Right on Pointe
Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre preps for 50th anniversary
By Holly A. PhillipsPosted Mar 16, 2011
It is the archetypal dance studio – mirrored walls, wooden floors, and a sturdy waist-level barre outlining each room. This is the studio for the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre (BRBT), where bulletin boards line the hallways, decorated with headlines of success and flyers for upcoming performances. This year, the studio is buzzing with anticipation over one particular performance: the 50th Anniversary Gala Celebration.
At 8:30 p.m., a practice is still in full swing. More than a dozen women, dressed in various leotards and leggings, are lead by BRBT’s co-artistic director Molly Buchmann. The other half of the operation, Sharon Mathews, is watching through the studio window as the group performs “In a Woman’s Voice.” Their bodies sway and spin, in the effortless way only ballet performers understand.
“These are young athletes,” Buchmann, 61, said in an interview. “They are just combining art with athletics, and I want to expose more people to it.”
The piece is part of a mixed bill for the anniversary performance, which will include classic and modern performances, portions of The Messiah and Gizelle, performed by some dancers from past seasons.
“We’re doing some of our favorite pieces,” Mathews, 63, said in an interview. “The ones that have meant a lot to us.”
The gala performance will be Friday, April 1st at the River Center Theatre. The gala celebration will be Saturday, April 2nd at the Lod Cook Conference Center and Hotel, complete with a performance from the VTones. Tickets for either event can be purchased through the BRBT office at 225.766.8379.
Even the costumes for the anniversary bring back memories. In the costume closet, a large room above the studios, dresses from previous performances have been neatly hung around sewing stations.
“We are using several of the old costumes, the long tutus,” Mathews said, admiring the racks of work. All of the costumes are handmade, by the costume mistress and several volunteers.
“This is a year-long operation,” she said. “There is never a time when there’s not something going on.”
BRBT runs off of funds from memberships, donations, grants, and support from the Louisiana Division of the Arts and the Baton Rouge Arts council.
“We are like any arts non-profit,” she said. “We are able to do so much because of our volunteers.”
While BRBT will be celebrating its 50th year next month, it also marks a piece of history for Buchmann and Mathews who have been involved in dance most of their lives.
Mathews grew up in BRBT, studying dance since the first grade. She graduated from LSU in 1971, with a master’s degree in dance – a program that’s no longer available.
Mathews recalls some of her favorite memories, including a performance of The Messiah with the Baton Rouge Symphony and chorus, along with the inaugural production of The Nutcracker, A Tale From The Bayou in 1993.
“There’s so many special dancers that come through,” she said. “I just like hearing and sharing the memories.”
Buchmann grew up next door to a dancing school, participating in dance training from the age of two.
“I’ve just always loved dance and choreography,” she said. “My whole family was involved in the studio.”
Over the years, BRBT has grown from being a part-time company, performing one major production a year, to putting on a dance series, a spring concert showcase, and the annual performance of The Nutcracker, A Tale From The Bayou.
Aside from her role with BRBT, Buchmann also teaches classes for the dance minor program at LSU. The program has lost more than half of the classes it once had, but still offers introduction to dance, dance composition, ballet, modern, and tap among others.
“This is my research, my science institute,” she said. “The two supplement each other.”
Despite her dedication to Baton Rouge arts, Buchmann is humble on the subject.
“I don’t have time to think about how it feels, I just know it feels good to work hard,” she said. “I want more recognition for the value of arts in people’s lives.”
A large part of BRBT is educational outreach, which includes programs like Ballet for Children, Youth Ballet, and dancer training.
“The arts aren’t a frivolous diversion,” Buchmann said. “They touch us, move us, they herald change. Not everybody gets that, but for the people that do, it’s vital.”