“PLAYBALL!” with Charleston Ballet

“PLAYBALL!” with Charleston Ballet

Hi All – Please enjoy some photos (Sue Kettering) and an early preview article from my nine- inning baseball ballet “PLAYBALL”.  Playball is set in the 1940’s and pits the Champion Women’s league team against the Champion Men’s team.

It a lot of fun from the start as the audience has to rise to sing the National Anthem. Charleston Ballet will present PLAYBALL in collaboration with myself and men from my company, BalletFleming . Sponsored by Appalachian Power, the performances are March 23-24 (7;30pm) at The Civic Center.  Playball Photos below Article.

PLAYBALL  Press Preview


“Play ball!”

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 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. “It’s a classical ballet. It’s danced on pointe,” Fleming said by phone from Philadelphia. “The pitcher has a big developpe, 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 an audience.” Regrouping Hughes said subscriptions are down for the company’s 2000-2001 season, a predictable development following the damaging public statements made last spring by dancers who banded together and demanded that the board fire Hughes, the new artistic director, because of what they perceived as his lack of vision and leadership qualities. Instead, the board backed Hughes; some of the dancers were not asked to return this season.

“It was pretty traumatic,” Hughes said. “Internally, we’re doing very well now. We’re working solidly. The board, staff and dancers are all a team.”

Hughes said the company had paid down $40,000 of its $296,000 accumulated debt and has economized by working out deals with guest choreographers and by borrowing costumes from Dayton Ballet. The 1940s baseball uniforms for “PlayBall” were designed by Lowell Mathwich of Dayton Ballet. He also designed the simple dresses and unitards the Akron dancers will wear in Hughes’ new baroque ballet, the opening piece on the repertory program. Renowned New York designer A. Christina Giannini remains on Ohio Ballet’s roster as resident designer. But she will be represented in only one work: founding artistic director Heinz Poll’s “Elegiac Song.”We do not have the money to work with [Giannini] now,” Hughes said. “We are being diligent and frugal. We’re paying bills 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.



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