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Back on their feet: update on the New Orleans dance community.

If there was any doubt that dancers have high tolerance for pain and anxiety, the proof lies in The Big Easy. The New Orleans dance community has had to do a lot of post-Katrina rebuilding, both physically and emotionally. In the past 17 months, the area has received support on a local and national level, and now dance is not just surviving--it's thriving. Jenny Hamilton, executive director of the New Orleans Ballet Association (NOBA), calls the support of the national dance community "overwhelming."

NOBA, a service and educational organization devoted to presenting dance in the Gulf Coast for the past 38 years, lost its primary presenting facility, Mahalia Jackson Theatre, to Katrina. The theater is not due to reopen until April 2008, so NOBA has a temporary home at Tulane University's Dixon Hall. Last fall, its season included Houston Ballet, Noche Flamenca, and Savion Clover. This spring it welcomes American Ballet Theatre and the Ronald K. Brown/Evidence Dance Company. Hamilton says the companies have been flexible and accommodating to the technical and spatial challenges of Dixon Hall; the house has 980 seats, less than half that of the Mahalia Jackson Theatre.

In addition to their performance space, NOBA also lost 12 of 14 teaching facilities, equipment such as ballet barres, tap floors, marley floors, and their office space. But their educational program, NOBA's Dance Institute, was quick to keep dance education in the area. "Our commitment to the children and artists of this community was and continues to be unwavering," says Hamilton. Less than two months after the hurricane hit, NOBA contacted colleagues in nearby Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and Metairie to set up satellite teaching sites for more than 60 displaced dance students. After the first class in Metairie, Hamilton remembers, "A young mother in tears said to me, 'This is the first time that I've seen her happy since the storm.'"

Funding is still a major concern. The Delta Festival Ballet (DFB) was hit hard by the flooding and lost its Nutcracker scenery, designed by Tony Award-winner Robert O'Hearn and worth $50,000. Director Joseph Giacobbe said the company received scenery and costume donations from companies like the Twin City Ballet of Monroe, the Tri Parish Ballet of Denham Springs, the Lafayette Ballet Theatre, and Ballet Mississippi of Jackson for this year's Nutcracker. DFB held a homecoming concert, "A Time to Dance," last April that brought back alumni of the Giacobbe Dance Academy, including dancers from ABT, Smuin Ballet, Montgomery Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Celebrity Cruise Lines.

Giacobbe said initially he observed what he calls the "Katrina look" in the eyes of students at his dance academy. "It's hard to describe, but there is something different, resulting from the trauma we all experienced and continue to be affected by, being in the devastated areas."

To make matters worse, there was the initial post-Katrina fund freezing. According to Giacobbe, the Arts Council of New Orleans depends on its funds from the Louisiana state government, and the state was cutting back on arts funding since they needed the money for other services. The Tsunami Dance Company, Confederacy of Dances (an annual modern dance festival), and NOCCA/Riverfront all lost some of their funding. Yet many companies are back on their feet. This spring will bring performances by Anne Burr Dance Company, Happensdance, and Tsunami. The Confederacy of Dances festival will take place in May.

The Americans for the Arts Emergency Relief Fund has helped compensate for budget cuts by awarding grants to NOBA and other organizations. Also, Hamilton says $175,000 in supplies have been collected from more than 60 dance companies, artists, and suppliers in the U.S. and Canada. The largest donation, about $100,000 worth of supplies, came from Star Styled in Florida.

While NOBA's season brings major companies to the area, dancers outside of New Orleans are devoted to helping. Studio owner Roni Blak and her MNR Dance Factory of California lent their support by selecting 10 NOBA students to spend a week in Los Angeles to perform in a year-end concert, "Dance from L.A. to LA." PearsonWidrig DanceTheater, based in New York City, has been on the road with Katrina, Katrina: Love Letters to New Orleans. They kicked off this "live documentary" at Tulane last spring, and have been touring it across the U.S. In March they will return to New Orleans and perform at the Contemporary Arts Center.

Hamilton says, "In the midst of devastation, we have found hope and beauty in every class, activity, and performance. It has become evident that dance is a vital part of our lives, with a unique power to heal, uplift, and renew our spirits."
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Title Annotation:DANCE MATTERS
Author:Macel, Emily
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 2007
Words:780
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