An air of fun and focus filled the studio of Manassas Ballet Theatre on Wednesday, as they rehearsed for their March production.
The March production marks the first time MBT will have a full audience back for a spring show since 2020, bringing the arts back to the Manassas community following the pandemic. All company performances are held at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas.
The company will be performing Gaite Parisienne, a famous French one-act ballet, among other ballets based on literature and art, with original choreography by Manassas Ballet Theatre dancers.
At the beginning of the pandemic, in lieu of being able to perform at the arts center, MBT put up pipe and draping and livestreamed their performances from their Manassas studio. Last March, with some restrictions opening up, MBT were able to hold performances at the arts center for up to 200 audience members, but the arts center has a usual capacity of 1000.
“We were grateful for 200. But now, to finally be back to full capacity for a spring show is huge,” Wolfe says.
For each March performance, MBT tries to put on a ballet that is comic and fresh to audiences who might only know classic ballets. Gaite Parisienne fits the bill perfectly.
Literally translated to “Parisian Gaiety,” the ballet centers around a night of excitement and flirtation at a fashionable Parisian café. The performance features original choreography by Léonide Massine and a live orchestra accompaniment.
Ballet Master Vadim Slatvitskiy will be staging MBT’s Gaite Parisienne. Russian-born and -trained, Slatvitskiy has been with MBT since 2006.
Slatvitskiy emphasizes the importance of making an emotional connection with the audience through his staging of the production.
“Dancers should share emotions with the audience. Make them cry, or make them laugh,” Slatvitskiy says.
Accessible and funny, Gaite Parisienne is a great first show for those new to the ballet, says MBT Artistic Director Amy Grant Wolfe.
“If they’ve never come to a ballet before, this is an excellent one to try ballet out. It’s very accessible to your non-ballet lover, and hopefully, they’ll become a ballet lover,” Wolfe says.
The comic aspects of Gaite Parisienne make the ballet stand out from other, more well-known ballets that MBT has put on, says MBT dancer Debora Greer.
“It’s different, because it’s not your basic repertoire, like Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. Those are very interesting and beautiful fairytales, but I believe we bring something a little more real for the March production,” Greer says.
For many audience members with season tickets, the unconventional and comic nature of the pieces selected for the March production makes it their favorite show of the year, Wolfe says.
The March production is also a great opportunity to support the original work of local artists, Greer said.
A native of Brazil, Greer is choreographing an original piece for the March production called A Letter to Maria, based on the novel The Perfume Garden, by Kate Lord Brown. Greer has been a member of MBT since 2016. This is her first time choreographing for the annual March production.
Greer is striving to make her piece strike an emotional chord with the audience.
“I usually like things that are a bit more emotional, and I do have a clear storyline in my mind that I like to choreograph, that you can add your own personal experiences and feelings to when you’re watching it. I believe art should touch people, and make them reflect on something and feel better about something,” Greer says.
Assistant Ballet Master Ahmed Nabil is choreographing his own original piece for the March production based on the 19th century legend, The Naked Truth, as well as the famous painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Truth coming out of her well.
A native of Egypt, Nabil was first a principal dancer with the Cairo Opera House before joining MBT. He has been with the company since 2018.
When it comes to choreographing the March production, Nabil tries to push himself and his fellow choreographers out of their creative comfort zone.
“I like to challenge myself as a choreographer, because I’m a competitive person. I like to challenge everyone,” Nabil says.
While the quality of life that exists in the Manassas community is high, the community arts scene should also be high quality, Wolfe says. That is why it is so important for MBT to continue to thrive after the pandemic, she says.
“You need a home to live in, and food on the table, and good schools for your children, but you also need food for your soul and your spirit,” she says.
Wolfe says she often receives notes and phone calls from Manassas community members who reach out to thank the company for the artistic spirit they bring to the city.
“That’s what it’s all about. The dancers on stage feeling good, doing what they love to do and giving to the audience, and the audience receiving and giving back to the dancers,” Wolfe says.
MBT’s March production will run from March 11 to March 13. Tickets start at $25. The production will also be available via paid streaming on Vimeo starting March 26.
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