The hardest part is making it look effortless. When the curtain rises on the River City Dance Theatre’s sixth annual holiday extravaganza, “The Night Before Christmas,” on December 20 at the Hays Performing Arts Center, perhaps only seasoned guest artists Deann Petruschke and Mirolav Pejinc will achieve a sustained state of flawless ease as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Such perfection is hard won with years of professional training, and for the young dancers of the River City Dance Theatre (RCDT), they are just beginning to dip their toeshoes into the sweetly sublime and bittersweet toil that is the pre-professional world of a regional dance company.Gone are the chubby-cheeked 3-year olds who waddled on-stage during dance recitals wearing furry lion costumes. They have stretched into dancers who have already seen years of dance training in classical ballet, jazz, and tap, and performed in recitals too numerous to remember. However, becoming a member of the RCDT entails a level of commitment to the art of dancing far beyond that required by studio dance lessons.
Ongoing training continues to challenge the individual’s muscles to flex in the prescribed elements of classical dance, adhering to graceful conventions that belie the strength and athleticism required. Through the preparation for major performances the dancers become infused with the expressiveness, musicality, and theatricality required to entertain and enthrall an audience. But unlike the dance studio, where dancers may not think far beyond their role as individual dancers, company dancers are charged with a greater degree of responsibility. They are responsible for functioning as a team, a cadre of dancers who rehearse long hours to perfect how their multiple cues and entwined choreography intermesh with each individual. They are responsible for entertaining a paying audience, lighting the stage with their skill and enthusiasm. They are responsible for acting as envoys to the community to promote the arts with their love of dance. Their responsibilities are challenging, often a daunting balancing act for students with heavy coursework and little time left for other extracurricular activities. But as expected from dancers, they meet these challenges with grace and poise, only the occasional bout of puerility to remind us that they are still young.
Opportunities for a young dancer to experience the atmosphere of the professional dance world, with the equivalent discipline of training, complexity of choreography, and quality of staging and costuming are few and far between in the Hill Country. The lack of such a regional dance opportunity led former professional ballerina Katherine Grote to found the RCDT as a non-profit organization in 2003. Her goals for the RCDT were threefold: to promote community awareness of the arts, to provide an atmosphere of professional dance experience, and to give performance opportunities for dancers. These dancers will not necessarily grow up to be professional dancers, but they will always have an appreciation of the arts and be able to instill an appreciation of the arts in the lives of those they touch and inspire.
Based in San Marcos, the RCDT was visible primarily in the community during the holidays for its presentation of the Nutcracker. However, the RCDT is actively increasing its role from a local performing company to a regional dance company. The visionary behind the transition is ballet master Keith Duncan. Mr. Duncan infuses his myriad international experiences as a former professional dancer, founder of dance companies, and award winning choreographer into his current role as Artistic Director of RCDT. Importantly, Mr. Duncan brings a firm commitment to the integrity of dance techniques, artistic expression, and dance as theater, challenging the notion that small communities can aspire to only a “good enough for here” level of technique, artistry, and entertainment.
His vision is all encompassing and requires long-term planning and growth for RCDT. Along with growing a corps of dancers whose commitment and techniques become par with professional and full length ballet choreographies, Mr. Duncan has a successive plan for raising the bar for performances staged by RCDT. Already, brilliant new costumes and choreography will debut in RCDT’s sixth annual holiday offering entitled, “The Night Before Christmas.” Comprised of two acts, the family holiday event will highlight the second act of the traditional “The Nutcracker” ballet, as well as vibrant new ballet, jazz, and tap pieces choreographed by featured artists to celebrate the spirit of the season, including “The Christmas Story,” and “Santa’s Gonna Rock.” Performances are on December 20 at 7 pm and December 21 at 2 pm at the Hays Performing Art Center in Kyle. Tickets are $15 and are available at the San Marcos and Kyle Chamber of Commerce, local HEB Grocers, and at 512-396-8736.
“Once they sense that they’re a company, and that the individual is important but that the group is the most important thing, then it’s breathtaking,” says Mr. Duncan. “It’s truly breathtaking.”
The River City Dance Theatre will perform “The Night Before Christmas” on December 20 at 7 pm, and December 21 at 2 pm at the Hays Performing Art Center in Kyle. Tickets are $15 and are available at the San Marcos and Kyle Chamber of Commerce, local HEB Grocers, and at 512-396-8736.
from The River City Dance Theater
Photo courtesy of River City Dance Theater