Arts lovers have reason to celebrate this month as the Dayton Opera and Dayton Ballet launch their new seasons. The opera will stage its first production, Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love,” the weekend of Oct. 23-24. The ballet will kick off its new season with “Light and Dark” on the weekend of Oct. 29-31.
Both companies will perform live at the Schuster Center and Victoria Theatre, respectively. In deference to safety, the programs will be less than 90-minutes in length with no intermissions. Masks and proof of vaccination will be required. With the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance’s new $5 ticket offer now in place, the productions are more affordable.
Performers are celebrating as well — whether they’re appearing for the first time on our Dayton stages or returning as part of the established company.
“Our audience means everything to us,” says Karen Russo Burke, artistic director for the Dayton Ballet. “Without them we would not be here and we are excited to perform for them again. A dancer’s career is so short that any time away is time they can never get back.”
She is hoping those who haven’t been to see the Dayton Ballet in the past will take advantage of this year’s affordable ticket offers and become a member of the ballet family.
In place of her traditional pre-performance talk, Burke has filmed introductions to each of the four pieces on the program. They include “Confetti” by choreographer Gerald Arpino, “Five Flights Up” by choreographer Stephen Mills, and “Causeway” by choreographer Jennifer Sydor. “Ghost Light,” choreographed by Penny Saunders, revolves around a popular theatrical superstition that holds that every theater has a ghost.
“It is believed that ghost lights provide opportunities for ghosts to perform onstage, thus appeasing them and preventing them from cursing the theater or sabotaging the set or production,” says Saunders. Her ballet tells the story of what happens after the audience leaves the theater and the “ghosts” of former performers are left to their own devices.
For at least two key players, this is an especially nostalgic and special time.
One of them is Kathleen Clawson, who has been associated with the Sante Fe Opera for 18 seasons and over the past 12 years has been serving as stage director for many local opera productions. Now she’s being welcomed to town in a brand new role, as the opera’s artistic director.
Clawson says she’s a sentimental soul so it’s no surprise she’s decided to begin her new journey with a production she staged here in 2009 on her very first trip to Dayton.
“‘The Elixir of Love’ is a romantic comedy, and honestly, who couldn’t use some laughter in their lives after what we’ve all been through?” asks Clawson. “It’s filled with beautiful music and, although it is a piece that is beloved by aficionados, it is also a great introduction to the ‘opera curious,’ the perfect piece to help people fall in love with opera. It’s a simple, relatable story with characters just like you and me ... a feel-good story where true love conquers all!”
Clawson says she’s especially excited to have three artists making their Dayton Opera debuts: soprano Sarah Tucker as Adina; baritone Jorell Williams will portray Sergeant Belcore and baritone Andrew Wilkowske will appear as Doctor Dulcamara. Returning to Dayton to perform the lead role of the poor young peasant, Nemorino, is tenor Benjamin Werley. The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will be led by guest conductor Clinton Smith.
Clawson is bringing a taste of New Mexico — her other home — to this production; the setting is the current-day Western United States.
“I believe very strongly in the healing power of music, especially live music,” she says. “Something very special happens when we are all together in the theater, listening, laughing and crying together. If we can be united there, I believe what separates us is not as great as it might seem. Perhaps this can be a vehicle for connection and community, something we all desire.”
Jennifer Sydor, choreographer of “Causeway,” is a Dayton native who began studying at the Dayton Ballet school at age 7. She danced with the second company through high school, then completed a BFA degree in dance at Butler University. After college, Sydor moved to New York City where she has worked as a freelance dancer for 17 years. This will be her 16th season with The Metropolitan Opera Ballet.
“During the pandemic, my husband, son and I sheltered in place with my family in Dayton, ultimately deciding to relocate to Oakwood permanently,” Sydor explains, adding that her commission to choreograph a piece for the Dayton Ballet would never have taken place if it weren’t for the pandemic sending her back home. “The more time we spent in Ohio, the more we were reminded of the sacrifices to our overall well-being we had to make to sustain a life in NYC. We found it increasingly hard to provide an optimal quality of life for our son, as the pace of the city would at times drain our energy.”
“We love being close to family, access to nature, the more relaxed pace and the vibrant arts community Dayton has to offer,” she says. “My husband (a musician) and I promised each other that we would still travel back to NYC to perform periodically and so far we are striking a lovely balance.”
Sydor believes her family’s recent journey is part of a trend — artists leaving New York City and taking their experience and expertise either back home or to a different, smaller city. “In many ways, it is valuable for our country to see a more even distribution of artistic talent as opposed to concentrated in major cities,” she says.
The inspiration for her piece “Causeway” is taken from the intricate mirror embedded sculptures of Iranian artist, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian.
“She pairs Western Abstraction with Iranian cut glass mosaic techniques that reflect, dance and draw one in,” explains Sydor. “The labyrinthine geometry of her work brings one into a meditative state, allowing the interiority of our consciousness to come forth. During my time with the dancers, I wanted to honor both the collective and the individual. I constructed ‘Causeway’ so the viewer could enjoy both the abstraction of spatial patterns and the intricacy, individuality and beauty of each dancer. My hope is that ‘Causeway’ can take the viewer on a journey, whether inward or outward, towards oneself or towards another.”
Sydor is hoping to add to the “extraordinary and vibrant arts community” of Dayton. “With the opening of The Arcade, I envision unification between arts organizations to create multi-dimensional performance experiences, workshops, collaborations and even monthly meetings in which artists can share ideas with each other. For a mid-sized city, Dayton’s art scene is impressive and deserves to continue to thrive.”
HOW TO GO
What: Dayton Opera’s production of “The Elixir of Love”
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24
Where: Schuster Center, 1 W. 2nd St., Dayton
Tickets: $5 to $100. Available through the box office at (937) 228-3630 or online at www.daytonperformingarts.org. Senior, teacher and student discounts are available.
More info: www.daytonperformingarts.org
HOW TO GO
What: The Dayton Ballet’s “Light and Dark”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29 and Saturday, Oct. 30 and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 31
Where: Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton
Tickets: $5 to $86. Available through the box office at (937) 228-3630 or online at www.daytonperformingarts.org. Senior, teacher and student discounts are available.
More info: www.daytonperformingarts.org
Related programming: After each full performance of “Light and Dark,” there will be a Q&A with dancers giving audiences the opportunity to learn more about the life of a dancer. “Behind the Ballet’' sessions are free of charge for all ticket holders.
DPAA Safety Protocols
- Proof of vaccination (vaccination card or a photo of card on phone), along with a valid ID, must be presented by all attendees. If you have not been fully vaccinated, you must provide proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test (within 72 hours) or a negative rapid antigen test (within 24 hours) of performance.
- Masks covering both nose and mouth will be required for all patrons over the age of 2.
- Children under the age of 12 are exempt from providing proof of a COVID test in order to attend.