Local company presents show for students
by Jon Mendelson
Dec 07, 2012 | 3490 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Messiah ballet at the Grand Theatre
Dancers from the Anastasis ballet company perform a scene from Handel’s “Messiah” ballet at the Grand Theatre on Friday, Nov. 30.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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Tens of thousands have watched George Handel’s “Messiah” since it was first performed in 1742. But fewer than 20 were on hand to watch the Anastasis Ballet Company put on its third annual abbreviated performance for local students Friday, Nov. 30, at the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts.

Still sweating from an athletic performance on the Grand’s main stage, the company’s artistic director, Rachel Gustafson, said the turnout for the event was “so disappointing.”

But the 26-year-old, who has been dancing since she was 4, said it likely won’t discourage her from staging a similar performance in 2013.

“We’re hoping that it gives (students) experience of the fine arts, and that they gain a better knowledge of classical music also, because ‘Messiah’ is considered such a masterpiece of classic music,” Gustafson said.

Anastasis, Tracy’s lone professional ballet company, has performed to the music of “Messiah” each holiday season since 2010. This year’s show featured engagements with the group’s 10 dancers Saturday, Dec. 1, and Sunday, Dec. 2.

The truncated version for students — which included a history lesson about the music, several of the show’s dance numbers, a close-up look at ballet shoes and a question-and-answer session with ballerinas — has sought to bring local children closer to fine art during the past three years.

“I think it offers a great educational experience in the theater setting,” Gustafson said.

The 2011 performance drew more than 200 students, Gustafson said, many from Tracy. This year, however, there were none from Tracy-area schools in attendance.

Gustafson said Anastasis members tried to get the word out “as best we could.” She was puzzled by the small turnout.

Casey Goodall, assistant superintendent for business services at Tracy Unified School District, said Tuesday, Dec. 4, that there was no formal decision at individual schools or by district administrators to stop students or classes from attending.

He also said the religious underpinnings of “Messiah” would not prevent public schools from including it in a field trip.

“I think it was case-by-case,” Goodall said. “We’ve never addressed a policy like that to limit a cultural recreational thing … that has a religious origin.”

Among those who observed the leaping, twirling dancers Friday were four home-schooled elementary students from Livermore and about 15 high school students who are in a music appreciation class at Valley Christian High School in Dublin.

James Bessolo, a 17-year-old Valley Christian student, was impressed with the skill and passion of the dancers.

“You can see it in the way they interact with people,” he said.

One of his classmates, Max McConville, 16, said events such as Friday’s might help more people connect with ballet, which he called a “history lesson in action.”

“I’d say try it out — it might click with you,” McConville said.

That’s the type of response Gustafson hoped for when she and Anastasis began the project, and one she hopes to cultivate in the years to come.

“The fine arts are generally not incorporated in their curriculum,” she said. “They don’t have a lot of dance exposure or music exposure, unless it’s extracurricular.”

• Contact Jon Mendelson at 830-4231 or jmendelson@tracypress.com.

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