Dancing Into Spring: NWA Ballet Theatre combines Shakespeare, Mendelssohn

Dancing Into Spring: NWA Ballet Theatre combines Shakespeare, Mendelssohn



Along with warmer weather and bluer skies, spring is bringing Northwest Arkansas lower covid-19 infection rates and an increasing number of vaccinated adults. Is it possible that we’re seeing the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel? Maybe, considering that performing arts organizations are slowly dipping their toes back into live performances. Take the Northwest Arkansas Ballet Theatre, whose 22-person company is hailing spring with an effervescent ballet version of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” scored with the romantic, dreamy music of Felix Mendelssohn.

“It’s timely, on a lot of levels,” says the company’s executive artistic director, David Justin. “I think there’s a cautious optimism about the world, going forward. I think there’s a lot to be learned and understood about the pandemic, but I also have a sense of hope, as do a lot of the people I talk to, and even those that are cautious are cautiously optimistic — and I think that, on a lot of levels, this idea of ‘spring’ and ‘renewal’ is really relevant right now.”

Nearly 20 of Shakespeare’s works have been translated into ballet performances. Justin, whose impressive resume includes ballet master for the Kansas City Ballet, co-producer of the David Mark Cohen New Works Festival in Austin and a long list of roles performed as a principal dancer, danced the role of Puck in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“Shakespeare always engages people, and audiences bear witness onstage to pieces of themselves,” says Justin of the appeal. “So when I come to the theater, and I watch either ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ there’s always something on stage that is somehow translatable and very personal to me as an audience member. And those are universal truths. That’s what makes the work so compelling. One of the things that dance can do so well is transcend other barriers of language. We all inherently speak a physical language that we understand. It is different from culture to culture, but there’s still a thread about body language and semiotics and understanding space and time with music in a way that goes beyond language. I think that’s one of the things that makes it compelling to translate into dance.”

The performance is hosted by the Walton Arts Center, and Justin says that all safety precautions are being taken to make the event as safe as possible. Only 200 tickets will be sold for the Baum-Walker auditorium, which has a seating capacity of 1,200.

“The Walton Arts Center has worked with the state to create some safety protocols,” says Justin. “The tickets are separated, so you can stay safe in your family pods — there are rows and seats in between, so everyone is still socially distanced. Every precaution has been taken. The theater staff will all be wearing masks, patrons will be wearing masks, and, in fact, the dancers have masks built into their costumes.”

Justin says the dancers have all been following the same kinds of precautions while in rehearsal, and masks, social distancing and the presence of four air filters that recirculate the air every 12.5 minutes has made for a safe experience for the professional dancers, many of whom moved to Northwest Arkansas to perform with professional dance company — one of only a handful in Arkansas.

“Dancers in ballet companies typically have a number of weeks that are guaranteed work, and we have 32,” Justin explains. “Nobody’s getting rich, but we’re living. And that’s one of the things that has been important to the company is to try to build and contribute to the community of Northwest Arkansas through the arts. By offering 32-week contracts, we’re able to attract more people to move to the area that have this high-level talent. And they’re not only dancing, they’re eating out, they’re participating at museums, they’re really trying to weave themselves into our cultural fabric.”

Mariah Bordovsky, Jorge Urbina and Carmen Felder star in the Northwest Arkansas Ballet Theatre’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
(Courtesy Photo/NWA Ballet Theatre)

And to further weave that fabric, Justin says there are a lot of opportunities for collaboration coming up for the company in the future.

“Nobody can make performing arts in a vacuum — it really does take a village,” he says. “And we’re so fortunate to be a part of the village of Northwest Arkansas in our partnership and association with the Walton Arts Center. You can also look for us next year, doing work with the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra and, hopefully, other arts organizations like the Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation. It’s really important for arts organizations to leverage their resources to help each other. We want to be one of the pillars that help support this entire community.”



NWA Ballet Theatre:

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

WHEN — 7 p.m. March 12; 2 & 7 p.m. March 13

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $15-$25

INFO — 443-5600 or waltonartscenter.org

Categories: Music