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Ballet Nebraska soars in its debut at the Rose Theater

Erika Overturff and an airborne Sasha York

Erika Overturff and an airborne Sasha York

Ballet Nebraska

This is the first installment of Sitting in the Dark, your guide to what happens when the lights go down on area stages. Visit metroMAGAZINE on the web every week for the latest reviews of theatre, music, dance, opera and all the best in performing arts. David Williams is managing editor of metroMAGAZINE, serves on the board of the Omaha Entertainment & Arts Awards and is a long-time performing arts writer whose musings have appeared in a number of area publications.


“We started out 16 months ago with nothing,” beamed Greta Vaught, “and now look at us.”

The Ballet Nebraska board chair had reason to celebrate. Sure, the fledgling company founded by a core of artists previously affiliated with the now defunct Omaha Theater Ballet had just capped off its inaugural season with a soaring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it was where she spoke that added an extra layer of meaning to an already triumphal evening.

Being able to utter those words in the elbow-to-elbow lobby of what looked to be a sold-out Rose Theater meant that the company had, in many ways, come full circle. February’s production of Momentum played at both Iowa Western Community College and the Joslyn, but the season finale marked the first time the company had appeared at the Rose, the stage that had once been home to many Ballet Nebraska dancers.

A Nod to Yaz

Which all quite logically got me thinking about Carl Yastrzemski.

Baseball and ballet? Is this the kind of stuff we can expect every week from this guy?

Back to the Red Sox legend. Just as 23 years of pirouetting in left field taught the Hall of Famer to anticipate every bounce as balls ricocheted in crazy caroms off Fenway Park’s Green Monster, Ballet Nebraska’s principal dancers know exactly how to play every nuance, every board of the stage once so familiar to them.

Matthew Carter was terrific as Puck, the mischievous sprite whose magic set in motion a topsy-turvy series of events in three interlocking love stories. All it took was a wave of his wand and couples that had been split asunder were reunited just in time for some (you guessed it) all’s-well-that-ends-well nuptials. Clad much like the title character of Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, Puck’s antics provided many of the evening’s funniest moments.

Erika Overturff was, well, Erika Overturff. Gone was the gritty, bare-knuckled, teeth-clenching visage I saw tearing it up in the frenetic modern dance movements of Momentum. Here the versatile prima ballerina who also serves as the company’s artistic director was the very picture of tranquility in the role of Titania, Queen of the Fairies. Overturff shared the role in alternating performances with Natasha Grimm. I happened to attend an “Overturff night.”

But it was perhaps Sasha York as Oberon who will linger longest in memories of this beautiful evening of dance. He’s the Russian-born artist who took home the 2011 Omaha Entertainment & Arts Award as Best Featured Dancer for his work in Rainforest, the Omaha Theater Ballet’s final gig. Living up to his reputation with this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, York was a whirling dervish of head-spinning athleticism in delivering a dizzyingly gravity-defying performance.

Deborah Overturff’s lighter-than-air costumes lent an ethereal air to Shakespeare’s gauzy, mist-shrouded comedic fantasy, especially when scores of children frolicked in gossamer glory.

And if I had to pick my favorite set pieces from the hundreds of productions I’ve seen over the last seven years of scribbling in the dark, Clyde Overturff’s work would probably crack the highest echelons of that list. An arboreal jumble of interwoven boughs, pine branches and blooms festooned in twinkling luminaries, his canopied day bed was the perfect place for Titania to doze in conjuring a midsummer night’s dream.

Debunking "Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit"

The Latin expression setting forth the philosophical argument that “nothing comes from nothing” does not apply, it would seem, when a passionate community of dancers and their supporters set their mind to an artistic vision.

The void that was the “nothing” Vaught referred to at the top of this review has been filled with generous support from the likes of Mutual of Omaha, the Nebraska Arts Council, the Nebraska Cultural Endowment and the Lincoln Financial Foundation. As was the case with Momentum, the company's success in garnering support allowed them to secure the services of a guest choreographer for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This time it was Oskar Antunez, taking a break from extensive tours here and in Europe, who sent the dancers aflutter in lilting reveries set to the Felix Mendelssohn score.

As touching as was Ballet Nebraska’s first run at the Rose, the reunion will be short lived, at least for now. Next up is October’s Dracula, the danse macbre that will be staged at the Orpheum Theater.

“It was great to dance on that stage again,” a bouquet-laden Erika Overturff told metroMAGAZINE after the curtain fell on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “It just felt right. Like I was home again.”




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