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Professional ballet is coming to Vero

STORY BY MICHELLE GENZ, (Week of June 6, 2013)

An opera, a theater, an art museum, an orchestra, choruses galore – all worthy of cities 10 times this town’s size.  But nowhere, among Vero Beach’s rich cultural offerings, has serious dance been represented. Finally, hoping to fill that void, Riverside Theatre’s director of dance, Adam Schnell, has formed Ballet Vero Beach, the city’s first fully professional ballet company.

“With the thirst for culture here and the economy turning a corner, they want more,” says Schnell of his hometown of 15 years. 

With hopes of eventually becoming a Vero-based company, Ballet Vero Beach is being launched in conjunction with a young company out of Omaha, the four-year-old Ballet Nebraska.

The partnership will continue “until we get off the ground . . . in two, three or five years,” says Schnell.  The company will stage a kick-off benefit performance on Riverside Theatre’s Main Stage in August, and follow up in March or April with a “gala weekend” of performances at a venue yet to be finalized.

“I’m going to go up there and rehearse them in various repertoires, and they will come here to perform,” he says. Even with travel and lodging, that plan will reduce overhead, from employment to studio expenses, allowing the company to bank profit from ticket sales.

“It will let us build up the capital to have a studio, to fund a performance space and see where it goes for a couple of years, while Vero has access to what the Ballet Vero Beach esthetic is going to be.”

Schnell’s goal is for a company of at least 20 dancers. “Vero is a very affluent town and I can see us having 30 or 40 dancers,” he says. “My passion is for the classic ballet structure and we need a company big enough to do classical ballets but also contemporary work.”

Board members for the ballet company include Kelly Ward, a long time civic volunteer and assistant to the business banking manager of Wells Fargo Bank locally. Her daughter, Shanna Ward, was a former student of Schnell’s and danced professionally in college. 

Also on the board are Elaine May, an attorney and real estate broker; attorney David Hancock, board member and legal counsel for Vero Beach Opera; and Lisa McLaughlin, a close friend of Schnell’s and a longtime lover of ballet.   

Along with performing established classical, neo-classical and contemporary ballet repertoire, Ballet Vero Beach intends to add original choreography. It also hopes to bring in national and international dancers and dance companies to perform for the Vero audience.

Schnell will continue to run the dance program at Riverside while getting Ballet Vero Beach off the ground, he says.

The inaugural fundraiser will take place on the last weekend of the Riverside Dance Festival, a two-week dance summer intensive for pre-professional dancers.

Launched last year by Schnell, the camp teams students with dance professionals to choreograph and perform works of ballet and modern dance. Last year 20 students aged 10 to 18 signed up for the program. Among their instructors were the artistic director and ballet master from Ballet Nebraska. They performed alongside the students at the camp’s end.

It was the first time professional ballet had been performed on Riverside’s Main Stage since dancers from Miami City Ballet gave a performance here in 2008.

For the benefit, “First Steps,” the professional dancers – without students – will perform Saturday, August 17. Riverside Theatre is donating use of the stage as well as personnel. Dancers from Boston’s Prometheus Dance, two principal dancers with Ballet Nebraska, and Vero’s Camilo Rodriguez, a former professional dancer and an instructor at the Riverside Conservatory, will perform.