Ballet Arkansas' Forte mixes live music and dance

Amanda Sewell splits the role of Odette in Act II of Swan Lake as part of Forte, Ballet Arkansas' 40th season finale, this weekend at the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock.

Ballet Arkansas' 40th season is drawing to a close and doing so on a very strong note.

Forte is the final production of the company's 2018-19 season, but it's also the second installment of a three-part collaborative series sponsored by the Stella Boyle Smith Trust.


7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Center for Humanities and Arts, University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College, 3000 W. Scenic Drive, North Little Rock

Tickets: $30-$35, senior citizens $25, students $20, children 12 and under $15

(501) 812-2710; (501) 812-2831

"The goal of the series was to bring in world-renowned musicians and pair it with classical and contemporary dance that has not been seen in the region," explains Associate Artistic Director Catherine Fothergill.

The planned trilogy of spring productions is what's called a "mixed bill" — in this case, combining dance and music.

Last year's collaboration was with acclaimed pianist Dr. Drew Mays, who, Fothergill says, is an ophthalmologist "in normal life." Pairing Mays with the dance troupe was so successful they've brought him back this year to play Act II of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake as the dancers perform Marius Petipa's choreography.

"[Drew] said because it's a full orchestration pared down to one instrument, it's one of the most difficult things he's ever played," she says.

The combination of live music and dance can be a thrilling, energizing experience for all involved.

"It's such a special experience to have a live musician working with the dancers," Fothergill says. "Especially with the Tchaikovsky score, which is so full and beautiful."

It's not the only Tchaikovsky on the program. The dance company will also perform Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux with choreography by the legendary George Balanchine.

On the more modern side, Forte will include the premiere of a contemporary work by Ballet Arkansas' executive and artistic director, Michael Fothergill.

Rounding out the program is Calling, a Slavic-theme work by Tulsa Ballet's resident choreographer, Ma Cong. "It has a lot of folkloric elements," Catherine Fothergill says. "I think people will really enjoy that."

The Fothergills are already hard at work on next year's performance trilogy finale: "We always try to make each concert a little different and maybe something that surprises people ," she adds.

They're also looking forward to the fall start of the 2019-20 season, with Sleepy Hollow, a "cutting edge" multimedia production following in the footsteps of this season's popular lead-off, Dracula.

But for now, the focus is on the 40th season finale and Fothergill believes it will be a production with something for all tastes.

"Mixed bills are really wonderful for dancers to explore different types of movement," she says. "It's really wonderful for the community to be exposed to different works that haven't been here in the region. If you come in thinking you just like classical, you may find the contemporary is kind of catchy.

"It's a busy time of year, but I really feel we're ending the year with some extremely strong dance that will make the audience enjoy feeling that energy going back and forth."

Weekend on 05/02/2019