Ballet Theatre of Dover salutes ‘America’

Andrew Matte and Naya Gonzalez, center, are surrounded by dancers Hailey Seale, Lauren Miles, Ariana Johann, Claire Austin, Sophia Evans, Hannah Nagyiski, Onassy Paul, Summer Salyer and Kylee Lehnert. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER – The Ballet Theatre of Dover will pay a theatrical tribute to the United States in its Thursday performance of “America.”

The production includes portrayals of different eras of American history from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance and captures the experiences of Native Americans to immigrants.

“I myself am an immigrant and I wanted to pay tribute to my adoptive country and the things about America and American history that hit me the hardest,” said the Ballet Theatre’s artistic director, Theresa Emmons.

Ms. Emmons first moved to the United States from the Philippines 40 years ago pursuing her education.

Although focused on dance, the performance includes live readings of poetry in the Civil War section, including a letter written by Maj. Sullivan Ballou just before the Battle of First Manassas and a violin performance, by Amos Foyette, a Julliard graduate and current director of the Delaware Music School in Milford. It also features American folk musician Jay Unger’s piece “Ashokan Farewell.”

Ballet Theatre of Dover artistic director Teresa Emmons leads dancers through rehearsal on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“America” will also feature a suite of dances with music by American composers who have left an indelible print in American culture.

Traditional tunes including the Quaker melody “Simple Gifts” and a medley of folk songs will be joined by music of composers Aaron Copland and John Philip Sousa.

The Harlem Renaissance, a flourishing of African-American culture is captured by “Sweet Georgia Brown”. The finale will feature John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes”

The performance features more than 30 dancers from the Dance Conservatory and Andrew Matte, a professional dancer with the First State Ballet, based in Wilmington.

The performance is the capstone to the studio’s annual six-week summer intensive program where bits of rehearsal is woven into a curriculum of technique-focused classes. Throughout the program, all the dancers learn nearly every part until casting is done just a couple of weeks before the performance.

“Dancing year round is very important because even taking off one week will leave your body feeling out of shape and it can be difficult getting back into the swing of things,” Mr. Matte said.

His company is off through Aug. 7 so the summer program and performance are convenient opportunities for him.

“Andrew is such a good teacher and we love having him around,” said Hailey Seale, 10. “He always gives you something to think about during class or rehearsal and I think it makes us better.”

Mr. Matte said he really enjoys spending time with the kids during the summers.

Dancers Naya Gonzalez, 16, and Andrew Matte. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“When I was younger, I remember having professional dancers coming to the studio and it was always a special experience and a great opportunity to learn and I want the kids to have the same kind of experience I did,” he said.

In addition to the American-themed pieces in the performance, an excerpt of “Don Quixote” is also performed, led by Mr. Matte and 16-year-old Naya Gonzales.

“’Don’ is a lot of fun and the style is outside my comfort zone so it’s a fun challenge,” Naya said.

Mr. Matte said “Don Quixote” is very stylized and can be difficult to get a hang of even for professionals. A highlight of the piece includes the spirited “Seguidilla” characterized by quick agile footwork.

“It’s wild but contained so you have to find the right balance and still capture the spirit of the story,” he said.

“But since we are working together, it takes some of the pressure off both of us because having a partner on stage is always an uplifting experience, and there’s a lot of acting so it’s fun for Naya and me because we play off each other a lot.”

For Naya, this show is a special one because she was out all last year after foot surgery.

“I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to walk normally again, let alone dance at the same level I did before,” she said.

“So it’s great because out of any sport, I’d always choose dance because I love performing and so much more goes into it than just physical fitness.”

And now as a 16-year-old and one of the senior-most dancers at the studio, Naya has to be a role model for younger dancers more than ever before because unlike classes during the school year, the summer program brings together dancers of many different ages and abilities.

“During the year we are in smaller classes with kids mostly our age but the first few days of summer intensive always make me a little nervous because everyone is there, even the best students,” Hailey said.

Andrew Matte practices with fellow dancers. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“It’s a little scary at first, but we can learn a lot from them so it ends up being a great time.”

“America” will be performed at the Dover High School Theatre on Del. 8 at 2 and 7 p.m.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $10 for students. Tickets can be purchased by calling 734-9717 or at the theater beginning one hour before the show.

Ashton Brown is a freelance writer living in Dover.

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