Krislyn Wessel, Justin Feimster and Adam Haaga (all part of the Italy cast) in "The Tale of Zummurud" from Arabian Nights in January 2012. Photo by Jackson Hager, Vanguard Media
What do you do when Italy calls – but you don’t have a lot of money to fly there?
If you’re scrappy Eugene “chamber ballet” group Ballet Fantastique, you get to work on your funding. Guest dancer Alberto Liberatoscioli hails from San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy, where his mother directs a ballet school (though now he’s with Ballet Nebraska).
He played Lando (that is, Orlando) in the spring 2011 Ballet Fantastique production of As You Like It: A Wild West Ballet. According toBFan executive director Hannah Bontrager, he pitched the idea of taking As You Like It home with him to San Benedetto’s ministry of culture, which had for some time been wanting a U.S. company with Liberatoscioli to come present a ballet there. “Alberto showed them our DVD and our programs and photos,” Bontrager says. The minister was so impressed that the town’s ready to pay for the theatre, their production costs and their lodging.
Bontrager says, “It’s always been a dream of ours, like many ballet companies, to perform internationally.” And like any ballet company, Ballet Fantastique puts a lot of effort into creating each new show, Bontrager says. “To perform it just a few times is always sad for the dancers – and for my mom and me as choreographers and producers.” So heading to San Benedetto holds some serious appeal.
Ashley Bontrager as Annie Oakley, one of the added characters, in As You Like It: A Wild West Ballet in April 2011. Photo by Gregory Burns
Now all Ballet Fantastique has to do is come up with airfare for the 10 artists and their choreographer, BFan artistic director (and Hannah’s mother) Donna Bontrager. Since last summer, the group has been doing everything from a car wash to galas to other fundraising activities in order to get the money together.
“We’re happy with any contribution,” Bontrager said. Company dancer Leanne Mizzoniwas surprised and touched when one of her 7-year-old students brought her a handful of change one day and said, “It’s for the Italy fund, Miss Leanne!”
The latest – and most urgent – effort is the $4000 Kickstarter campaign. On the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, you can keep any extra money you raise over your goal, but if you don’t meet that goal, you get none of the money. And the Ballet Fantastique deadline is March 26. As of this writing moment, they’ve got 45 backers and about $3300 pledged – which is still far enough away from the goal that Bontrager admits to some nervousness. “We have our pie chart in the studio, and we’re sort of whittling,” she says.
The company recently concluded a sold-out Arabian Nights, the first time they created a full-length dramatic ballet, and the first time a show sold out before the day of the show. That probably bodes well for the company’s application to become a resident company at the Hult Center (they’re in the middle year of the three-year process). But the dancers and choreographers didn’t rest on their laurels.
“As as soon as we finished Arabian Nights, we resurrected last fall’s Incendio,” Bontrager says – because they’re going on the road, but this time just I-5 to Everett, Washington, where they’ll present Incendio. At the same time, she says, “we’re working on Cinderella: A Rock Opera Ballet, which is going to be one of the most collaborative things we’ve ever done.”
Amelia Unsicker prepares for Cinderella: A Rock Opera Ballet (May 12-13, 2012, at the Hult). Photo: Jared Mills, Woden Photography
So the dancers and choreographers are dealing with several shows at once. It’s not as if the dancers have time to focus solely on BFan rehearsals. Most of them have three or four jobs aside from Ballet Fantastique, where many also teach classes during the day when they’re not rehearsing.
“For us, it really is a labor of love for everybody involved,” Bontrager says. The company would love to raise enough money get to Italy for the planned July performance. “Every dollar really does make a difference to us. We’ve had a few people who have pledged $2 or $10. We have that shoestring mentality, and we’re proud of it. We do a lot with a little.”