Watching and reading about cultural events makes me want more. I admit I’m somewhat jealous of the lives and times that didn’t know they were being immersed in some of the greatest art our world has ever seen. Looking back on the 1950s, 1960s, etc., it’s incredible to realize to what extent the dance and music being created in those generations influenced what we now think of as parameters for excellence.

Television and videotape, of course, aren’t the perfect venue for the performing arts, but they’re a wonderful history lesson. One can vicariously live in the time of George Balanchine, Margot Fonteyn, Rudolph Nureyev, Maria Callas, Isaac Stern, and hundreds of others whose talent and brilliance leave me in a heady fog. These are the greats who encourage us to keep going—and do more.

In our own proximity there’s the Peoria Ballet. The company continues to become a unified picture, and the dancers improve technically, while their bodies mimic each other so the overall look is that of an even and clear-cut training. This year’s addition of Rebekah von Rathonyi and Andrea Bergeman has been a speedy vehicle for the professional look I crave.

Rebekah, our Academy director, brings a certain maturity to the stage. All will agree she’s beautiful, but it’s her captivating smile that charms the audience, and a self-confidence which beguiles. Andrea, our first full-time ballerina, is full of youthful, exuberant dancing. Her pirouettes are quick, and her impeccable training shows in ways many dancers notice—the line of her feet, her poise, and her easy agility. A pro always manages to make the difficult look effortless and the audience is immediately put at ease.

People forget how physically demanding ballet is. Our dancers are, in fact, skilled athletes who train long, arduous hours every week to attain the smooth controlled movements we enjoy onstage. In high school I was on the varsity football squad, but those sweat-filled afternoons on the field pale in comparison to the grueling demands of the dance world. It was a hard lesson to learn that ballet not only required the speed, agility, and sheer strength of a sport, but every step had to be filled with precision, purpose, and grace. When we attend a quality dance performance, the concept of “finesse” becomes visible.

Peoria Ballet, still in an embryonic state, changed its direction this year, and it’s euphoric to watch the transformation. We achieved new artistic heights by adding a third production to our season at the Peoria Civic Center, providing live accompaniment (in the form of the wonderful Peoria Symphony Orchestra) for our Nutcracker performances, and hiring a full-time professional ballerina. Our commitment to serving our community continues in the form of classes for special needs students, educational outreach lecture/demonstrations to area schools, and special appearances at local events such as the St. Jude Benefit, Shoppes at Grande Prairie, and the Peoria Pirates football game to name a few. Our summer dance camps and intensives provide superior dance training for local students, as well as those from as far away as Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio.

What’s also inspiring is the generous and ongoing support for the ballet at a very grand level. Our Russian Winter Ball fundraiser was a resounding success thanks to a strong board, dedicated volunteers, and a hard-working staff. Ballet enthusiasts can celebrate with us in this wonderful support and steel themselves for a promising future. Next year’s season is as enriching as ever: an eclectic, cutting-edge X-Tensions in October; our glittering Nutcracker in December; and the beautiful, full-length, romantic Giselle in April. Exciting new performance opportunities with Opera Illinois and a mini-season at the historic Orpheum Theatre in Galesburg will also enhance our contribution to the regional arts scene.

Peoria has earned the right to be proud of its cultural assets. At Peoria Ballet, we invite you to come and experience an art form that will amaze you, enthrall you, and ultimately capture your heart. AA!