Acts of Resilience with Ballet Des Moines
This past Labor Day, the dancers of Ballet Des Moines gathered on a freshly cleaned Marley floor to mark the start of the 9th season of Iowa’s professional resident ballet company. Instead of the warm embraces of a tight-knit group, the masked dancers sat six feet apart, commiserating over the long break and the struggle to source pointe shoes from Europe during a pandemic.
But the simmering excitement to be back in the studio to create art, together, electrified the air like any other opening day. As company dancer Amelia Grubb said, “It feels exhilarating to be able to take up space and dance again!” The entire company shares her joy to be back in the studio to launch the company’s fall season, an opportunity that many of their peers will miss out on this year. Indeed, many of the dancers have moved to Greater Des Moines (DSM) in the midst of a pandemic in order to be part of the company and this exciting season.
Welcoming Dancers to DSM
DSM itself plays an integral role in bringing these artists to our community. In the competitive field of classical ballet, Ballet Des Moines attracts talented artists from across the country who are drawn to the region’s vibrant arts scene, affordable cost of living and the opportunity to perform with a dynamic, professional company. This season, dancers hail from Texas, Virginia, California and even Taiwan. In fact, all but one of Ballet Des Moines’s previous seasons has boasted international dancers, a testament to both the cultural and welcoming natures of this city.
“When I moved to Des Moines, I felt so comfortable right away. The city is such a nice place! It honestly felt like home right away. I have been here six seasons now, and I’ve loved every second.” — Bobbie Lynn Kandravi, company dancer.
Ballet Des Moines offers these artists an opportunity to work with world-renowned choreographers and perform in beautiful venues, and as a small, un-ranked company, they each have the chance to take on meatier roles than they might find in a larger dance company. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, Ballet Des Moines has even more to offer, compared to its peer companies.
The Arts + COVID-19
COVID-19 has crippled countless industries across the country, but the performing arts have suffered disproportionately. Theaters are dark, artists have been laid off and the ongoing uncertainty around large gatherings means there is no end in sight. For most ballet companies, dancers are returning to the studio for class, but performance offerings are limited to solos and duets by co-habitating dancers, shared on YouTube and social media.
But Ballet Des Moines is uniquely positioned to find creative solutions due to its size and agility. The company’s virtual fall season, themed around Resilience, is one of the strongest choreographic lineups they have ever presented. This is both exciting and a little daunting for the dancers, who have hit the ground running. During the next 12 weeks, they will create, rehearse and record seven separate ballet works, including two works by visiting choreographers and three pieces in partnership with live musicians.
“Being a part of the creation process for world premiere ballets is always the best part of this job, so that’s what I’m most excited about.” — Logan Hillman, company dancer.
And although the dancers won’t appear in theaters this fall, their audience will be larger than ever thanks to a partnership with Iowa PBS and PBS LearningMedia that for first time will broadcast our performances — and represent our city — regionally and share our work nationally.
We are grateful for our supportive community here in DSM, so this season also represents a focus on community, education and local partnerships. The arts have a vital role to play in our quality of life, so now more than ever it is important that everyone has access to engaging programs, whether you tune in from a classroom or your living room. To address this community need and bring rich artistic programming to public school educators and families across our region, the first production of the season will be Peter and the Wolf. Conceived in collaboration with Civic Music Association and Des Moines Public Schools, Peter and the Wolf will be performed alongside the Belin Quartet and narrated by Des Moines Symphony Concert Master, Jonathan Sturm. Prokofiev wrote Peter and the Wolf a century ago to introduce children to different orchestra instruments. This fresh interpretation brings the music to life with brand new choreography and an opportunity to learn about the many facets of bringing a production to the stage with rich behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. As field trips are canceled and academic focus shifts to largely unchartered methodologies, virtually accessible programming may be the only opportunity students have to engage with the arts, which is vital for young learners’ development.
“Access to the arts at a young age taught me to be confident and how to express myself.” — Bobbie Lynn Kandravi, company dancer.
The dancers are thrilled to be performing alongside talented musicians, including Max Wellman and the Des Moines Big Band, and the Roseman Quartet, based out of Ames, and to be giving back to our community. It is our hope that collaborations with artistic and educational groups raise the tide for all local artists, students and the community. Beauty, inspiration and hope are more important now than ever. In this challenging moment, Ballet Des Moines is proud to be #DSMstrong!
You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates. See more on COVID-19 here.
The Greater Des Moines Partnership calendar of events is a one-stop resource for activities taking place throughout the region. Find networking information for Greater Des Moines (DSM) businesses or events specific to Downtown DSM.