Ballet Montana takes flight
Eliza Wiley Ballet Montana dancers Robert Greer and Halliet Slack perform ‘Isle,’ a pas de deux choreographed by William Soleau of New York. Eliza Wiley

Three new ballets, a new concept in ballet and a new ballet company, all premiere 8 p.m. July 28-30 at the Myrna Loy Center.

Ballet Montana, a new professional ballet company in Helena, presents “Letters Home.”

It’s the story ballet of a young man, Mark, and his journey to discover himself and a new life.

Mark, portrayed by Carroll College theater graduate Bryan Ferriter, leaves the small town world he knows to make it in the wider world as a master craftsman.

Through a series of letters he narrates, we learn of his life and dreams and the people he loves. Through dance, we connect with the spirit and emotional content of his journey.

"Letters Home,” is written by Ballet Montana’s artistic director Michael Russell and is a collaborative work with Sallyann Mulcahy, founder and director of Ballet

Montana.

It premieres three new ballets, one by Mulcahy and two by Ballet Montana dancers Nathan Powell and Roy Gan.

This universal coming-of-age story, in many ways, mirrors the life of Mulcahy, who left Helena at age 14 to pursue her own dream — becoming a professional ballerina.

Unlike most story ballets, however, this story doesn’t unfold in a linear fashion.

It moves in and out of divergent time periods — the 1920s, 1960s, 2000s, said Russell. Changing with the times are costumes, dance and music by such composers as — Antonin Dvorak, Philip Glass, John Philip Sousa and Henry Purcell.

Each of the six ballets in “Letters Home” is preceded by Mark reading a letter.

The way this story is told, merging ballet with theater, is new, said Mulcahy. “This concept has not been done before, this way of telling a story,” she said. “It’s going to engage the audience in a different way."

Following each letter Mark shares, Ballet Montana’s professional dancers take to the stage and bring the story to life.

There are letters of longing, of doubt, of love for his grandmother and also his sister, Jenny, whose passion is music.

Choreographer and dancer Gan spoke of one work, “Take Flight,” that he created, which premieres in “Letters Home": “It puts into dance one of Mark’s journal entries dealing with freedom and yearning to be free. It’s about how we lock ourselves and imprison ourselves in our own minds and then collectively awaken and take flight.”

For Ferriter, “Letters Home” mirrors his present reality.

"I just love the whole idea of him leaving home,” he said. A recent graduate from Carroll, Ferriter’s ready to set off for Los Angeles to pursue his own dream to become a professional actor.

The story of Ballet Montana is also about finding one’s wings.

It grew out of the earlier professional ballet company Artisan Dance, founded by Mulcahy in 1995. Like its predecessor, Ballet Montana will be housed at Carroll College as the college’s in-residence dance company.

Ballet Montana is both a culmination and maturation of her earlier work, said Mulcahy. “The work is all the same, with the same mission, but we were hidden in ways.”

The name Artisan Dance didn’t adequately communicate the dance company’s story.

By taking the name Ballet Montana, “It’s reclaiming my history at the level I achieved,” said Mulcahy.

Mulcahy was a member of the Royal Winnipeg’s Corps de Ballet, Finis Jhung’s Chamber Ballet USA in New York and the New Jersey Ballet, garnering critical acclaim for her dancing from New York Times dance critic Jack Anderson.

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She’s pursued her dream to be a professional ballerina since she was 5 years old, leaving Helena throughout her childhood for professional training across the United States and Canada.

When injuries ended her career as a ballerina, she returned to Montana in 1991, and became an adjunct professor at Carroll College, later founding Artisan Dance.

She’s directed annual professional ballet performances in Helena and beyond. This summer, Ballet Montana’s troupe consists of 10 professional dancers from dance companies across the United States. Ballet Montana, like Artisan Dance, will continue to produce ballets in Helena and elsewhere.

As a choreographer, Mulcahy has created and premiered more than 50 original works. She’s also been a professional coach for serious ballet students, taught groups of professional dancers and helped dancers rehabilitate from injuries.

Ballet Montana and the new Ballet Montana Academy are Mulcahy’s acknowledgment that she’s come home to Montana and put down her roots.

"The name is who we are. Ballet Montana is the only professional ballet company in Montana,” she said. “And we do the art form of ballet at the highest level."

Other ballet organizations in Montana sometimes refer to themselves as companies, she said, but they are actually ballet schools. There is a vast difference between the quality of dance done by a professional ballet company and that of a dance school.

Ballet Montana Academy, which offers technical and artistic refinement for professional dancers, ballet training for aspiring professionals and classical instruction methodology for teachers.

To learn more about Ballet Montana and Ballet Montana Academy, visit http://www.balletmontana.us/ or call 447-5508.

Tickets for “Letters Home” are $20 and are available at the Myrna Loy Center 443-0287.

 

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