Ballet is high art and we want to try to introduce children to that.
In the European tradition, ballet was once seen as part of young a girl’s educational finishing. That idea can be seen as quaint (or sexist) depending on one’s view of such things. The doyennes of the Eastern Connecticut Ballet don’t disown the historic role of ballet in society. In some ways, it may be more important than ever.
Even so, the ballet of today goes way beyond tutus and tiaras.
“We live in a very coarse age,” says artistic director Gloria Govrin. “The children in this school are so respectful. They all call me Ms. Govrin. They thank me and make a curtsey after every class. When we ask them to do something, they are more than willing. They love being here. They’re such respectful young people.”
“If you go to the soccer field and look at the little girls out there, it’s lovely that they are getting all that exercise,” says Lise Reardon, ECB’s executive director. “Then look at our girls, look at the way they stand, look at the way they walk. They are not all going to be dancers. Most of them don’t plan to be. But there’s a carry over effect.”
There should be, considering the commitment.
The older girls who dance with ECB spend five and six days a week in the studio. It’s as strenuous as any fitness regimen, and in some ways more so. Time management is quickly learned. They’re expected to excel scholastically as well. Most apply to competitive colleges and universities; many get scholarships. Ivy League schools and other top tier colleges recognize the refinement that ballet brings to campus communities.
Columbia and Harvard, among others, have their own ballet companies now.
“You have a lot of these very well trained dancers, but they want to be scientists, or doctors, or lawyers,” says Reardon. “They want to go to college and do other things, but they also want to continue to dance because it is their identity.”
In film, ballet instructors are often portrayed as cruel taskmasters, obsessed with their own reputation. There’s no evidence to support that depiction at ECB. No Black Swans here. Just groups of students of various ages working – and laughing.
That has everything to do with Govrin’s approach to dance, and the teaching of it. The athleticism, the precision, the sense of dimensionality and space – it’s an amazing amount of information, much of it mathematical in nature.
There’s also immense passion, and the pure joy of movement.
“Most people don’t understand how long it takes to perfect it,” Govrin says. “It has to start slowly, because you’re not really intellectually teaching somebody. You’re teaching their body to learn all of these things, and work without even thinking about it.”
“The gravy is getting out there and performing. All these kids love to perform,” she adds. “They want to be out on the stage. That’s part of the whole package. I think that’s what keeps a lot of them here. We do performances and they love it.”
Govrin knows that thrill as few others do. She was a soloist under illustrious choreographer and New York City Ballet neoclassicist, George Balanchine. His interpretation of the role of “Coffee” – widely considered as definitive – was created for Govrin. This fact takes on special meaning during Nutcracker season.
As the winter holidays reach crescendo, Eastern Connecticut Ballet students furiously prepare for their annual production of the Russian ballet, with Tchaikovsky’s timeless score. This year’s highly anticipated staging at The Garde Arts Center will again feature the maritime themes and small nautical touches that bring life to New London of 1850 at the peak of the city’s whaling industry. It’s a well-regarded version and regional favorite for good reason.
“Because we’re in a coastal region we’re depicting a maritime history,” says Reardon. “Everybody can relate to that. We’re very careful – I think since Gloria came, even more so – to hold on to the tradition of this ballet. When people go to Nutcracker, they want to see Nutcracker. They want to recognize Waltz of the Flowers. They want the storyline and the party scene to be recognizable. Of course, some people walk away and just say, ‘Oh that was just kind of weird.'”
This year, New York City Ballet principal dancer Sara Mearns and her NYCB co-star Jared Angle will take the stage with nationally known guest artists – and 100 expertly trained dancers from ECB – in the roles that have made The Nutcracker a Christmastime tradition and rite of passage for generations around the world.
Also performing are 35 musicians from the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra led by Maestro Paul Polivnick, along with chamber choir and vocalists.
When the applause from Nutcracker is over, ECB will releve, saute, and plié into 2016 with other productions. These are slated to include an abstract take on The Four Seasons that Govrin will choreograph, as well as Ballerina Swan, based on a book by Allegra Kent. It’s ambitious, family-friendly entertainment, deliberately programmed to exist a dimension apart from today’s baser amusements.
“Ballet is high art and we want to try to introduce children to that,” Govrin says. “I see it every week with the little ones. They sit down in the doorway and watch the big girls take class. They don’t want to leave.”
Image Credits: Photos by Tom Hopkins