As Hurricane Irma made its way through the Caribbean last week, Sarasota Ballet principal Ellen Overstreet was closely following the news. Tracking its progress, she made plans with fellow company members Asia Bui and Madysen Felber: "Wednesday was the most stressful day. We went to five different grocery stores. There was no gas; there was no water. Our plan was to stock up one of our apartments and sleep over all together."
By Friday night, however, the storm had shifted west, its radius enveloping Sarasota and prompting many company members (those who hadn't already booked flights out) to evacuate. In a last-minute decision, Overstreet, Bui and Felber packed up a car and drove to Tampa, where they spent the night safely. Yet the storm progressed, and in another night flight they headed for Orlando to stay with Overstreet's friend's family. The central Floridian city saw flooding damage, downed awnings, and power outages like much of the state, but Overstreet says that she was in "a strong house and felt secure" while hunkering down to wait out the storm.
Few things are more terrifying than the prospect of 170+ mile per hour winds literally chasing you upstate. But the anticipation for Irma intensified sharply in Hurricane Harvey's aftermath. Last week, we reported that the Houston Ballet Center for Dance and its home theater sustained serious flooding damage. The company's first program has been postponed, to be performed at a later date in a back-up venue.
We checked in with some of Florida's ballet companies to see how they weathered this most recent storm.
As the dancers processed through downtown Orlando—smiling, laughing, heads held high—Orlando Ballet artistic director Robert Hill allowed himself to relax and take in the moment. It was 2013 and the company was headed toward its future.
Rising from the rubble of a construction site was the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The dancers were about to see their new performance space. “It was a game changer," Hill recalls. “I couldn't stop watching their faces."
The ballet had nowhere to go but up: A mold infestation, not uncommon in Florida's humid heat, had driven the troupe from its longtime rehearsal home. And every day seemed to bring new challenges, like instability in the company's business management and a cash flow that had slowed to a trickle.
Hill's mantra to his dancers stayed positive: “Let's hang on, everybody. We're going to get through this."
Have you ever spent a later summer evening, with the first hints of cooler weather swishing through trees, reflecting on the memories of a season come and gone? This is precisely the mood Antony Tudor evokes in his 1975 piece, The Leaves are Fading. In this clip, former American Ballet Theatre principals Leslie Browne and Robert Hill perfectly capture memory’s nostalgia. Browne swirls in and out of Hill’s arms, energy sometimes picking up as if in a warm summer breeze. But mostly the pair’s movements are soft and dreamlike. Rather than concluding the pas de deux with fanfare, the two fade offstage—indeed, like green fading gradually from leaves.
Leslie Browne was one of the preeminent ballerinas of her generation. She even entranced mainstream audiences with her talents when she appeared in the iconic dance movie The Turning Point, which earned her Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. Robert Hill, who also danced with New York City Ballet, The Royal Ballet and as a guest artist all over the world, now leads Orlando Ballet. Happy #FlashbackFriday!