By Susan T. Hessel —
When the Ballet La Crosse troupe performs “The Little Mermaid” during Thanksgiving weekend, it will be clear that this is not the same story told in the animated Disney movie.
The late Kennet Oberly, who was the artistic director for Misty’s Dance Unlimited, wrote the libretto for this touching performance and wanted the students to perform Hans Christian Andersen’s version of this classic tale.
“Kennet was a master storyteller and a master of using movement to tell stories,” said Misty Lown, founder and owner of Misty’s Dance Unlimited, which offers the pre-professional Ballet La Crosse program.
Oberly’s obituary after his death in January 2016 noted that he left behind his beloved wife, Larissa, who is a teacher at Misty’s, and heartbroken ballet students and colleagues. Among them is Carolyn Ross, a senior at Coulee Christian School.
“Mr. Kennet was amazing. He could have gone anywhere and taught ballet because of his amazing talent and ability,” Ross said. “He taught us to enjoy life, to love life.”
Ross, who will be on the princess court in “The Little Mermaid” and has studied at the school for 10 years, said she has not only learned ballet but important life lessons from him even as he was getting closer to death from ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ALS Is a progressive neurological disease affecting nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
“I loved Mr. Kennet and miss him. He was a fighter. He would never give up on us,” Ross said. “He taught us to never give up on ourselves.”
Knowing his time was nearing its end, Oberly suggested his best friend Dale Brannon of Louisville, Kentucky, choreograph the ballet Oberly created. Brannon, who is a choreographer for Allegro Dance Theatre in Louisville, has worked with the troupe on this special performance multiple times since Oberly’s death.
Performances are at Weber Center for the Performing Arts at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26, and 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27. The number of performances has doubled for 2016 because they sold out last year and had waiting lists.
Ballet La Crosse’s performance includes 80 students accepted into the program by audition. The troupe is designed for those who want to pursue dance beyond high school. Some graduates have gone on to some of the country’s most prestigious university and summer programs.
Even if they don’t end up as professional dancers, Lown says there is still great value to the time students spend in dance classes, and that can easily be six days a week. “It takes the same dedication and commitment in ballet as it does to be a doctor, teacher or accountant,” Lown said. “Students do remarkably well in whatever field they enter. I tell them to keep dreaming and exploring the discipline of ballet because it is the foundation for whatever career path they choose.”
Before every performance, Oberly had a message for his students. “It’s yours now. It’s not mine,” he said of the ballet.
It may be theirs, but there’s no question that “The Little Mermaid” will be for Mr. Kennet and because of him.