Last weekend the newly formed Claremont Colleges Ballet Company celebrated its first public showing at Scripps College’s Richardson Dance Studio and made its debut as a guest during the 5CDC performance at Garrison Theatre. Modest but lively, the performance included a choreographed warm-up, a refreshingly comedic group piece, and classical variations en pointe. It reflected an eagerness within the budding company to develop and share with the Claremont Colleges the lasting, but often ignored or misunderstood, world of ballet.
The company, originally a ballet club, was formed by co-Presidents Vivian Delchamps (SC ’14) and Emily Kleeman (PZ ’14) along with Vice President Nicole Wein, who felt the need to create more performance and learning opportunities for the classically trained dancers across campus. “The hard work that … many of us in CCBC have put into ballet since we were very young should … be celebrated by the colleges,” says Delchamps. “Amazing performances of modern dance, hip-hop, and ballroom have been available to the Claremont community for years, and now it’s time for ballerinas and danseurs to get to share the stage.”
While many other genres of dance are featured in mainstream entertainment like “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Dancing with the Stars,” and just about any pop music video, ballet has somehow managed to evade the spotlight despite centuries of development.
The lack of attention the current, real world of ballet has received suggests that the general public’s disinterest stems primarily from assumptions and stereotypes. Practically everyone can now conjure up images of Natalie Portman’s temporary transformation into the psychotic and sexy black swan, but the sad truth remains that almost no one has even heard of American Ballet Theatre (ABT) soloist Sarah Lane, who has spent over twenty years training and provided most of Portman’s dance performances on screen.
Ballet has served for many years been the clandestine base for most current forms of dance while continuing to progress as its own art form. Originally a court dance of the aristocrats, ballet has undergone many phases and changes—the invention of pointe shoes, the Romantic “sylph” Era, the Classical Era (from which came the iconic tutu image), the Neoclassical free-movement Era, Contemporary Ballet, ballet comedies, ballet music videos, and so on. Most recently, world-renowned choreographer Christopher Wheeldon created an incredibly innovative ballet production of “Alice in Wonderland,” which made use of surreal video projections, ingenious puppetry, and even denim pants.
Despite all this, most people do not know much about or appreciate ballet as a contemporary art form. The CCBC hopes to spark new interest by making ballet shows and opportunities easily accessible.
“The nice thing about being an amateur company is that we’re able to take something that you usually need to have at least $100 spending money to see and make it available to literally anyone who wants to come see it,” says Kleeman. “The 5C environment is definitely a big group of art lovers … I think the difficult part is being a new company who performs something that lots of college students might think of as ‘out-of-date’ or ‘old-fashioned.’”
By exposing fellow college students to the world of ballet, the Claremont Colleges Ballet Company is helping to form a new generation of culturally knowledgeable and appreciative people who just might decide to go see a ballet production once in a while after graduation.