Behind the Scenes of Gala Giving: Pick Your Poison

By Christi Cuellar Lotz, Director of Development

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” – Hamlet

Ah, Fête season. Any who knows me would not argue for one moment that event fundraising is just that… madness! But what better way to highlight the mission and purpose of an incredible non-profit than to bring folks together who share a passion for the organization, show off what we do, and ask for their support? Truly, the Fête and fête*ish have become Ballet Austin brands in their very own right. But through the glitz and rock-and-roll glamour, there is, indeed, purpose.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream themed fête*ish

A Gala Unlike Any Other

The Fête doesn’t have a structure like other galas. We pride ourselves in telling our story – with one heck of a back-drop. This year, the Hamlet-themed evening provides all kinds of fun and creepy ways to celebrate. And as Stephen Mills says, “Creepy is only ever good.”

There are many ways to give at just about every level possible. My job is to make sure you find one you love.

The fun part for Fête-goers is that their friends can see them do it. I think Michael Barnes once called gala-giving “philanthropy in front of other people.” The “Paddles-Up” portion of the evening, as I call it, happens just after the live auction where folks have hopefully purchased incredible, once-in-a-lifetime packages for killer deals. There is then the opportunity to give outright to some of our community and education programs. Many who come to the Fête don’t realize all that Ballet Austin does, outside of producing first-class professional ballet productions. But wait. There’s more.

Live Auction during 2014 Fete

Live Auction during 2014 Fête

Did You Know?

  • Over $250,000 in scholarships are given to students who want to learn ballet but don’t have the means
  • The Pilates Pink Ribbon program is offered free of charge to nearly 100 breast cancer survivors regardless of means
  • School-based Dance In The Classroom is offered free of charge (leotard and shoes included) to two Title I schools
  • Thousands of tickets to the final dress rehearsal for every major performance are offered free of charge to clients of local social-service non-profits

And I could go on.

Five to six programs are highlighted each Fête and each is introduced by our wonderful auctioneer followed by a 1-minute video about the program. Our goal? To make you cry. And to also help you realize how lucky you are and what a difference you can make. Of course I’m just standing in the corner a nervous wreck hoping someone – anyone – will raise their paddles for the highest level. And someone does… And then often, someone else. And then I love everyone the rest of the night because it just goes downhill (and up in funds raised for Ballet Austin) from there. But that’s just me.


fête*ish Highlights

fête*ish offers another level of giving opportunity – this year’s is called a “Skull Pull” in celebration of the event theme Hamlet. (Again, creepy = fun. Who doesn’t want to pull a skull?) You pay a certain amount for your chance to win a prize worth that amount or more! Instant gratification is the name of the game here, and I’m not gonna lie, it can get addictive. Last year’s “Key Pull” was sold out as fête*ish barely got going.

By the time you read this, we’ll be a few weeks away from what’s been dubbed as “Austin’s Best Black Tie.” Each year, we challenge ourselves to live up to this! The amazing team working on the event (shouts out to Mandarin Design Lab, Ruby Rogers Events, TWIN Liquors, Ilios Lighting, the JW Marriott and many others) makes sure that each year tops the one before. Many of these vendors have been working on Fête/fête*ish for a number of years and their creativity never ceases to amaze me.

So what are some of YOUR favorite memories of past Fête/fête*ish events? I’d love to know!


10 Things You May Not Know About Pilates

By Vicki Parsons, Butler Center for Dance & Fitness Director

I am a fan of anything that helps a person live an active and healthy lifestyle. But Pilates is especially beneficial. The problem is that there are still plenty of myths and misconceptions floating around about Pilates that tend to get in the way of giving it a try. While I can’t dispel all of those myths – and am a firm believer that you just have to give it a try to be convinced – here are a few things that you might not have known.

1. Pilates is not just a fad of the rich and famous.

Pilates has been around for almost a century. Yes. Longer than sliced bread! While plenty of celebrities, dancers, and fitness gurus practice Pilates, it is now more popular than ever as one of the best foundational exercises for anyone.


2. Over 10 million Americans practice Pilates.

That’s a huge number and it’s still growing. As the benefits of Pilates become known, more and more Americans are trying it for themselves.

3. Pilates was designed by Joseph Pilates.Joseph-Pilates

Joseph Pilates was a German-born self-defense instructor at Scotland Yard in England. During World War I, he was detained as an “enemy alien” with other German nationals. It was during his time in war camps that Pilates refined his ideas by rigging springs to hospital beds, enabling bedridden patients to exercise against resistance and rehabilitate.

4. Pilates is done on a reformer but can be adapted for mat work.

Joseph Pilates loved to tinker with equipment and machinery, which led to the design of the Pilates reformer we have today. As far as the dreaded magic circle, Joseph made the original “magic circle” from the steel bands around beer kegs.


5. Crunches are overrated.

Pilates gets to the core of the matter. It gives you a stronger core without the crunch! When the core is strengthened, the entire body changes; improved posture, balance, strength, and flexibility. Slouching is corrected, effects of sitting can be reversed, back pain is alleviated, and more. Pilates benefits both men and women of all ages and skill levels.

6. Rodeo cowboys do Pilates.

(Photo Credit Baker County Tourism via CC)

(Photo Credit Baker County Tourism via CC)

Pilates is all about the core and rodeo cowboys need a strong center of balance for riding bulls and bucking broncos! Because the Pilates method is renowned for its benefits in improving flexibility, strength, balance and body awareness, athletes from every sport find it the perfect foundation for their training.

7. One hour of Pilates burns calories all day long.

Pilates is all about resistance exercises. Resistance training is scientifically proven to create lean muscle and speed up metabolism to burn calories all day long. Cardio exercise is great; but as soon as you get off the stationary bike or treadmill, you stop burning calories. With Pilates, the second you finish your workout, you start burning calories.

8. Ballet Austin’s state-of-the-art Pilates Center is doubling in size.


Pilates reformers inside the newly renovated Ballet Austin Center.

Upon completion in August, Ballet Austin’s Pilates Center will be 1500 square feet, equipped with 12 Balanced Body reformers, as well as Balanced Body Chairs, Barrels and Towers to accommodate private and group appointments at all levels.

9. Ballet Austin’s Pilates Center has 8 Certified Instructors.

Under the direction of Pilates Program Director Vlada Sheber, we have 8 Certified Pilates Instructors. They are trained, caring, and passionate about their Pilates practice. And they will push you to your best.

Ballet Austin In

Ballet Austin Pilates Program Director Vlada Sheber working with a client.

10. It’s easy and affordable.

With new client packages and offers available year round it’s always a good time to try. Start with a private session or bring a friend to a group class.


Spending My Summer Vacation With Ballet Austin

By Bill Piner, Academy Director  

Ahhh… Summertime in Austin. The time when everything slows to a crawl. The sun is high in the sky and temps top 100. Everyone heads to the lake, or to cooler climes in northern states. You would think it would be nice and quiet at 501 W. 3rd St. But you’d be wrong.

Summertime is actually one of the busiest seasons at Ballet Austin. Classes at the Butler Center for Dance & Fitness are packed 7 days a week for the entire summer and the Academy’s Senior Summer Intensive Program brings students from as far away as Japan and Panama to Austin for six weeks of intensive study and potential job opportunities.

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive Level 8 (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive Level 8 (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Each summer, after a 27 city audition tour, over 250 students descend on Austin.
They come here to take part in a program that is designed to improve their individual dance skills. For the post-high school crowd, they audition for a coveted position in Ballet Austin II, Ballet Austin’s paid apprentice company, or the Butler Fellowship Program, a nine-month, intensive training program that provides 15 talented students the opportunity to train at Ballet Austin tuition-free.

A Day In The Life

This is a very concentrated and intensive time for the Academy. From 8:45am to 6:15pm the studios are filled to capacity with some of the most focused young adults you will find. From my office I can look into the Armstrong/Connelly Studio. Right now the Level 6 dancers are learning a piece of original choreography from Company Dancer and Academy faculty member, Christopher Swaim, which they will perform at a small performance at the end of the session. Chris’ choreography pushes these young dancers to new limits and challenges them to take risks and find new strengths.

For the highest levels it’s all about learning what’s unique about Ballet Austin and assimilating. Will they be accepted into the year-round program or not? Will this be the next step in their personal and professional lives or not? There is a lot riding on these few weeks and it can be a nerve-wracking experience.

“I chose to spend my summer training at Ballet Austin because I was looking for an opportunity to further my dance career. Having just graduated from high school, I wanted to come to a program where I could possibly stay for the 2015-2016 season, and I knew that Ballet Austin could provide an opportunity for me. Ballet Austin’s summer program has reinforced the technique I know, expanded my artistry and allowed me to think differently about my dancing. Not only have I grown as a dancer in just four weeks, but I have also met new people with whom I have become extremely close. My classmates and I have had different yet relatable experiences. Even though some of us may be competing against each other to get a position as a Fellow or Ballet Austin II member, we all share one similar trait: the love for dance. This similarity allows for friendships to be created which aid the extremely memorable and enriching experience here at Ballet Austin.” –  Kayla Hallman

Kayla will be joining the Butler Fellowship Program in August.


Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin correcting a student’s position. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

I choreograph on the two youngest levels in the program, where they are still struggling to find the control over their bodies that will enable them to make the prescribed shapes of classical ballet. The pace is slower, but the sense of accomplishment is just as great. When the entire group performs for an audience of their peers (final rehearsal on performance day is performed in front of the other levels in the program) and the cheers of approval erupt, I’m reminded why I chose this profession. This struggle, this mastery, this acceptance is something they all can relate to and it seals a bond that will stay with these young artists well beyond their six weeks in Austin.

Teaching (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Bill Piner, Academy Director, rehearsing with Level 4 student for upcoming Summer Intensive performance. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

These bonds and friendships, challenges and growth, fun and hard work, all combine to make the Summer Intensive experience one that will live with these dancers forever. This is a huge commitment and requires dedication and sacrifice from the entire family. This is another aspect of the program that I find inspiring – the fact that parents will do everything in their power to provide the best for their kids. And the fact that these kids will take that challenge and some of them will become professional dancers. Over 70% of Ballet Austin’s professional company of dancers started right here in the Summer Intensive. For them, and many others, the sweating, struggling, laughing and learning ended with the ultimate goal, a professional contract and the realization of so many dreams and aspirations.

This is how I’ve spent my summer for the past 24 years. It may not be as relaxing as going to the coast, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Swan Lake: Then and Now

We’re all familiar with some version of Swan Lake. But there is so much more to this timeless ballet than the inner angst portrayed in the most recent pop-culture rendition, Black Swan. The Swan Lake that we all know and love, choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, initially had a rough start. Let’s take a look at where it began how we arrived to the acclaimed ballet of today.

The World Premiere in 1877

The first premiere of Swan Lake was actually choreographed by Julius Reisinger, ballet master at the Ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre (now the Bolshoi Ballet.) “When the premiere of Swan Lake took place, it was a disappointment to everybody, especially its composer [Tchaikovsky].” famed choreographer George Balanchine comments. “The choreographer was a hack ballet master who possessed neither the talent nor the taste to choreograph a work to the music of a major composer.”

Anna Sobeshchanskaya

Anna Sobeshchanskaya

The Russian ballerina intended for the role of Odette, Anna Sobeshchanskaya, was replaced by Pauline Karpakova. “Karpakova was a run-of-the-mill dancer past her bloom, who insisted upon interpolating sure-fire ‘numbers’ from other ballets in her repertoire to replace some of Tchaikovsky’s music which she could not appreciate, understand or even count,” Balanchine continues.

It wasn’t until 18 years later when the famed choreography of today was pieced together.

The 1895 World Premiere

In November 1894 Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov agreed to work together to revive Swan Lake. Petipa choreographed the acts that took place in the castle and castle garden, and Ivanov choreographed the lakeside acts, including the corps de ballet of swans.

Ivanov was the first to base his choreography on the structure and emotional content of the music, rather than displaying how technically brilliant his lead dancers were. Ivanov also was one of the first to use the corps de ballet to its fullest potential and to help tell the story of the ballet. He excelled in making patterns and shapes on the stage with the corps as shown in the lakeside acts in Swan Lake, as well as the snowflakes’ dance in The Nutcracker.

The premiere of this new work took place at the Mariinksy Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia on January 17, 1895. Unlike the Moscow premiere in 1877, it was a huge success.

Pierina Legnani

Pierina Legnani

The occasion was also a testimonial gala for Pierina Legnani, who danced the double role of Odette/Odile and could not restrain herself from injecting her 32 fouettes from Cinderella, this time as the coda of her black swan pas de deux in the ballroom scene.

Swan Lake of Today

Since then, over 155 versions of Swan Lake have been performed by at least 115 companies based in 25 countries. Few other ballets from the 19th-century have had such lasting and widespread popularity.

The Petipa-Ivanov production has formed the basis of most subsequent stagings around the world. Most current versions of Swan Lake retain the core of what is considered the original Petipa-Ivanov choreography, though with some new choreography added.

Ballet Austin prepares to perform the famed ballet once again Mother’s Day Weekend, with the Austin Symphony Orchestra with live accompaniment. Join them as they close the 2014/15 season. Now is the time to check off that box on your “ballet bucket-list.”

Reference: Balanchine, George, and Francis Mason. 101 Stories of the Great Ballets. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1989. Print.


Ballet Austin Premieres Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project at the Acco Festival in Israel

The Light International Premier filled the auditorium and the energy and excitement were large. Our Austin delegation took up most of the entire 8throw, so we had a great vantage point for the performance. There were welcome addresses by Albert Ben-Shloosh, the Director of the Acco Festival; Raya Strauss, one of the leaders in the region and Steve Adler, a Ballet Austin Board member and a leader in Austin responsible for the arrival of the Light project at Acco.

Steve shared some background information on Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project and the importance of communities engaging in dialogue around hate, prejudice and bigotry. He also described the importance of both what is seen in the ballet, and what is not seen in the ballet. Artistic director Stephen Mills wrote a story based on the experience of Holocaust survivor and Houston, Texas resident Naomi Warren.

Albert presented Steve with the Guest of Honor Acco Festival trophy, given to one act at each Festival that represents a center point of the festival. It was quite an honor for the Light project.  Steve gave the trophy to Cookie Ruiz, and here’s a photo of her with it.


The lights dimmed and the performance began. Flawlessly done, the dancers danced the 5 acts of the ballet. As expected, it was powerful and moving. Words don’t describe the feeling this ballet gives the audience. The big question prior to the performance was how it would be received by an Israeli audience. The answer:  they loved it. In a country that deals with the issues of the Holocaust regularly, the combination of precisely executed dance elements by accomplished and professional dancers like those in the Austin Ballet and the subject material built into the story of the Light project was extremely well received by the Israeli audience. Even our tour guide, Dani, commented on how wonderful the performance was and how deep and thought provoking it was for him. But the confirming sign of success was the clapping at the end of the show. It started out as any audience, with wild applause, but very quickly the clapping morphed into a rhythmic, synchronized clapping that went on for several minutes. Our Austin delegation was somewhat surprised, not knowing what the synchronized clapping meant, but we were then told that it was a high form of praise and acceptance in Israel, and common after a successful performance.

Light Performance 1

After the show, Stephen Mills came onstage to answer questions from the audience. He was asked about the symbolism of some of the elements in the ballet, and he described what his vision was. He was asked about the story and he shared some of his experience with Naomi Warren. He also was asked about the ending, and he let the audience know that Naomi’s wishes were for a positive, survivor ending, since she was a survivor.

All in all, a fantastic (shabab) evening none of us are likely to forget.

– Keri Pearlson, a member of the Jewish Community Association of Austin (JCAA) Board of Directors.

(View Keri’s other blogs here)

Ballet Austin prepares for Opening Night

We had heard about the wonders of an Israeli breakfast. It comes with the price of the room. We went downstairs as usual to choose from yogurt, eggs, vegetables, hummus,  herring and a stunning assortment of bread looking things – pound cake, pita, rolls, etc.   We learned quickly that the shy go hungry in thionstages “buffet free for all.” As the dancers wandered in – slowly and a bit red eyed – they shared the stories of their evenings out.

It was a slow morning,  so we took a walk through the old city. The signage is in Arabic or Hebrew depending on the part of town. There are booths of everything you can  imagine including some inredibly fresh fish from the Mediterranean a few feet away. Most people know my mind goes blank when I am presented with too many options so I was unable to focus at all of the spices in burlap bags, clothing and toys that light up.

We walked the ancient tiny streets which were like the smallest Venice alleyways except,  there are cars everywhere. Acco has traffic circles instead of stop signs and lights. Pedestrians have the right of way but it takes a while to get comfortable with the near death experiences. Right of way does not mean that they won’t drive an inch away from you.

vip 1:00pm the dancers had their first chance to go inside the theater.  Bill Sheffield, the Ballet Austin crew and the local tech folks were working magic with the small space. I loved watching the spacing rehearsal. Listening to the strategies to make Light work in a new space is fascinating. It included Stephen’s vision with the collaboration of the company.We had coupons to eat dinner in the Acco entertainers garden.  We all walked over to the opening ceremonies where we were greeted by three rows of VIP seats marked with Ballet Austin signs. It is so odd. The only English in Acco are the words Ballet Austin. Albert has thought of every detail to make our stay amazing. We stayed for the concert as long as we could. Then we escaped early to go get some sleep.


– Barbara Shack

Ballet Austin with the KCDC

Today the company traveled to the home of Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC).

They live and work on a kibbutz (a rural communal settlement) in the region. Just like us, the company rehearses in their black box theater. Rami Be’er, Artistic Director and Raya Strauss, their benefactor greeted us. Stephen spoke and then KCDC performed.


Stephen with RamiThe work was incredible!  And what an astounding group of dancers. My favorite response from our dancers was “Can we learn to do that?” I can’t describe the beauty of their fluidity and control.



Next Ballet Austin danced. Yes, with jet lag and no real warm up, our dancers were still gorgeous. They performed an excerpt from Light. Honestly, I panicked a little when I thought about BA doing our version of a hora in Israel. But it worked! One of their dancers complimented the quality of our dancer’s movement (high praise from a dancer who had just blown my mind performing). Another added that he couldn’t believe that we could move with jet lag. As we all know our dancers can do anything (yes, I’m biased – and this trip has done nothing to change my mind).

Most of the KCDC dancers came through their second company just like ours who came through Ballet Austin II. Yoni, thier touring director showed us the studios and explained the kibbutz concept… “It’s based on communist and socialist philosophy… not like the United States.” While it is gorgeous there – and I am getting more and more in touch with nature, I’m not so sure agriculture would be a good fit for me.
BA dancing

The dancers had the afternoon off. Eugene and I had meetings with Isi and with Claudio – the videographer.

I admit Eugene and I had reached the point of delirious exhaustion so we had a quiet dinner.  We deemed it a great success.  The food was wonderful and we stayed awake all the way through the meal.

– Barbara Shack

(photos by Nevo Photography)

Ballet Austin Arrives in Israel

Sept 18th at 11am and we’re leaving Austin, TX – all 32 of us which includes dancers, crew and staff.  After a 3 hour flight we land at Newark airport outside New York.  Our international flight was departing from a different terminal so we found the subtly marked hallway that led to an unimpressive stairway that led to the shuttle bus to terminal C – our home for the next 7 hours.  We ate lunch and walked around. We ate dinner and walked around.  It is a very big terminal and we saw it all.  It seemed wherever we walked there were Ballet Austin dancers wandering the halls in a different pattern from ours.  Eventually we joined the BA colony surrounding the battery and computer charging station near our gate.  Next we went through a second security checkpoint – special for passengers flying to Tel-Aviv.


At 11pm we departed Newark for the 10+ hour flight to Tel-Aviv.  If there was any trepidation about the distance and time that separated us from our destination it was apparently relieved as evident by the sight of so many of the dancers interfacing with the touch screen of movies, television shows and music available at every seat.  United has lots of TV and movie options on the screens in the back of the seats.  Of course when presented with too many choices I was a bit paralyzed.  Finally, I chose a few episodes of “Elementary”.  We were served dinner and then breakfast.  It has been forever since I had airplane food.  It wasn’t bad – or maybe I was excited by the retro aspect of the compartmentalized food.  Most of us slept. It was very quiet – and dark.

When we landed I was prepared for drama with customs… Let’s say over prepared.   Our group seemed to be the only foreigners on the plane so there was no line.  Once the front folks (thank you Cookie, Orlando and Ashley) explained why we were coming to Israel the rest of us got questions like “What airline did you fly on?”  No one wanted to look at our luggage.  We were greeted by Lital (the logistical genius who made this trip possible) and Isi (Albert’s producer) with a sign with the Ballet Austin logo, a splendid way to arrive anywhere.

airport 2

We met Samir, our bus driver, and traveled one hour plus to the walled, medieval city of Akko.  Our hotel has a crusader era aqueduct running through the lobby leading to a cistern in the courtyard.


Akko Hotel

We are in Old Akko with a recorded history reaching back 4,000 years.  It is a remarkably mixed city with signage in Hebrew , Arabic and a few in English for the tourists.

After check in and a bit of breathing time Samir drove us to Morganfeld’s restaurant to eat with the members of the western Galilee partnership. Albert Ben-Shloosh greeted us at the entrance.  It is unbelievable that Albert’s dream of bringing Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project to Akko is a reality and we are here.  The food was delicious! I now know I have never really had hummus.  But the most beautiful moment of the evening… was when they brought out a brazier of meat and Albert called over to Bill Sheffield to say that the steak was for him. We knew we were very well taken care of.

Dinner-Night 1

-Barbara Shack