Ballet La Crosse plans to dance its message of hope into your hearts for the holidays. The company will open its fifth season on Thanksgiving weekend with a lavish, family-friendly, classical ballet performance of “A Little Princess” at Weber Center for the Performing Arts.
Based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the ballet tells the story of Sara Crewe, a wealthy English widower’s daughter, who becomes orphaned and poor overnight. It’s a heartwarming, redemptive tale that highlights the importance of holding fast to hope during difficult times.
Dale Brannon, a choreographer for Allegro Dance Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and best friend of Ballet La Crosse’s late artistic director and ballet master Kennet Oberly, wrote the libretto and created the choreography. Larissa Oberly (wife of Kennet and former principal dancer with the Estonian National Ballet) and Alexandra Meier are artistic directors for the performance.
Olivia Key, a 7 Rivers High School senior, dances the role of Sara Crewe, with other key roles filled by 18-year-old Carolyn Ross of La Crosse and 16-year-old Lyvia Baldner of Onalaska. Sasha York, a Ballet Nebraska soloist originally from Chelyabinsk, Russia, returns to perform with Ballet La Crosse as Captain Crewe.
Founded by Misty Lown of Misty’s Dance Unlimited in 2012, Ballet La Crosse was originally billed as a semi-professional company, featuring 70 dance students ranging from 8 to 18 years old complemented by a few professional dancers. But, as MDU has escalated its ballet training opportunities over the past five years, the technical and artistic abilities of the dancers have escalated as well. For “A Little Princess,” nearly half of the cast’s dancers now participate in ballet training that mirrors that of the professional world.
To facilitate the heightened training, Ballet La Crosse this summer will move to the International Performing Arts Training Campus under construction in Onalaska. The 21,000-square-foot facility will also house Misty’s Dance Unlimited, Everything Dance (a retail store) and a training area for dance teachers and studio owners from around the world. The design also includes space to house additional performing arts training programs in the community.
Lown is quick to note that there’s more to the facility and Ballet La Crosse than arts training. “Many of our students don’t aspire to be professional dancers,” she says. “We don’t teach kids to make great dancers; we teach dance to make great kids. This is all about community and instilling positive values and a love for the arts in our children.”
Paul Rusterholz, director of the La Crosse Chamber Chorale, says the training shows. The chorale and Ballet La Crosse collaborated on a joint performance in “I Hear a Harp!” in 2015. “Their productions are easily comparable to collegiate performances. People who go are in for a delightful experience,” he says.
“A Little Princess” runs Nov. 25 and 26 with a matinee each day and an evening show Saturday. Tickets are available in person at the Weber Center box office, by phone at (608) 784-9292 or online at www.webercenterfortheperformingarts.org.