Plans firm up for new professional ballet company
Christine Meneer to be artistic
By Roger Durbin
AKRON — A new professional
ballet company, under the artistic direction of Christine
Meneer, founder of Children’s Ballet Theatre,
will officially begin Jan. 1 with its first public performance
to take place Feb. 3-4.
The board of Children’s
Ballet Theatre (CBT) has laid the groundwork
for a soon-to-be-named new company with a professional
division by hiring three full-time staff members to
run the larger and expanded company. Besides Meneer
as artistic director, Linda Poinski will be the administrative
director and Valerie Renner will be marketing director.
Additional help will come from Karen Joshi, who will
head up financial development.
A native of Cuyahoga Falls, Meneer
studied under Ohio Ballet founder and artistic director
Heinz Poll. She joined the Ohio Ballet when she was 14
years old and danced for the company for five years. Meneer
then went on and danced with the Pennsylvania Ballet for
two years. In 1984, she opened the Christine Meneer School
of Dance and founded CBT,
a preprofessional ballet company comprised of dancers
ages 10-18 selected through open auditions, in 1993.
The new company will include
CBT and the professional division. Meneer will still
operate her dance school once the new company begins
CBT always hires at least four
to six professional dancers for its full-length ballets
that Meneer choreographs each year. CBT, which produces
The Nutcracker annually
at the Akron Civic Theatre, has drawn 14,000 or more
people to its performances each year.
With Ohio Ballet now out of the
picture — it officially folded in August —
and the cancellation of the San Jose Cleveland Ballet
a few years ago, Meneer found herself pondering about
professional ballet in the Akron area. As a former Ohio
Ballet dancer, she didn’t want to see the legacy
of ballet disappear that her teacher and mentor Poll,
who died in March, had brought to the area and eventually
to the nation and beyond. In fact, the big impetus for
her decision came, she said, when she realized that
Poll died the same week that CBT was premiering Sleeping
Akron Civic Theatre. The ballet, coincidentally, Meneer
said, is one of the very first ballets that Poll created
after he came to the United States in November 1965.
With his death, Meneer said, she realized she could
not allow ballet to die in Akron.
Focusing on her roots in Ohio
Ballet and her experience in running a successful company,
Meneer found herself ready for the next step.
The new company recruited as
ballet master Damien Highfield, a well-known and respected
dancer in the Akron area who danced with Ohio Ballet
for many years and now performs with GroundWorks Dancetheater
and Verb Ballets. He will be responsible for teaching
and rehearsing the professional division.
Dennis Dugan will be the resident
lighting designer. He is doing all the productions for
all the ballets for this coming year.
The basic season of the new company
for 2007 will be: a winter repertory performance,
a full-length ballet in the spring and a Nutcracker production
in November and December.
Specifically for the winter program,
Meneer plans to present as many as three Poll ballets.
She is working out the various requirements to perform
“Elegiac Song,” which was choreographed by
Poll and with music composed by Dmitri Shostakovich. It
is significant in Meneer’s remembrance of Ohio Ballet
and her connection to it, she said, because that is one
of the ballets that was performed at the premiere of Poll’s
first performance in Akron in 1968, when the company was
called Chamber Ballet.
“Adagio for Two Dancers”
(choreographed by Poll with music by composer Tomaso
Albinoni), another of Poll’s classic pieces, is
the second ballet. Meneer holds this piece “close
to her heart,” she said, because it was one of
her favorite ballets to perform when she was a dancer
for Ohio Ballet.
Jane Startzman, former Ohio Ballet
dancer and artistic administrator of Poll’s original
Ohio Ballet, has the rights to both ballets. She has
been commissioned to restage them for Meneer’s
The third Poll ballet will be
his famous “Summer Night.” Judy Shoaff Reading,
a former dancer with Ohio Ballet, has given permission
and will restage the work herself. This will be the
first time “Summer Night” has been restaged
since Poll performed it years ago.
Two world premiere ballets —
both choreographed by Meneer — will round out
the program for the premiere performance of this new
ballet company. One of the ballets will be neo-classical,
while the other ballet will be a contemporary piece.
Both works are bound to share Meneer’s signature
style of strong character in a highly dramatic setting.
The spring performance will be
Meneer’s full-length version of Sleeping
Her version already has roles for five professional
male dancers and the title character. Performances will
probably be May 5-6.
Nutcracker can virtually
remain intact. She annually hires professional dancers
(three males and two females) to dance the major roles.
She plans to fold the work
into a professional company that will give the kind
of performance and nuance that city-centered and professional-company
versions of Nutcracker bring.
Meneer will hold private auditions
immediately for at least three professional male dancers
and three professional female dancers. Anyone interested
should call (330) 688-6065. She also will hold at least
three open auditions beginning in October to fill positions
for the February performance. Rehearsals will begin in
earnest in December.
Photo courtesy of Christine Meneer