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Putting the Ballet in Beer & Ballet

Xander Cain Photography
Members of the Sacramento Ballet perform dances created by fellow company members

Each dance season members of the Sacramento Ballet choreograph new works for themselves to perform in one grand program. They put the ‘ballet’ in Beer & Ballet, while local brewery Ruhstaller puts in the ‘beer.’ The program usually comes late in the season, but this year it comes first.

The company replaced its original opening program to allow more time to prepare for a demanding special show of classics created by George Balanchine later in the season. Companies have to obtain permission from the Balanchine Trust in order to perform any of his works. The Sacramento Ballet has permission to do more of his works than any company its size — and many that are larger — because they do them right.

They put Beer & Ballet up front, and it turned out to be a great decision, said co-artistic director Carinne Binda Cunningham at last weekend’s opening performance.

“It really built a camaraderie among the dancers, working so closely with each other creating and rehearsing their own dances,” said Cunningham.

Her husband and co-artistic director Ron Cunningham was in Dayton, Ohio, staging his ballet “The Great Gatsby” with the Dayton Ballet. He said in a telephone interview that the Sacramento Ballet is among few companies in the country to give young, relatively untested choreographers an opportunity to create works for professional dancers. He said he was given such a chance early in his career with the Boston Ballet.

“I guess Beer & Ballet is a way for me to pay it forward,” said Ron.

As for this year’s Beer & Ballet program, some of the younger dancers are trying their hands, while others — the Stefans of the world (veteran dancer/choreographer Stefan Calka) — are quite seasoned.
“All the dancers have the background of technique, but that’s not the same as choreography,” said Ron. Adding, “Some of the younger ones may be the most creative. Their experience hasn’t been influenced by other choreographers. We want the raw talent.”

This year’s program is as varied and smart as anyone could hope. There are pieces in the classical dance mode, pieces that are modern in style, including one that is total modern dance, employing props, done in bare feet and with bodies sometimes sitting, lying or moving on the floor. The music is likewise varied, ranging from ’60s rock and Ray Charles blues to a song from the musical “Chicago” and classical Japanese music.

The 2017-18 season will be the last for the Cuninghams as artistic directors of the Sacramento Ballet. Although neither is ready to retire, a new artistic director, former Sacramento Ballet dancer and Smuin Ballet choreographer, Amy Seiwert, will take the helm next season.

Staging his ballets for other dance companies may be the next phase of Cunningham’s career. Plus, before he came to Sacramento some 30 years ago, Cunningham was a hot property as a choreographer and there could be interest in him in that regard as well. His later works here, including “Gatsby” and last season’s “Seven Deadly Sins,” prove the creative juices are still flowing. His wife has been recognized as one of the finest ballet mistresses in the country.

Beer & Ballet continues this weekend, and next, at the Fry-Paoletti Stage at the Sacramento Ballet.

Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 29. Tickets are $54 and scarce, as some shows already are sold out.

For more information, call (916) 552-5810 or go to SacBallet.org.

Photo by Xander Cain Photography

Putting the Ballet in Beer & Ballet via @sacramentopress

About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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