Back in Boca Raton this week. I’m here to put my 9 inning baseball ballet (Playball) up for their 20th anniversary Summer Production.
I thought rather than describing the ballet myself I would use a preview article written by Wilma Salisbury for The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) back in 2000. Enjoy!
PLAYBALL Press Preview
Subject: Fwd: Playball preview Article/Ohio Ballet
Date: Thu, 28 Sep 2000
Season opener takes Ohio Ballet out to the ballpark!
Tuesday, September 19, 2000
By WILMA SALISBURY
THE PLAIN DEALER (Cleveland, Ohio)
When the umpire barks the familiar command Friday night in Akron, the Akron Dolls will take on the Cleveland Bulls in an interleague battle of the sexes. It’s only an exhibition game and there’s a 100 percent chance it will be rained out in the ninth inning. But before the thunderheads roll in, both
teams will give fans a full measure of fantasy, fun and physicality.
“Play Ball” is a comic baseball ballet choreographed by Christopher Fleming, a former New Yorker who grew up cheering the Mets. The clever piece will receive its Ohio Ballet premiere on the company’s season opener, “Baseball, Baroque and Ballet,” this weekend at the Akron Civic Theatre. The repertory program will be repeated Sept. 29 and 30 at the Ohio Theatre in Playhouse Square.
Fleming, who teaches at the Pennsylvania Ballet’s Rock School in Philadelphia, dreamed up the baseball ballet during a minor league game in Orlando. Between innings, he demonstrated the parallels between baseball and ballet to a fellow Mets junkie who said he would enjoy seeing a dance production based on the players’ movements. Fleming subsequently wrote an inning-by-inning scenario about an imaginary exhibition game played between male and female teams in the 1940s. Among the events are a base-stealing waltz set to music from “Swan Lake” and batting practice done to the accompaniment of Strauss’s “Anvil Polka.”
The enterprising choreographer e-mailed his preliminary script to the Web
site of Detroit Tigers pitcher C. J. Nitkowski, who liked the idea. The
concept was also enthusiastically endorsed by Jeffrey Graham Hughes, artistic director of Ohio Ballet, and Dermot Burke, artistic director of Dayton
Ballet. The two companies co-commissioned the ballet, which was premiered in Dayton last spring and then rented to Boca Ballet Theatre for a performance in Florida. Fleming’s students danced an excerpt from the piece at the Republican Convention in Philadelphia this summer, and they performed a few innings at a Philly Pops gala honoring the 20th anniversary of the Phillies’ World Series victory.
“It’s a classical ballet. It’s danced on pointe,” Fleming said by phone from Philadelphia. “The pitcher has a big develope, lunge and attitude to the Habanera and March of the Toreador from Carmen.’ The base-running is chasse and turning steps to a waltz by Tchaikovsky. “The dancers are busting their butts while juggling bats, baseballs and the catcher’s mask. We had to take them out in a park so they could learn how to throw and catch. They can’t fake it. It’s important that the skills be there.”
In a rehearsal last week at the company’s Akron studio, the dancers were
getting into their gum-chewing characters. Brian Murphy oozed personality as the manager of the Bulls. Xochitl Tejeda de Cerda matched his acting skills as his counterpart with the Dolls. Bobby Briscoe threw the high heat as the Bulls’ ace. University of Akron dance faculty member Mark Ozanich nearly got killed as the umpire.
“It’s a comedy. It’s fun,” said artistic director Hughes. “We got a picture [of the ballet] flashed on the Indians’ scoreboard. We’re looking for a larger audience.” The 1940s baseball uniforms for “PlayBall” were designed by Lowell Mathwich of Dayton Ballet. and trying to get everything in place.” From the perspective of Fleming, the company has improved since last season when he first worked with the ensemble as a guest choreographer. “I think they have a better group this season,” he said. “I was very happy with the company.”
Fleming has one complaint, however. “I make them sing the National Anthem before the game,” he said. “Their singing is really bad.”
©2000 THE PLAIN DEALER. Used with permission.
The Traveling Ballet Master