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Department Of Dance

BYU Theatre Ballet Only University Program Invited to Perform at National Ballet Celebration

BYU Students Shine Among Professionals at the Historic Arpino Centennial Celebration in Chicago

Photo by The Gerald Arpino Foundation

BYU’s top performing ballet company, Theatre Ballet, has cultivated a close relationship with the Gerald Arpino Foundation under the guidance of BYU Department of Dance chair Shayla Bott and artistic director Ashley Parov. The Arpino Foundation is an organization charged with the preservation and licensing of Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey’s choreographic works. The relationship between BYU and the Arpino Foundation is five years in the making and is something few universities have achieved. Theatre Ballet’s reward for their dedication to Arpino ballets was an invitation to perform among professionals at the once-in-a-lifetime Arpino Centennial Celebration. Theatre Ballet was the only university dance program invited to perform at this historic event.

The Arpino Centennial Celebration honored the legacy of famed American choreographer Gerald Arpino with a two-day event. The celebration included dance classes, panel discussions with alumni and gala performances by dancers from top professional ballet companies around the U.S. including San Francisco Ballet, Ballet West, Joffrey Ballet, Eugene Ballet, Oklahoma City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Fort Wayne Ballet. BYU Theatre Ballet performed Arpino’s “Viva Vivaldi” in the Arpino Repertory Showcase.

Theatre Ballet’s History With The Gerald Arpino Foundation

BYU’s relationship with the Arpino Foundation began in 2017 when Theatre Ballet was granted permission to perform Arpino’s “Birthday Variations.” Since then, the company has worked consistently with repetiteur Cameron Basden. She comes to campus to set and rehearse Arpino ballets. In the past five years, Theatre Ballet has performed Arpino’s “Birthday Variations,” “Viva Vivaldi” and “Reflections.”

Cameron Basden and Ashley Parov in Rehearsal
Photo by BYU CFAC External Relations

Basden danced professionally with the Joffrey Ballet under Arpino and performed in the original premiering cast of his “Birthday Variations.” Her expertise on Arpino’s ballets is unmatched. She travels around the country passing on his legacy to professional and university ballet companies.

Basden said, “It has been my pleasure to work with BYU Theatre Ballet over these past few years in the staging of Gerald Arpino ballets. The commitment of the faculty and dancers to the training, the execution and the artistry is outstanding. I’ve loved seeing the dancers grow and mature as they’ve explored the Arpino repertory.”

[Theatre Ballet] brings such fresh energy and enthusiasm to the works—just as Arpino, himself, wanted.
Cameron Basden

Basden said that both she and other Joffrey Ballet alumni were impressed with Theatre Ballet’s performance at the Centennial Celebration. “BYU was the only university asked to participate along with major professional companies and the students were truly shining both in performance and in all the activities they attended. They bring such fresh energy and enthusiasm to the works—just as Arpino, himself, wanted.”

Theatre Ballet at the Arpino Centennial Celebration

Maia McBride in Costume For "Viva Vivaldi"
Photo by Izzy Arrieta, Arrieta Dance Photography

BYU Theatre Ballet's partnership with the Arpino Foundation culminated in their participation in the Arpino Centennial Celebration on Sept. 23-24, 2023. Theatre Ballet spend many months rehearsing “Viva Vivaldi” before they attended the Centennial. They performed this vivacious ballet, set to Antonio Vivaldi’s score, in their 2023 Ballet in Concert: All Arpino Night. Theatre Ballet performed this historic piece at the Arpino Repertory Showcase at the Joffrey Tower in Chicago almost 60 years after its original premiere on Sept. 10, 1965.

The preparation process for this historic performance involved the dedication of both dancers and faculty. Recent Theatre Ballet alumni and current faculty member, Mira Larsen Charles (BS ‘23) had the unique opportunity to coach “Viva Vivaldi” and perform it at the Centennial Celebration. She first performed the piece during her final year as a student at BYU and then was charged with leading rehearsals for the piece in preparation for the Celebration. When one of the dancers could no longer attend the Celebration due to an injury, Charles stepped in to perform despite not having danced full time since graduating BYU.

“I think it is valuable for the dancers to learn from someone who has learned the ballet from a repetiteur, performed it and is now passing it on. I know how the choreography feels in my body and I remember certain details from performing it myself,” she said.

Olivia Smith and Gordon Felesina in "Viva Vivaldi"
Photo by Izzy Arrieta, Arrieta Dance Photography

Performing at the Centennial Celebration was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the dancers that was invigorating for the mind, body and spirit. Theatre Ballet student dancer Maia McBride shared her experience: “I tried to share the light of Christ through my dancing. In doing so, I found my time on stage to be very joyful and fulfilling.”

The inviting and inspiring environment of the Centennial Celebration stood out to Theatre Ballet student dancer Colette Radstone. She recalled a moment at the Centennial where, while watching a class of Arpino alumni dancers, the teacher pulled her to the front of the room and said, “This is why we do what we do. This student, Colette, is why we do what we do. This is for the next generation.” Radstone said that the positive energy she felt from the other dancers and alumni was what will stay with her the most.

Why Arpino, Why BYU, Why Now?

Shayla Bott
Photo by Nathalie van Empel

Bott believes that BYU was chosen as the only university dance program invited to perform at the Centennial Celebration because Theatre Ballet is one of the few programs that focus so heavily on performing Arpino’s works. She said that leading dance educators such as Jodie Gates, founding director of University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, approached her to say that they had never considered incorporating Arpino’s works into a college setting but that the pairing made perfect sense.

At the Centennial Celebration, Bott was asked to sit on a panel, “Arpino: Past, Present, Future,” alongside dance critics, dance educators and former Joffrey Ballet dancers. During the panel she explained that performing Arpino’s ballets has greatly influenced the BYU ballet curriculum. Bott said, “His ballets are a masterclass in pas de deux, in pointe work, in technique.” She also noted that while the Arpino ballets have contributed to the improvement of the BYU dancers’ technique, the dancers already had a technical foundation strong enough to perform his challenging ballets.

[Gerald Arpino's] ballets are a masterclass in pas de deux, in pointe work, in technique.
Shayla Bott

Faculty member and former Department of Dance chair Curt Holman said, “During my time in the Department of Dance, I’ve had a historical perspective of ballet at BYU and have absolutely marveled to see their progression. The leadership of our ballet program has worked with the long game in mind. This great honor started from seeds planted some five years ago.”

Maia McBride and Addy Boll in "Viva Vivaldi"
Photo by Izzy Arrieta, Arrieta Dance Photography