevenson has been in San Antonio for final rehearsals at the Tobin, running the company through the rigorous preparations necessary for such an undertaking as this. Under the baton of Associate Conductor Akiko Fujimoto, the San Antonio Symphony will perform the legendary score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Regardless of the version being performed, a full length production of Swan Lake is challenging on many levels. The dancers must not only be technically proficient but also capable of the dramatic requirements incumbent in the roles.
Odette/Odile appears to be the classic split personality, but is actually two different characters that are danced by the same ballerina. The Swan Queen Odette is sweetly innocent and achingly earnest in her love for the prince. Odile is a profligate vixen in lock-step to destroy the prince with her father, the evil Von Rothbart (performed by Jason Cox, the company’s leading character player). From the leading players down to the last swan, stamina and grace is required; no huffing and puffing allowed.
In addition to this most challenging of ballet productions, the company has also been laboring under the stress of losing both Artistic Director Gabriel Zertuche and Executive Director Courtney Mauro Barker in August. This team had figured prominently in the significant growth of the company over the past several years, shepherding the organization through the transition of becoming the resident ballet company at the Tobin. This is the elephant in the room, but the company has moved forward inexorably. Failure is not an option and this is a testament to the strength and professionalism of all involved.
On that front, Steven Tremaine Bull was recently named as the new interim executive director. Board Chair Christine Varela Mayer had glowing things to say about the board’s choice.
“Steven has an impressive record. Thirty years with one company, handling multi-million dollar budgets and he certainly understands his profits and losses,” she said. “We understand that he has a real rapport with his employees and leads by example. So many things made him stand out among all the candidates for the interim position, and I think he will be able to navigate us through the rest of the season.”
The search for an executive director and artistic director continues with a talent and acquisitions manager engaged to ensure that the company finds the best fit for BSA.
“We feel it is our obligation as a nonprofit and the city’s ballet company to do our due diligence and not just grab who is available. Steven is great, and it may even turn out that we end up keeping him in the position permanently, but we must conduct a thorough search,” Mayer said.
Mayer points out that it is an exciting time to be looking for new directors because people seem to be excited about the prospect of moving to San Antonio.
“We have some great leads. It is a little daunting. A lot goes into the artistic search. As soon as we start narrowing down resumes a bit, then we will start meetings with the artistic staff and dancers,” Mayer said. “We just aren’t quite there yet. We have a lot of extremely well qualified, well seasoned candidates to consider.”
When we spoke, Steven Bull acknowledged that he was feeling only a tad bit overwhelmed, suddenly thrust into this position on top of the company premier of a major ballet.
“Today is less overwhelming than yesterday. I surmise that I should be up to speed within the next month. Understanding systems, getting to know the staff and the board of directors,” he said. “I must give kudos to Christine. Christine is a hands on chair, and not in a micromanaging way. She knows everything about everybody. All the dancers, the staff. She is a marvel.”
Bull is a man that seems to be up to the task. Retired from Ethan Allen as a general manager after more than 30 years, he also has an extensive background in local theater under his belt with involvement in more than 100 productions over the years.
“This position kind of fills all of my food groups. It uses my decades of business acumen, it takes advantage of all my nonprofit experience. A lot has been with the arts,” Bull said.
He has done his time volunteering with nonprofit boards in the city. He served for 20 years on the board of San Pedro Playhouse (now The Playhouse), The Classic Theatre of San Antonio, and still serves on the advisory board of the United Fund for the Arts.
In addition to getting to know the organization and getting his managerial house in order, Bull’s first order of business will be to increase focus on fundraising.
“The main goal at this point is to figure out systems in terms of donors and corporate sponsors. I know a lot of the people on our donor list and will probably just call and touch base to let them know I’m on board,” he said.
He added that he will also be diligent in pursuing more grants as well as individual donors.
With the opening of the 2015 – 2016 season, a new story unfolds for Ballet San Antonio. How that story is written is in their hands. We can only look forward with anticipation.
CORRECTION: Sir Ben Stevenson is not the interim artistic director for Ballet SA.
Tickets are still available for all performances of “Swan Lake.” Tickets may be purchased online, in person at the Tobin Box Office located at 100 Auditorium Circle or by phone at 210-223-8624. Season ticket packages are also available, starting at $99, here.