D.C. ballet, Harford college are partners

Bond: Two-year pact means area residents can enjoy Washington dance company at nearby venue.

January 24, 2001|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

The Washington Ballet has found a home away from home - in Bel Air.

The internationally known dance troupe, recently energized under artistic director Septime Webre, will be in residence at Harford Community College for two years, performing such ambitious new works as "Peter Pan" and "Romeo and Juliet" for Baltimore-area patrons.

"Part of the mission of the college is to be a center of cultural arts for Harford County and the region," says HCC president Claudia Chiesi.

The partnership between the ballet and college begins this weekend. It was signed yesterday at the 900-seat Amoss Performing Arts Center near the campus amid a swirl of high-flying feats as the dancers gave a rousing preview of "Peter Pan."

Authorities say the collaboration could benefit Baltimore dance enthusiasts, the troupe and the college.

Charm City long has suffered from a dearth of professional ballet, and the residency is a first step toward a remedy. The agreement will give Baltimore-area patrons an alternative to the long drive to Washington, where they will find both lower ticket prices (because the troupe's expenses at the college are a fraction of their costs in D.C.) and free parking.

The ballet, in turn, gets high-quality rehearsal space in the brand new arts center, and perhaps, access to new patrons. "This provides us with an out-of-town audience," Webre says. "The new facility is a wonderful forum."

This is not the Ballet's first foray into the area. In the 1980s, the Ballet performed in Baltimore, and in the early 1990s, in Towson. Those experiments didn't generate the kind of audiences troupe officials hoped for, and they had expenses then that they won't have in Bel Air.

Harford Community College will promote the Washington Ballet's performances and run its box office. The college will benefit from the agreement as well; the high-profile residency will enhance its image in the community.

Or, as Chiesi put it: "The collaboration with a professional, international troupe gives us cachet."

This year, the troupe's Bel Air repertoire will consist of "Peter Pan" and "Romeo and Juliet." "Peter Pan," based on J.M. Barrie's classic about eternal youth, and with music composed by Carmon DeLeone, will be performed Friday and Saturday before it opens at the Warner Theatre in Washington Feb. 2. "Romeo and Juliet" will be performed in May.

Company officials noted that the performances are final previews. "It's an opportunity for us to put the show together and work out the glitches," says Susan Nicolaides, HCC cultural arts coordinator.

The venture unfolded with the perfect timing of a pas de deux. Nicolaides was at a conference in New York two years ago when she learned that Webre, former artistic director of the American Repertory Ballet in New Jersey, would be heading to the Washington Ballet. She also found out that he was looking for new venues.

Nicolaides and Chiesi invited Webre to the campus, and the match was put into motion. "It just evolved," Nicolaides says. "It seemed like a wonderful situation for us."

Webre, who replaced Washington Ballet founder Mary Day in 1999 after her 23-year tenure, was revving up the conventional troupe with his enthusiastic blend of classical technique, modern dance and pop culture. He also wanted to appeal to a wider audience. "It's a new era of expansion," Webre says. "We want to collaborate with different arts organizations."

In October, he took the Washington Ballet to Cuba for the 17th International Ballet Festival. It was the first time a U.S. ballet company had visited the country in 40 years. Webre has launched an outreach program of dance classes for inner-city children and "Beer and Ballet" evenings to introduce dance to young professionals.

"I have two goals," he says, "to develop some great art and to develop a sense of community and attachment over many years."

Performances of "Peter Pan" at Harford Community College's Amoss Performing Arts Center, 200 Thomas Run Road, Bel Air, are 7:30 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets cost $17-$35 and can be bought by calling 410-836-4211.

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