Albany Berkshire Ballet saying 'happy 50th birthday' with new 'Midsummer Night's Dream'

New ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ points the way to tomorrow

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PITTSFIELD — Forty-five years ago, Madeline Cantarella Culpo announced to the Albany Berkshire Ballet's board of directors the then five-year-old classical dance company would undertake a full-length production of "The Nutcracker."

The announcement, made in October 1974, could have been disastrous.

"No costumes. No sets. No choreography. Thank goodness I was married to a musician, that helped a little bit," Cantarella Culpo, artistic director and founder, said Wednesday during the dance company's season announcement. "Everyone thought I was crazy. The only reason I was able to do this 'Nutcraker' is because I didn't know that it was not possible. To me that's an important thing. People can do anything as long as someone doesn't tell them they can't. So we did our first 'Nutcracker' and it's gone on forever. I know have children of children of children who were in the 'Nutcracker.'"

As the Albany Berkshire Ballet is poised to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the company is preparing itself for a future full of new partnerships, collaborations and expansions.

"We're very excited to be mounting 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' the first full-length production, other than 'The Nutcracker,' that the ballet has done. In its history, the ballet was famous for its full-length productions, really receiving critical acclaim form the New York Times, the Boston Globe and throughout New England for the level of training that was on display," said Mary Giannone Talmi, newly announced associate artistic director. "I think that because we have beautiful full-length productions, beautiful sets and costumes that it's time to show the Berkshires, Eastern New York, Southern Vermont and Connecticut these productions."

Talmi, who is overseeing the company's Process and Performance series, said she this will not only allow the company to showcase its talent, but it will also allow them to gain support of an audience, that she believes, would love to see the company's dancers in productions of "Romeo and Juliet" and "Swan Lake," in addition to "The Nutcracker."

"When everyone can see the future, they invest in that. That's what we're doing today," she said.

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While the "Midsummer" production will utilize the company's original sets and costumes, a new version of the two-act play is being staged and choreographed by Paula Weber, professor of ballet and chairwoman of dance for the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Conservatory of Music and Dance.

"One of the things that is so rewarding about this 50th anniversary season is that we are getting to work with some of our people, extraordinary artists like Paula, who have contributed to the past success of the company" Talmi said.

Tami is one of several new additions to the dance company's staff. Other additions to the company include five professional dancers, Anna Acker, Ruslan Sprague, Marie Buser, Vincent Brewer and Lisa Iannacito, who will teach students as well as perform.

The company dancers are part of a larger initiative to develop a new repertory that includes collaborations with choreographers Erica Dankmeyer and Janine Parker of Williams College, Jonathan Riedel of SUNY Purchase and Eric Otto of Skidmore College. Those collaborations can be seen this spring during the CoDA spring performance at Williams College, where an excerpt from "Rockwell in Our Times" will be performed and on May 26 at PS21 in Chatham, N.Y. This work is in addition to the company's education program, which brings dance performances to local schools.

"Mary is a prolific artist. I've experienced her work from the audience. I've experienced her work as a dancer as it's being built. I think she has a talent and just a voice in dance that we want to be heard," said Alison LaRocca, president of the dance company's board of directors. "Last year, we did not have these professional dancers on staff. We're planning as best as we can for the future ... We say it's all new this year, but it's really been a few years in the making."

The season also will include a 50th anniversary gala at the Berkshire Plaza Hotel on Aug. 17. The evening will include a full sit-down dinner, performances, an award honoring Cantarella Culpo and an "all-out dance party" with music by DJ BFG.

For more information, visit albanyberkshireballet.org.


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