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'Winterfest' may make new fans



Published: Sat, January 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Accessible and impressive dance pulls you in.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Jeffrey Graham Hughes, artistic director of the Ohio Ballet, says he is confident that everyone who attends the performance of "Winterfest" on Jan. 29, the company's third appearance at Powers Auditorium, will come to like ballet.

"This is a must see," says Hughes. "Everyone who comes to this ballet with an open heart and mind will understand it."

Hughes points out that ballet is not for the elite, and especially wants men to come and experience it, because it is so athletic. Hughes stresses that he is just a regular guy. "I'm an artist and a dancer, but I also played league sports. I watch football on weekends." And if you don't think ballet requires physical stamina, just check out the thighs on these guys, and the ease with which they lift the ladies to their shoulders.

Hughes also says that attending ballet is an opportunity to relax and luxuriate in the rich experience of the entire evening.

Visual music

"Ballet is a way for people to experience music visually," says Hughes. "The dancers physically sing with their bodies in motion. The costumes and theater are beautiful. And when you watch a real professional dance company, you see what humans are capable of doing. The audience participates in the performance, which celebrates the best of what we are."

"Winterfest" is three ballets, each choreographed by a different artist.

The first, "Raymonda Variations," the wedding scene from the original ballet entitled "Raymonda," features music by Alexander Glazounov, which premiered in 1898.

Hughes describes it as "classical ballet in its most refined and athletic, what people think of as ballet." The ladies will be wearing tutus, typical of that period. "This is not a complicated ballet, and is very accessible," says Hughes. "It doesn't so much tell a story as depict a celebration, and the beauty is in the music, the costumes, and the movements." Cynthia Gregory, renowned dancer and choreographer, choreographed this version.

"Lost and Found," choreographed by Lynn Taylor-Corbett, is a tribute to the 9/11 tragedy and what occurred after the collapse of the towers. She writes, "In crisis, there is comfort in reaching out to others who have shared the same experience. Even strangers, who have never met, cluster together for solace. Inspired by the images in the days following September 11th, this work is devoted to the enduring human spirit and dedicated to the memory of Patricia Colodner."

Hughes says, "Everyone will have their own interpretation of this ballet. My interpretation is that there is one person who represents death, who leaves the stage at the end. The dancers are dressed in simple clothes and look like ordinary people. There is a sense of people looking in the distance where the towers stood. This ballet is emotional, heartfelt, dramatic, yet not acting. The movement creates the emotion. If you go in with an open mind and spirit, you will get it." The music is selections from Robert Schumann's Symphonic Etudes.

The final, "Rapturous Hearts," is choreographed by Hughes.

"I grew up in a house where we listened to live broadcasts from The Metropolitan Opera. We had this beautiful, old radio, and I remember thinking, 'what is that screeching?' Then, one day, my ear heard it differently, and opera became beautiful music."

"Rapturous Hearts" is set to music by Giacomo Puccini, selections from "Madame Butterfly," "La Boheme," and other operas. It begins with the couples lying in the shape of a heart, which then rises up. "Each couple's relationship has different dynamics," says Hughes. "They are men and women as equals dancing together in an intimate and beautiful way."

Hughes began dancing at age 6, and his professional career extended 23 years. He was principal soloist of Joffrey Ballet, London Festival Ballet, among others and has worked with companies all over the world, choreographing nearly 40 ballets. This is his sixth season with Ohio Ballet.

"Ohio Ballet is the only fully professional ballet company left in Northeast Ohio," says Hughes. "We want to be part of the Youngstown arts community, but we need support. There are many dance schools, but if we do not support professional dance, there will be no jobs for those who want to make dance their career. This is an opportunity for people to support the arts in Ohio. If we can keep Ohio Ballet going, there will always be a place for children in training to go."




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