For Victoria Lyras, the founding artistic director of Indianapolis School of Ballet, the choreography of George Balanchine is everything.
It's what she learned as a child dancing with the New York City Ballet, it's the methodology that she uses at the ballet school, and it was even the reason why the school was opened 10 years ago.
"This is what makes Indianapolis School of Ballet special and different from everybody else," says Lyras. "We are a Balanchine based school. Balanchine is the soul of this organization. Not that we don't do other things, of course we do, but there was a void in this community of Balanchine. It was my intent to bring his legacy to the midwest; it just didn't exist here."
Balanchine was the artistic director for the New York City Ballet for years; it was there that his style was truly seen as neoclassic. It can be noted that many of his ballets are not dependent on plot and narrative, but focus solely on the dancers and the musicality.
Lyras will be combining several of his works in the 10th anniversary show, including Serenade and the first three scenes of the four temperaments — part of Balanchine's black and white era of choreography, meaning he stripped away costumes and only had dancers in leotards. This is also one of his hardest ballets with eight of the ensemble dancers never leaving the stage.
"See the music hear the dance [is a quote from Balanchine], this ballet completely depicts that," says Lyras. "The architecture of the choreography is just remarkable ... It's the way the steps, the basic steps, are interwoven musically ... and the way he uses the human bodies in this instance to see the music."
All of the dancers who have graduated from the school and now dance professionally will be returning for an encore performance. Lyras currently has former students in the Nashville Ballet, the Cincinnati Ballet and one dancer who just wrapped up a role in On the Town on Broadway.
She will open the show with the Carnival of the Animals, an original piece that she choreographed. She feels that the combination of that and the works of Balanchine will give a strong taste of what the school can do, especially in the small snippets of the famous choreographer's work. She noted that Balanchine used to make appetizers and was known for his cooking. She wanted the sampling of his work to be similarly palatable.
"Balanchine was known for even getting Stravinsky out of a bad mood with his cooking," says Lyras. "I wanted to have a balanced program."
Lyras hopes that this program could be the push that they need to get a professional ballet company up and running. The school currently sits in what used to be the Indianapolis International Ballet, which went bankrupt some years ago.
"I am business minded and this community has been badly burned, or it was 10 years ago, and it has taken many years to get to this point for us," says Lyras. "I don't know what the future holds but I do it carefully, with integrity and I do it fiscally responsibly."
She notes that the school hasn't been in the red at all in the last five years, and is currently able to offer $40,000 in scholarships to dancers. It has always been her goal for the school to lay the groundwork for a professional company. Right now she just needs that extra financial push to make it happen. Though she wouldn't say how much that would be exactly, she did mention it will depend on whether they have 10 or 16 dancers to start.
Between starting a school right after it was shown that a professional ballet company couldn't be sustained (at the time) in Indy and taking on a personal loan of $200,000 to get the doors open and classes started, Lyras is clearly committed to the idea.
"The connections are there," says Lyras. "The artistic product is there."