By Marilyn Delk
I don’t really understand why so many people are disdainful of ballet performances. In addition to the astounding beauty of the dance movement, the color and interest added by the unique costumes, and the evocative appeal of the accompanying music, the amazing athleticism of the dancers is a wonder to behold. Story ballets straight-forwardly have an interesting narrative, and although some of those narratives are admittedly weird (Swan Lake comes to mind), it’s not hard to figure out what is happening, even for young children attending their first dance performance. Yet, people say ballet is hard to understand, too high-brow, or downright boring, complaints that I cannot comprehend.
My daughter and I were among the sparse audience attending Dayton Ballet’s 85th Diamond Anniversary performance at the Victoria Theater last Friday night; we sat mesmerized throughout the two-hour show. The charming opening piece, “Limoncello,” was created remotely in the early days of the COVID pandemic with the tagline “When life gives you lemons during a pandemic, make limoncello.” The accompanying music included Ray Charles’ “Don’t Mess Around,” which had everyone in the audience bouncing to the beat as the dancers in colorful costumes swirled and leaped. Nothing inaccessable there, as far as I could see; everyone, artists and audience alike, seemed to be having a really good time.
The next piece required some acting skill in addition to ballet technique, as it recreated Tennessee Williams’ classic drama A Streetcar Named Desire in dance, although one spoken word was included—Stanley Kowalski’s iconic shout to his long-suffering wife—“Stella!” No one should have had any difficulty following the story, which was lovely to behold, as entrancing original music underscored the dancers expressively portraying the intense drama.
Following an athletic number illustrating the traditional Tibetan Buddhist belief in the transitional state between death and rebirth known as the Bardo, the Dayton Ballet company honored the iconic figure who along with her sister Hermene founded the company in 1937, Josephine Schwarz; the tribute was based on writings from Miss Jo’s actual diary which she called “Dear Booky.” Amazing demonstrations of athletic ability as well as grace and beauty dominated the highly entertaining work.
Following an amazing, lovely, and entertaining good time at the ballet, on Saturday night my husband and I attended DCCA’s presentation of Bluegrass supergroup Appalachian Road Show at St. Clair Memorial Hall; I can’t say that it was lovely in the sense of beautiful to watch, but it too was an amazingly entertaining good time that the extremely talented artists themselves also seemed to be enjoying. In many ways, Bluegrass music is considered directly opposite to ballet, one being snooty high-class, the other being decidedly low-brow, supposedly making them both difficult to be embraced by the general public. Attending a first-class performance by astounding masters of their craft doing what they were born to do easily refutes that opinion.
The songs performed by Appalachian Road Show ranged from the buoyant “La La Blues,”on which the audience was encouraged to sing along repeating “La la la, I’m so happy I’m singing,” to emotionally charged somber tunes revealing deep emotions connected with day-to-day life not only in Appalachia, but throughout humankind. Appalachian Road Show has been described as a visionary acoustic ensemble, elevating it above the general opinion of Bluegrass music as stated above.
Barry Abernathy, Appalachian Road Show’s banjoist, says that the group’s purpose is not only to joyfully make music, but also to bring the culture and lifestyle of the region to light. Their vibrant songs take listeners on an emotional journey, not just eliciting tears and joy but also demonstrating the enduring power of the Appalachian spirit. The group’s dedication to and presentation of traditional Americana, bluegrass, and folk songs as well as their originals illuminate the culture and lifestyle of the Appalachian region from which they originate in soulful, joyful, moving performances that leave audiences impressed and inspired.
These extremely talented musicians make extremely enjoyable music that speaks to souls, uplifting spirits and delighting minds That seems like cultural enrichment to me, sorta like experiencing ballet!