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Monday, December 22, 2014, 2:34 a.m.
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Bell sets stage for Ballet benefit

By Helaine Williams

This article was published August 3, 2014 at 3:05 a.m.

amy-bell-co-chairman-of-a-midsummer-nights-dream-at-south-on-main-would-not-only-like-to-raise-awareness-for-arkansas-festival-ballet-she-would-like-to-increase-support-among-her-peers-for-the-ballet-community

Amy Bell, co-chairman of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at South on Main, would not only like to raise awareness for Arkansas Festival Ballet, she would like to increase support, among her peers, for the ballet community.

Before Amy Bell came to be a graphic designer and restaurateur, she was a dancer. Her love for the art began at the age of 3 at Miss Karen's Dance Studio in North Little Rock and continued through her years at North Little Rock High School, where a special teacher helped her figure out what she wanted to do once she graduated. Bell went on to major in dance at the University of Montana at Missoula.

She didn't pursue a career in dance. But she has revisited her original love of it by serving on the board of Arkansas Festival Ballet and providing her volunteer skills for the organization's forthcoming fundraiser -- A Midsummer Night's Dream at South on Main restaurant and performance venue.

And, via her work, Bell hopes to increase awareness for the ballet and get it to a point where "their shows are sold out and people are demanding more performances and the public is excited about coming to see dance."

The event, which Bell is co-chairing with fellow board member Kim Meyer-Webb, will feature hors d'oeuvres served by costumed dancers, along with sangria and cocktails. "And we have a stage in the restaurant, so Rebecca [Stalcup, artistic director for the ballet] is going to choreograph a few pieces from A Midsummer Night's Dream ballet," Bell says. "We'll have the little girls onstage, dancing."

The ballet has had other events like this, but on a smaller scale. "They wanted to kind of step up to a bigger fundraiser this year," Bell says. That wish was expressed around December, at the meeting she attended after joining the board in the fall.

"And I said, 'Well I have a restaurant space, and I have a stage in the restaurant. So if it's OK, I think we should do it there.' And it's worked out really beautifully."

The big dance

This is the ballet's first event featuring host couples, of which there will be 35. "And we're going to have prizes that we're going to raffle off' -- including a trip to Nashville, Tenn.; a trip to Greenwood, Miss. (where the movie The Help was filmed), to stay in the Alluvian Hotel and attend the Viking Cooking School; a dinner party catered by Bell's husband, chef Matt Bell, at the home of ballet board member Sandra Marbaise. Raffle tickets are $5, and buyers do not have to be present to win.

Matt Bell will also be crafting the evening's menu with the same theme in mind.

Arkansas Festival Ballet identifies, encourages and helps develop young, talented dancers who wish to dance classical ballet. And this event is more than a fundraiser, Amy Bell says. "[They] also wanted it to be an opportunity to grow awareness for their organization and what they're doing -- not only the performances they put on, which are outstanding, but also, they're giving girls a chance to really see what it's like. If they want to pursue a career in ballet, they help them network with national organizations, set up summer programs. And then beyond that, they really help them connect to making decisions post-high school -- whether they want to go to a university to study dance, or a conservatory." Ballet alumni have gone on to prestigious national conservatories and schools all over the country, Bell says.

During her time in Missoula, where she met her future husband, Bell leaned more toward modern dance than ballet. "When I was done with it I was pretty burnt out on dance," she says. "We were dancing eight to 10 hours a day. ... It was hard for me to look at something that I'd always enjoyed as an art form through an academic view and writing papers."

After living more than a year in Austin, Texas -- where Matt Bell trained at Le Cordon Bleu -- she moved back to Arkansas with him. It didn't take long before she received an invitation from Arkansas Festival Ballet to join its board.

BACK EN POINTE

"I'm very excited, because I get to be a part of dance again, even though I'm past my dancing years," Bell says. "I just don't know if the public is connecting with" the dance community here.

Bell notes that the University of Arkansas at Little Rock started its dance degree several years ago and recently hosted the American College Dance Festival. There's already good rapport between the ballet and UALR, which share performing and studio spaces. (The ballet frequently features UALR dance students in its productions.)

The group's original fundraising goal was $5,000. "I'm quite confident that we're exceeding that," Bell says. "Just with our host list alone we've more than covered our expenses -- so any tickets we sell ... from here on out is going to be profit."

Proceeds for the event will go to the general operating fund. Bell says she was quite impressed to find that the ballet's operating budget is minimal. "The money that we're raising you're really seeing go toward the dancers and to make sure that we're able to keep up their training and give them opportunities to travel to be adjudicated by national programs."

The ballet has a busy season coming up; members will participate in the inaugural Acansa Arts Festival; perform The Nutcracker with the Conway Symphony Orchestra; and other performances such as dancing at Arkansas Arts Center unveilings.

Meanwhile, Landers Fiat has just signed on to be the ballet's presenting sponsor for its season, Bell says.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at South on Main, 5-7 p.m. Aug. 24, South on Main, 1304 S. Main St., Little Rock. Tickets: $35. Visit arkansasdance.org or call Janet Aronson, Arkansas Festival Ballet executive director, at (501) 580-4480.

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