A Silver Anniversary look at Ballet Ariel
Ballet Ariel is celebrating its 25th anniversary with the 2023-2024 season. Artistic Director Ilena Norton takes a look back (and to the present and the future).
A modest beginning with big goals
Ballet Ariel began because I was interested in choreography and I needed to start a company to be able to have dancers to choreograph on. I started dancing late, so choreography seemed a more viable path than trying to be a dancer.
The name for the company comes from Ariel in The Tempest, so it refers to the classics, but it is also related to air or “aire,” meaning that dance occurs in the air.
In the early days of the company, we often had concerts with multiple local choreographers, held rarely once a year. Many of the dancers were students, but we also had professional dancers even though our budget was small at the time.
It began to feel like Ballet Ariel was really taking hold and was successful when I started doing really interesting and creative work beginning with ‘Tale of Molly Brown’ about twelve years ago. My goal has always been to choreograph full-length original ballets, and I am doing that for the first time this year, although my previous shorter works have laid the ground work for this effort. We are always growing and evolving!
The ups and downs of the business and the times
With every business, there are difficulties and rewards. For example, it has become more difficult to sell tickets with the loss of community newspapers and arts journalism. It was also very difficult to sustain our programming through the pandemic, and we had many staffing challenges during that period.
However, there have been many rewards along the way too. To me, the biggest reward is the opportunity to create art and to collaborate with artists, both the coaches and directors, dancers, and supporting artists such as costumers and lighting designers.
Recently, I’ve been asked to what I attribute the longevity of Ballet Ariel. It takes wearing many hats and, as the head of the company, it means having to be good at solving problems, obtaining grant funding, and fulfilling our goals and commitments as an organization. It also takes being a strong leader to sustain the organization through good and bad times. And, of course, I have amazing people working with me.
Gratitude and looking ahead
I owe a tremendous amount to our ballet master Patricia Renzetti, who has not only taught me so much about ballet direction and production, but also continues to provide quality control and inspiration for our productions. I also have learned much from working with our talented resident choreographer Gregory Gonzales. Oleg Dedogryuk has contributed his knowledge of Russian ballet, from his training at the Kirov Academy and experience dancing with the Bolshoi touring company. Paul Fiorino was an early supporter of our work, and continues to contribute his gifts to our productions. Of course, I must mention my teacher Larry Boyette, who has long passed away, but he provided the classical foundation for my technique, and inspiration from the great choreographers he had worked with at American Ballet Theatre. I also must thank the many wonderful dancers and volunteers who have contributed to our company over the years, and collaborating artists with special mention to our graphic designer Peter Strand and former costumer Sue Crow.
I’m very fortunate to have Ballet Ariel and to work together with our team to provide interesting and beautiful productions for our audiences. In my day-to-day, I really enjoy all of the creative aspects of the work, including the choreography, the rehearsal process, and creating the costumes and props.
As we look forward to the future of Ballet Ariel, I’d like to be able to go on tour, and hope to develop a repertoire that makes that possible by being portable and that appeals to a broad audience while providing challenging material for the company. I am interested in developing more full-length ballets, with a wide variety of stories and themes. I’m very thankful for all of our supporters who share those interests and who have enjoyed what we’ve created for the past 25 years. There’s much more to come!
-Ilena Norton, Artistic Director, Ballet Ariel