Connecticut Ballet maintains ‘legacy’

May 4, 2017 GMT

STAMFORD — Dancers in tulle skirts leaped and twirled across the studio at the Connecticut Ballet Center this week in preparation for a milestone performance.

Members of the Connecticut Ballet — 22 professional dancers from around the world, including Cuba, Sweden and Japan — were polishing choreography for a production at Stamford’s Palace Theatre Saturday marking the group’s 35th anniversary.

“We’ve got 101 ballets in the repertoire and it’s time to revive them,” artistic director Brett Raphael said after leading the dancers through “Les Slyphides,” the one-act ballet choreographed by Russian dancer Michel Fokine with music by Frédéric Chopin.

“Thirty Something” features selections from the moody “Les Slyphides” — which the ballet debuted in 1986 — and famed choreographer Bob Fosse, whose daughter performed with the Connecticut Ballet in 1982, dancing an original solo composed for her by Fosse. The program also includes a shortened version of Lila York’s contemporary ballet “Strays,” which had been commissioned by the ballet and premiered in 1990.

“These are ballets that require some forces,” Raphael said. The selections span a range of styles that showcase the collective strength of Connecticut’s only professional ballet company, he said.

“A lot of these dancers are taking on roles that I danced,” said Raphael, who founded the Connecticut Ballet in 1981 and appeared as a principal dancer until 1990. “That’s the tradition of ballet, sending it from one generation to another in your spirit and your muscles.”

Raphael coaches the dancers, who are male and female and range in age from early 20s to 30s, demonstrating sweeping arm movements and graceful footwork in his silver sneakers and jeans.

“We’re not cookie cutter at all,” he said. “We’re not all 5-foot-8, 108 pounds ... but we’re a professional company in Connecticut. This is a career for us.”

The delicate motions practiced are in contrast with the ballet’s industrial studio on Acosta Street, where Raphael runs the Connecticut Ballet Center school. The ballet is headquartered in Hartford, but travels across the state with Raphael’s Summer Dance Caravan, bringing free dance productions to libraries, schools — even a juvenile jail in Middletown.

Dancers performed Wednesday at Stamford’s Edgehill retirement community.

“It’s an amazingly sophisticated group of people,” Raphael said, noting it was an honor to perform for an audience that includes members accomplished in the arts.

Earlier that day, Raphael’s dancers prepared for both upcoming performances, their blush pointe shoes creating a thundering sound as they landed in unison. Raphael remained fixed on their flowing limbs, offering critiques and encouragement.

“It’s a legacy we’re carrying,” he said.