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Amy Seiwert Steps Up at Sacramento Ballet

Artistic director Amy Seiwert (center) rehearses with Sacramento Ballet dancers in the company's studio.

Amy Seiwert is a strong dancer, a strong choreographer and founder of her own San Francisco dance company. This week, she tests her strength as artistic director of the Sacramento Ballet Company. A former dancer with the company (she left in 1999), she becomes one of only about half a dozen women leading professional ballet companies in America.

Why this is true may have many reasons, but some say it’s the nature of the beast. In ballet schools girls outnumber boys about 20 to 1. This creates, in the words of Rachel Moore, former CEO of the American Ballet Theatre, “a culture in which the boys are trained to be much more individuals, to do solos,” while, “girls are taught to stand in line and be obedient.”

Being so plentiful, upstart girls are more expendable, Moore was quoted in NPQ, the Non-Profit Quarterly.

Male dancers get more encouragement to choreograph and this experience often helps them advance up the company ladder.

“I think I’ve been training my whole life for this – 19 years dancing, 10 years choreographing. I’ve had exposure to some of the best in the business. I feel there’s a network of people I can call on,” Seiwert said in a recent interview at the company’s studio in the CLARA center.

“I didn’t think much about being one of so few women doing this. The job is so immense that you just put your head down and do it.”

In Sacramento – as Seiwert knows – dancers of both sexes have long been encouraged to create dances. An annual Beer and Ballet program features works created by company members of both sexes (scheduled for March 2019 this season). Seiwert herself was one of those dancer/choreographers during her stint with the ballet. She went on to choreograph for San Francisco’s renowned Smuin Ballet, among others, traveling widely to create works for other dance troupes and established her own company, Imagery, in San Francisco.

“My job is to artistically feed and challenge these guys as much as I can,” she said.

Her first program as artistic director of Sacramento Ballet will be presented Thursday through Sunday at the Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts (home of B Street Theatre). The program is called “Telling Stories,” Seiwert said, “continuing the Ballet’s tradition of storytelling, exploring tales of fantasy, betrayal and heartbreak.”

The program includes: “Incident at Blackbriar,” inspired by D.H. Lawrence’s tale “The Fox,” choreographed by Ron Cunningham; “Cigarettes,” choreographed by Adam Hougland to multiple interpretations of the Patsy Cline song “Two Cigarettes in an Ashtray”; “Instructions,” created by Seiwert in 2016, based on the poem by Neil Gaiman, with a live cellist playing Benjamin Britten’s Cello Suite No. 1 in accompaniment; and a world premiere by choreographer Penny Saunders to music by Nick Drake.

Although she is familiar with members of the company (she has been a guest choreographer on occasion), she has not danced with them. “I left in 1999,” she said. “Some of these guys were barely born then.”

She is impressed, though, by the quality of the company she has inherited.

Seiwert has named her first season “Roots and Wings” because she sees it as “an homage to our past as we look forward to the future. It really describes well where we are as an organization,” she said. “We have 65 years of history (since the company was founded in 1954 by Barbara Crockett and her husband Deane).” Barbara Crockett retired in 1986 after achieving professional status for the troupe. In 1988, Ron Cunningham was hired as artistic director, joined the following year by his wife Carinne Binda Cunningham as co-artistic director. They served until the end of the 2017-2018 season when Seiwert assumed the position.

“Telling Stories” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at The Sofia, 2700 Capitol Ave. Tickets are $65.For tickets or for more information, call (916) 443-5300 or go to SacBallet.org or BStreetTheatre.org.

Photo by Keith Sutter.

About the author

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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