Arts & Theater

Local ballet dancers return to the stage at Crest performance

“Behind the Barre” was an eclectic performance that ranged from playful and dreamlike to dangerous and seductive. The soundtrack featured live musicians as well as recordings from Duke Ellington and Radiohead.
“Behind the Barre” was an eclectic performance that ranged from playful and dreamlike to dangerous and seductive. The soundtrack featured live musicians as well as recordings from Duke Ellington and Radiohead. apayne@sacbee.com

Sacramento’s ballet supporters showed up in full force Saturday for the Capital Dance Project’s “Behind the Barre” event, hoping to provide encouragement to the city’s performing arts scene.

More than 800 spectators packed Crest Theatre to support the grass-roots ensemble, hurriedly created this month by a group of laid-off dancers from the Sacramento Ballet.

The ballet recently announced that it would cut its season short as a cost-saving measure. The company was about $80,000 short of the total needed to pay dancers and staff for the last few weeks of the 2014-15 season. Leadership canceled the annual “Beer and Ballet” event, initially scheduled in May, asking ticket holders to consider it a donation or request a refund.

In response, more than 20 of the laid-off performers founded the Capital Dance Project, a new, dancer-driven company that held its first production Saturday. The dancers put the show together in 20 days, using donated rehearsal space, handmade costumes and some of the choreography that would have appeared in “Beer and Ballet.”

It was more work than the dancers expected, said Alexandra Cunningham, dancer and lead organizer of the event. There was a venue to pay for, insurance paperwork to sort through and tickets to sell, not to mention a dozen routines to perfect. The event, which featured live music, local art displays and beer from New Helvetia Brewery, took about $6,000 to put on even with the help of donated services, Cunningham said.

Some of the revenue will go directly to the dancers, who lost about one-tenth of their yearly salaries when the season was cut short.

“We generally already live paycheck to paycheck, so it was tough,” Cunningham said. “It’s been amazing to see this level of community support.”

The result was an eclectic performance that ranged from playful and dreamlike to dangerous and seductive. With a soundtrack that featured live musicians as well as recordings from Duke Ellington and Radiohead, “Behind the Barre” was a far cry from the traditional dance form audience members may have expected.

The show marked the fruition of a long-held dream for many dancers. The company does not typically perform in the summer, and several members had previously toyed with the idea of doing something on the side. Some of the revenue from Saturday’s event will be saved for future Capital Dance Project performances.

“It’s so crazy to see this all really happening,” said dancer Lauren Breen. “We didn’t know what to expect, and to see it happening just as we imagined, it’s really amazing.”

Audience members who had heard about the layoffs said they were saddened by the dancers’ struggle. Many donated to the cause in addition to purchasing a ticket.

Patricia Blaisdell said the large audience was an indicator of how many people care about Sacramento’s art community.

“It doesn’t get the support it deserves,” she said. “It broke my heart to know the ballet might be struggling.”

Still, the Sacramento Ballet is hopeful about its next season. The first performance of the 2015-16 season is scheduled for October, and another “Beer and Ballet” event will take place in February. The Sacramento Ballet will move into the planned Studios for the Performing Arts, a new midtown rehearsal and performance space, for its next season.

To learn more about Capital Dance Project or to donate, go to crowdrise.com/launchcapitaldanceproject

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