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Yoshiko Kamikusa and Chris Lingner rehearsing Raymonda Act III

Yoshiko Kamikusa and Chris Lingner rehearsing Raymonda Act III, part of The Firebird

The Firebird, opening at the Toby at Newfields on Feb. 16, will be the Indianapolis Ballet’s debut professional performance, but it did not come from out of the blue.

The debut residency, and the ballet company behind it, is an outgrowth of the Indianapolis School of Ballet, housed at 502 N. Capitol Ave.   

“From the very first day I started this school 12 years ago the vision has always been to have a professional ballet company,” says artistic director Victoria Lyras.''
 
Lyras has spent the last 48 years of her life in ballet — on and off the stage. She first started performing at the age of 10, with the New York City Ballet. 

And in her career, George Balanchine — frequently called the father of American ballet — is a figure who looms large. Lyras has, after all, danced in many of the ballets that are part of the Balanchine repertoire.  

“The Balanchine vocabulary is really based on classical ballet technique,” says Lyras. “It’s just Balanchine in the way he puts steps together so divinely to music and then, depending on which ballet, he took it a little bit off the hip ... so it has a lot of jazz influence. Balanchine loved jazz and his favorite male dancer was Fred Astaire.”
 
Two ballets in the debut performance, Who Cares? and Raymonda Act III, are both part of the Balanchine repertoire. But top billing for the triple bill goes to Stravinsky’s The Firebird, based on Russian folklore.
 
“This whole program is a celebration of love really,” Lyras says. “It’s right around Valentine’s Day and Raymonda is their wedding act, the third act. Who Cares? is really really based on beautiful melodies [of] Gershwin… so it’s all based on just the love of dance and the love of the art form.  And The Firebird is a love story too, ultimately, not between the Firebird and Ivan the prince but between the prince and the princess.” 
 
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Indianapolis Ballet founding company member Kristen Young Toner models hand-crafted tutu

Indianapolis Ballet founding company member Kristen Young Toner models hand-crafted tutu

Lyras also incorporates the Balanchine Method into Indianapolis School of Ballet training. Not coincidentally, the company gets support and licensing rights from the George Balanchine Trust. 
 
And the support available for the Indianapolis Ballet is one reason why it is debuting as a company now in 2018, rather than back in 2006.

 “The timing had to be right,” Lyras says. “The funding had to be in place.”  

Indianapolis Ballet was able to secure a substantial portion of that funding through a $500,000 grant from the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation. This puts a dent in the Ballet’s $1.2 million Moving Forward Capital campaign, which was begun in May, 2017.    

Managing a ballet company, says Lyras, is more than just tutus and ballet shoes. 

“It depends who’s holding the budget,” says Lyras. “It depends who’s holding the purse strings. I know how to budget ...  If any organization is mismanaged. It’s not going to survive.”

And she notes the shut-down of Indy-based Ballet Internationale back in 2005, which was perceived at the time — in the pages of NUVO and elsewhere — to have been caused by fiscal mismanagement.

“So I think that that gave the perception that the community did not support dance and that’s not true at all,” says Lyras.

Lyras certainly saves a bit of money by creating the Firebird’s red dress, something that might have cost upwards of $10,000 on the market. (Lyras’s 89-year old mother Loukia Finale, affectionately known as YiaYia, also stitches together many of the costumes.)
 
In Lyras’ opinion it’s important to save money, but it’s equally important to spend money on the right things. 

“For me having a professional ballet company and having been in several ballet companies and then as a freelance guest artist it was imperative to me to be able to hire the dancers contractually with a salary and medical benefits. That is essential.”

And so is finding the right dancers to hire for this full-time resident professional dance company. 

Chris Lingner, one of the company’s two founding members — who will play Prince Ivan in The Firebird — has danced in 19 performance during his time as a student at the Jacobs School of Music at IU Bloomington. 

His dancing has taken him to Denmark and Havana, Cuba but he has chosen to make his home with this company in Indianapolis, where he grew up. 
Company dancer Sarah Marsoobian, previously of City Ballet of San Diego, is an IU graduate who grew up in Connecticut. She acknowledged a particular advantage that Indianapolis has over San Diego for a young artist: affordability.

 “I miss the ocean but I can afford to live here,” she says.  

“They are our future,” Lyras says about both her resident dancers and her students. “I can’t dance anymore but I can teach and I can choreograph.  And I can stage ballets... I’ve had my career on stage."

Lyras says that for her it is about passing the torch.

“Yesterday I was rehearsing Firebird and I saw a couple of the little nine-year -olds in their little light blue leotards sitting on the floor right by the door watching,” she says. “And this is where it all begins. It’s not just about The Nutcracker. It’s what’s happening in the studio, day in day out and how these little ones look up to their idols..."
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Dan Grossman is NUVO's arts editor.

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