By Sharalee Fraser
EDMOND :: PHILADELPHIA CHURCH OF GOD—Crowds filled Armstrong Auditorium once again on January 28 and 29 as the Russian National Ballet Theatre returned to the Armstrong International Cultural Foundation concert series. Dancers treated 770 concertgoers to Cinderella on January 28 and 530 to Chopiniana and Romeo & Juliet the following night.
Along with its athletic arabesques and playful pas de chat, the company’s rendition of Cinderella on Monday night also included a focus on story-telling that was appreciable even to children. One segment included a dose of humor, with Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters attempting to dance but clumsily finding themselves more off-pointe than en pointe.
Tuesday’s production of Chopiniana consisted of dances choreographed to visually showcase the music of Polish composer Frédéric Chopin. Romeo and Juliet exhibited a more theatrical tone, such as sword-fighting scenes and acrobatic throes of the mortally wounded Mercutio and Tybalt.
The ballet company first visited the auditorium two years ago, performing Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. About half of the 40 dancers had also performed at the February 2011 show, which attracted more than 800 people.
Besides viewing the three elite dances, PCG members and staff had the opportunity to interact with the Russians and participate in several behind-the-scenes aspects of their performance. Concert staff members, other headquarters employees and Herbert W. Armstrong College students all pitched in to unload two tractor trailers full of sets, costumes and equipment on Monday morning, then used dry ice to de-wrinkle the mats that go on the stage floor, affixed backdrops and prepared the lighting for both shows. Some of the unique sets they handled were built in 1969.
Meanwhile, the Church’s food services department provided three meals for the dancers and their seven crew members for each performance day. The group’s tour manager has been to Armstrong three times, including each of its ballets, and advised the bus drivers not to go to a restaurant like they usually do. “This is the best food on the circuit,” she said. The overachieving spread even included place cards labeling some of the dishes in Russian. As dancers and crew filed through the buffet line, several began laughing. Although they were speaking in Russian, it was eventually communicated that that one of the helpful little cards was letting dancers know in their native tongue that they had their choice of sandwich: beef, chicken, or Turkish.
For both performances, concert staff and students assisted the ballet company with costuming, set changes, special effects and lighting. They also helped maintain the delicate costumes, steam-pressing and sterilizing each one with alcohol spray. The dancers’ wardrobe manager, a 40-year veteran of the Borshoi ballet, said that she normally does not allow volunteers from the venue to fix costumes. However, at the 2011 engagement, she met one of the pcg members and let her repair some of the pieces. This year, the manager said to go for it, so she and one other volunteer spent their afternoons sewing up the highly valued 10- to 40-year-old costumes.
Another treat included some staff members, Armstrong College and Imperial Academy students being allowed to attend the ballet company’s rehearsals. Although they are normally closed, artist liaison Mark Nash spoke with the ballet management and received permission for some of the Church’s’ amateur dancers to view the practices.
“It was great to examine their technique and ability, and then to watch what I knew were more experienced dancers help the newer ones work on perfecting their moves,” PCG staff member, choreographer and dance enthusiast Sarah Patten said. “Watching professionals work alongside other professionals, I was also able to see the different levels of skills that vary between principal dancers, demi-soloists and corps de ballet members.”
“It is such a good reminder that the best are the best because they are constantly practicing and working at what they do,” she said. “Behind all of the effortless-appearing dancing is a lot of effort.”
Concertgoers seemed to agree that the effect of the world-class dancing—as well as the venue—left an impression. “When you guys pull in talent, you pull in the best!” one attendee exclaimed. He also said, “I’m telling everyone about this place. People don’t believe it exists.”
Another concertgoer commented that she was fascinated by what she saw in the auditorium lobby. “I’ve never seen a chandelier like this!” she remarked.
One concertgoer took time to e-mail a response after returning home from the performance to say that they enjoyed watching the ballet with their daughter and the Armstrong Auditorium experience itself, saying, “Every one of the employees exhibited politeness and professionalism.”
For many, the ballet was their first time to visit the building. “It’s a shame that we only just found out about this place,” one newcomer said to a staff member, “—we live three miles down the road.”