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Oklahoma Festival Ballet to premiere COVID-safe, mixed repertory show

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Oklahoma Festival Ballet

Hannah Knorr and Caroline Young perform I Rise at Fine Arts Center Sept. 20, 2018.

Oklahoma Festival Ballet will premiere this year’s performance featuring choreography from Gerald Arpino, guest choreographer Mariana Oliveira and faculty members of OU’s School of Dance on April 8.  

Oklahoma Festival Ballet, the School of Dance’s in-residence ballet company, will give students the opportunity to perform a COVID-safe show, complete with socially-distanced choreography, masks and a new casting process. 

In previous years, Oklahoma Festival Ballet has presented full ballets, but this year’s show will present a mixed repertory including Arpino’s “Reflections” and “Viva Vivaldi,” Oliveira’s “So Near, Yet So Far,” and work from the dean of the Weitzenhoffer College of Fine Arts Mary Margaret Holt, artistic director of Oklahoma Festival Ballet Boyko Dossev and director of the School of Dance Michael Bearden. 

“We're having what we call a mixed repertory performance, which means there are six separate ballets in the program, which gives our audience a really — I think — lovely viewing variety, but it also gives our students the opportunity to perform a number of different styles — to perform in a classical style, a contemporary style or some style that's specific to that ballet,” Holt said.

Students in the School of Dance have the option of majoring in ballet performance, ballet pedagogy or modern dance performance. Depending on a student’s major, they are required to participate in either Oklahoma Festival Ballet or Contemporary Dance Oklahoma, the in-residence company for modern majors. 

Students must audition for the companies in order to develop a sense of high standards, Holt said.

“(The companies are) kind of like our laboratory in a way where our students get to practice the ... expressive capabilities and techniques that they work on in class every single day,” Holt said.

Ballet performance senior Isaac Hileman said Oklahoma Festival Ballet previously held large auditions for casting and acceptance into the company, but this year, due to the pandemic, the casting process has been more “automatic” and determined by each student’s level of technique class. This means that most pieces feature dancers from only one level, whereas in the past, students from a variety of levels could perform in a dance. 

Holt said it’s been a challenge for both students and choreographers to create dances for students who are in the same level but don’t necessarily have the same movement qualities. However, she said that students have risen to the occasion. 

“I don't think it's an unreasonable challenge at all,” Holt said. “I think it helps some of the dancers stretch what might be their natural capabilities. Mostly, dancers have a specific way that they feel most comfortable moving, whether that's a big classical style or it's a really sharp contemporary style, but in this case, they needed to stretch … they really have.”

Hileman described “Reflections” as “structured ballet” in the neoclassical style and said the theme of reflection can be seen throughout the dance. “So Near, Yet So Far” is contemporary and features more rounded movements and shapes than traditional ballet, Hileman said. 

Ballet performance freshman Jodie Cone said “Viva Vivaldi” takes an edgy approach to classical ballet. Cone said “Bolero,” which she will perform in, is going to be entertaining to watch and listen to. The piece features music that was considered bold for its time, but Cone said Oklahoma Festival Ballet is bringing a current and personal feeling to the nearly 100-year-old dance. 

“I think for our piece, we're really trying to embrace that feeling of … being closed in because of COVID, and then releasing and getting to be free because we're finally getting to dance on stage,” Cone said.

COVID-19 has had negative effects on the performing arts since many productions shut down to follow COVID guidelines, and Hileman and Cone said OFB’s dancers are glad to perform again.

“I'm excited (to be) able to share … our hard work and effort and artistry that we're putting into it,” Hileman said. “It's been a weird year for the arts, and so it's really exciting, especially now with lots of things still shut down, especially the performing arts. It’s just incredible that we’re in the theater getting to perform.”

The performance will take place at 8 p.m. April 8-10 and 3 p.m. April 11 in the Elsie C. Brackett Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online and and on-demand video of the performance will be available April 16 through June 4.

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