On Ballet Arkansas’ Season-Ending Magnum Opus

Ballet Arkansas keeps us on our toes with two boundary-pushing events.

“SO I’LL SAY, Think of, say, five positions with the upper body, and then think of five movements,” Ballet Arkansas Artistic Director Michael Fothergill says to me about an exercise he has planned for the company’s upcoming drop-in event, DanceWorks, on Sat., April 28. “It teaches you how easy it really is to come up with different ideas of movement.” He pauses, cocks his head and then looks at me.

“You could be a pretty good choreographer for all we know!”

I’m pretty sure we know I’m not, but the fact that Michael thinks I might be says a lot about him and his idea of what ballet is. Or rather, what it isn’t, which is stuffy. Pretentious. Something off-limits if you don’t know your pas de deux from your pas de chats. DanceWorks is a celebration of this “ballet for the people” idea. It’s an opportunity for the community to come into the company’s Main Street studios for a drop-in class or two, a peek at an open rehearsal and an inside look at how the company functions, all free of charge. It’s also a chance for Michael and his wife, Catherine Garratt Fothergill, associate artistic director, to talk about their season-ending magnum opus: Ballet Arkansas in Concert, a collaboration with concert pianist Drew Mays that’s been years in the making.

“We met him in Alabama when we were dancers with the company there,” Michael says. “He got us tickets to his performance, and the first time he laid his hands on the piano, it was mind-boggling. So I said to him, I’d love to do a collaboration.”

And thanks to funding from the Stella Boyle Smith Trust, that collaboration is happening the weekend of May 4-6. Drew will perform onstage while the company performs three pieces—Agnes de Mille’s The Other, Christopher Wheeldon’s The American, and a contemporary piece choreographed by Michael—and then he’ll play another piece of his own choosing, which will be different each performance.

“It’s a way to bring together music, visual art and the more historic ballets that we don’t want to lose—a really fun way,” he says. 

Stay tuned to balletarkansas.org and facebook.com/BalletAr for more details about the DanceWorks events on April 28. For tickets to the May 4-6 performances, visit balletarkansas.org.