Illustration by Anna Mcgrew
Illustration by Anna Mcgrew

Ballet, a form of dance rooted in tradition and discipline, has evolved to blend more interpretive styles of dance and move the body in new ways.

Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre (SCBT) performed its 35th annual mixed-repertory concert on April 8 and featured dances ranging from classical ballet to more modern, interpretive styles. About 200 friends and family showed up to support the performers from the Senior, Junior and Petite Companies. The performance included famous pieces from ballets “Giselle” and “Paquita” and more contemporary choreography.

“Ballet is the basic language of all dance. It establishes a very important, basic platform for any dancer in the field,” choreographer Eva Stone said.

Originating in the 16th century, the art of ballet has a long-standing history and serves as a foundation for dance because it teaches positions transferable to other dance forms. As an art form, it emphasizes technique, skill and discipline.

SCBT is a nonprofit pre-professional ballet company headed by artistic directors Diane Cypher and Robert Kelley. They produce “The Nutcracker” ballet with a live orchestra — uncommon for a pre-professional company — and the “In Concert” spring repertoire every year.

The night started with the classic two-act “Paquita,” which maintained traditional elements of ballet through pointe technique and allegro — fast-paced, lively movements and steps. This dance also showcased a selection of solo dances from six ballerinas, each dance a different style.

Dances featuring younger children in the Petite Company followed. One such performance was “Us/Them,” choreographed by Nahshon Marden. The piece shifted the atmosphere of the night as dancers in silver bodysuits performed with only a couple of spotlights focused on them. The dancers’ repetitive and experimental movements, occasionally involving lying on the floor, were set to a collection of breathing and clicking sounds.

Set to music by Boccherini, the piece contained undertones of coyness and frivolity, contrasting the rigidity of the body lines.

The concert element of the performance included both classic and modern dance, a growing theme for many ballet companies. Modern dance emerged in the late 19th century and rejects the strict body movements of classical style ballet.

“Modern dance came about as a
direct rebellion to ballet and is still a brand-new art form,” Stone said. Ballet is rooted in tradition but modern dance provides the ability for exploration and innovation.

Keeping in line with the reputation of ballet, discipline and practice are key to a smooth and effortless performance, whether interpretive or classical. The Senior Company, which includes the older and most advanced group of dancers ages 13-20, practices for over 30 hours a week, Cypher said. Although it’s difficult, the end result has a payoff beyond executing the performance.

“These are kids who are hardworking and focused and will not give up until the job is done,” Stone said.

Useful in perfecting ballet technique, these skills carry over to doing well in school and future careers.

SCBT, along with many other art programs throughout the nation, could be affected by a lack of government support in the next few years due to the possible funding cuts
for the National 
Endowment for the Arts.

Artistic directors Diane Cypher and Robert Kelley emphasize the importance of art education and appreciation and how it can affect the dancers’ lives more than as a hobby.

“Our aim is to educate our dancers in as vast an array of dance as possible,” Kelley said. “Along with that education comes an appreciation of teamwork, rigorous discipline and physical education to the limit of what the human body can achieve.”

Although programs may no longer receive support through government funds, they rely mainly on patronage from the community where art programs can continue to flourish and affect people’s lives.

“SCBT relies on our Board of Directors and guild to raise funds,” Cypher said. “This spring we have a heightened effort on our annual auction.”

Choreographer Eva Stone stresses the importance of dance for members of the community, whether or not arts are supported in society.

“Primarily, art is a direct reflection of culture in society, a mirror image,” Stone said. “Audiences are demanding to see more. Our society is always changing and art is reflecting that.”