Behind the scenes at the Brandywine Ballet

By Isha Bellur ‘22

Staff Writer

 

Founded by Ms. Donna L. Muzio, The Brandywine Ballet is a local business in West Chester, Pennsylvania. It is made up of The Dance Center and The Brandywine Ballet Company. The school provides training for students learning dance with programs in ballet and contemporary dance, which includes lyrical, jazz, modern, and hip-hop. Indian Post interviewed Ms. Jaime L. Louis, who is the director of operations at Brandywine Ballet.

Indian Post: When and how was Brandywine Ballet founded?

Jaime Louis: Brandywine Ballet was founded in 1979 by Ms. Donna L. Muzio. We’re in our 39th year. She has a school in West Chester. She has The Dance Center, which is for profit, and the ballet company is a non-profit organization.

IP: What ballets have you performed recently? Could you specifically elaborate on your fall show: George Balanchine’s Serenade?

JL: Our fall series was a mixed repertoire, so we had five different works. We performed George Balanchine’s Serenade. George Balanchine was the founder of the School of American Ballet. We had to send footage to the Balanchine Trust to be reviewed, and then they approved us. We worked with a choreographer approved by the trust. This is the third or fourth time we have performed Serenade, and we have performed some of Balanchine’s other works. We also choreographed two other works: Birdland and PMG. These are contemporary ballets. Last spring we performed Sleeping Beauty, and we do The Nutcracker every year. We’ll be premiering a brand new Cinderella this spring.

IP: Can you give some details about your upcoming winter performance: The Nutcracker?

JL: We have eight performances that are coming up at the Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall at West Chester University. The Nutcracker is a story of a young girl named Clara. Her 

parents are throwing a dinner party and the guests are arriving. She and her brother Fritz wonder what present Uncle Drosselmeyer will bring them. He brings them a nutcracker. Fritz breaks the nutcracker, so Clara is upset and stays with her nutcracker. She finds that the other dolls (given as gifts) have to come to life. A battle ensues where mice fight toy soldiers that have come to rescue her and the nutcracker.

Once the Mouse King is defeated, the nutcracker turns into a prince. They point her in the direction of the Sugar Plum Fairy. All of the subjects in the Sugar Plum Fairy’s magical kingdom then perform for Clara. There are candy cane and marzipan dances, and we have foreign dances, like the Chinese and Arabian dances.

IP: Every year, some of the elementary schools in the school district attend a school performance ofBrandywine Ballet’s The Nutcracker. How did you decide to host shows for school students?

JL: We like to contribute to the community and give the students an affordable arts experience. We get to invite elementary school students, and we even have some high school students.

Our tickets are usually 25 dollars, and students get just a 10 dollar ticket. They get an arts experience that they may have never had if they had not come with their school class.

IP: The Brandywine Ballet uses the Vaganova Russian Method of ballet. Can you explain this method?

JL: There are a few main types: Cecchetti, Vaganova, and then the French method. Vaganova was a Russian woman. The differences between the methods are extreme for the dancers, but if you’re watching, you may not see so many differences.

In Vaganova the head always follows the hands so there’s lots of tilting of the head.

The way the body is positioned is different and the position of the arms is different. There are four different lines of arabesque. There are a lot of details that differ between different technique styles.

IP: Can you describe the process of putting on a production?

JL: I believe the youngest dancers in the production started rehearsing [for The Nutcracker] in mid-October. The company members didn’t start rehearsing until the first weekend in November. We have five weekends of rehearsal. They usually rehearse from 12 to 6 PM on Saturday and Sunday. Most dancers are there for at least a few hours a couple days a week.

We have video footage from last year’s production, so when it starts out the artistic coordinator will place the girls in their spots (based on the spacing in the video) and teach them their steps. And when we’re rehearsing on the stage, we’re cleaning up the steps. And today [December 2] is our last in-studio rehearsal.

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night, the first cast will rehearse on the stage. The stage is slightly raked, which is rare in North America, meaning it is at an angle. This adds to our rehearsal, since it is different from dancing on a flat floor. And then you’ve got all the lighting. We’ll spend three nights rehearsing before we open on Friday morning.

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