From the Studio to The Neighborhood Ballroom

Post by Principal Dancer Deanna Seay

Ah…full-length story ballets. Often beautiful, always entertaining, audiences love to watch a story unfold onstage during an evening. Someone is always dancing, whether the corps de ballet or the principals, and the corresponding narrative seems to help the audience understand the dancing language. One of the six full-length works in our repertoire, The Neighborhood Ballroom is unique in its focus on several different time periods (the Belle Epoque, Jazz Age, 1940s war years, and the 1950s) and the related dance rage of each era). Edward Villella’s tribute to these different eras is a product of his extensive dance knowledge, and it is his vision that is fully realized with this production. His sense of detail brings to life four different acts dance trends, spanning from 1912 to the 50s.

Any full-length narrative work requires a lot of preparation, and The Neighborhood Ballroom is no exception. There are many details that must be polished to allow the story to emerge. Working these things out takes time; long rehearsals with intense focus are required to absorb these details, and while the process is ultimately rewarding, it is also exhausting. Each era must be recreated so as to be able to distinguish one from the other; the restrained behavior during the days of Absinthe and the Boston Waltz differs from the crazy experimentation that occurred during the Jazz era and the Quick-Step. One of the wonderful things about The Neighborhood Ballroom (or just “Ballroom,” as we call it) is that these nuances are achieved through the choreography, with the mood of each period expertly conveyed through its corresponding style.

It would not be possible to perform this work if the dancers in it did not love to dance so much. To begin with, there is so much dancing involved that several dancers are required to appear in all four acts. After many hours of rehearsals learning very detailed, style-specific choreography, watching the company members transform themselves from one period to another is very similar to watching a chameleon change colors – they fit themselves into the style instantly and effortlessly. The principals in each act work out the details of their individual characters, adding further dimension to the wonderfully-inventive pas de deuxs that occur throughout the evening. The technical side of this production is also very complicated; the level of excitement in watching the production crew accomplish the many special effects backstage nearly rivals the excitement of watching the dancers onstage. It never ceases to amaze me how much goes into the ambiance onstage; those beautiful serene moments that people see are the product of much more than meets the eye.

Deanna Seay in The Neighborhood Ballroom. Photo © Joe Gato.