Five decades of ballet
It is doubtful that way back in 1972, The Tallahassee Ballet founder Helen Salter had imagined that her new dance company, then known as the Tallahassee Civic Ballet, would one day celebrate it’s 50th anniversary toward the end of a world-wide pandemic. But that’s just what happened. In September of 2022, the Company kicked off their 50th season with the ribbon cutting of a new building as well as an onstage performance of their annual “Evening of Music and Dance” event. They performed of “The Sounds of Brazil” at Opperman Music Hall on Florida State University’s campus.
Reaching this golden season of celebration is a big deal for the Ballet. Like most of the performing arts groups during the COVID pandemic, the sudden stoppage of live musical performances in their 47th year challenged the company to find new ways to reach their traditional audience. But something interesting happened, led by Artistic Director Tyrone Brooks and his creative team, TTB engaged the community in a special way that would invite old and new audiences to the party.
In a video created by WFSU’s Rheannah Wynter, as part of a PBS for the Arts project, we meet Tyrone Brooks and focus on the resiliency and diversity of the The Tallahassee Ballet and a special performance called “Invitation to the Party.”
An Artistic Director’s pandemic worries
Tyrone Brooks started with the The Tallahassee Ballet in it’s 2013-2014 season, but his professional experience before that time includes 18 years as a Principal Dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Tallahassee presented a unique and intriguing challenge for him. As a city that is not as large as New York or Houston, he says that finding a way to impact the community is an important key to build relationships and to bring people together to support the ballet community. Then the pandemic came and created a whole new world of worry.
“Right now, the world is very dark,” Brooks told WFSU about his feelings at the time. “My concern about the future of the organization during the pandemic is that we were no longer going to have dancers. My concern was how are the doors going to open next year? How long is this going to last? How are we going to maintain what we had? Are we going to be able to come back from this?”
His dancers had the same questions and concerns and Brooks says he couldn’t answer them. But he also wouldn’t give up.
“It is easy to say ‘I’m done,’ and be out the door, but you can’t,” explains Brooks. “If you’re passionate, if you love something, there was no way I could just walk out the door, you know? No way.”
Through outdoor performances and online videos, the Ballet created a virtual season in 2020-2021. They returned to the stage in 2022 with an “Invitation to the Party.”
Inviting everyone to the party
The idea for “Invitation to the Party” stems from the title of a 2005 book by author Donna Walker-Kuhne, which is subtitled “Building Bridges to the Arts, Culture and Community.” The book focused on strategies and methods to engage diverse communities.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the title,” says Brooks. “It’s about bringing together through partnerships, diversity and collaborations. And I always wondered how can I make this work on stage.”
He did it by including a diverse range of music, including live jazz, gospel, R & B opera and more.
“Bringing people together under one umbrella is important,” says Brooks. “It is even more so a need and a desire after the pandemic. It takes you to a whole different place, just for a moment, even more so now.”
The reaction from audience.
“It wasn’t what people expected,” He explained. “They didn’t expect the curtain opening and you got a gospel choir singing. And this is why we go to the theatre. To be engaged, not entertained. You can be entertained turning on the tv. If you’re engaged with something, you become a part of that, part of your spirit. So you want to stand up, you want to clap, you want to feel good. You want to tap your foot.”
Brooks says that when he saw people start standing up during the “Invitation to the Party” performance, his mind went to one thing.
“All I could think was mission accomplished. Tyrone Brooks you did it. That was my goal. To bring people off their chairs to a happy place.”
The next Tallahassee Ballet will be December 10 and 11 at Ruby Diamond Concert Hall with the performance of annual holiday favorite “The Nutcracker.” Go to tallaahsseeballet.org for more information.