Facts of Ballet in the Early 20th Century

1. Male ballet dancers were rare in this time period.   

The new, industrial way of life prevented many men from learning to dance. Life in factories, as oppose to farms, didn’t allow for much dance in social settings, and the small amount of social dances were predominantly feminine. The dances were also lacking in culture, and weren’t passed through generations. Men were frowned upon for participating in dance, and a career with a ballet company was not respected.

2. Jazz dance rose to popularity

In the period following World War I, ballet was still a respected classical art form, but often didn’t excited people as much as jazz did. Steps as simple as the Charleston allowed people to express their joy at the war being over. This era produced stars like Fred Astaire, and had a large influence on the modernization of Western ballet.

3. Ballet looked to jazz dance for inspiration.  

Artists like Kasian Goleizovsky were influenced by the acrobatic elements of jazz dance, and by ballroom dancing as well. He paired these styles with classical ballet to create a new kind of dance. These ballets were eccentric, and invigorating. Goleizovsky even had his ballets accompanied by jazz musicians, unlike choreographers before when.

4. Soviet ballet training became more modern.  

Meanwhile in the eastern hemisphere, Soviet ballet was becoming more modern as well. Agrippina Vaganova developed her own method of ballet that was a combination of classical ballet and new, expressive, acrobatic choreography. The Vaganova method is still known as the main Russian ballet syllabus, and is now taught to students all around the world.

5. Soviet ballet companies were influenced by the Revolution.  

The ballet companies of Soviet Russia were inspired by the Revolution of 1917. Ballets like Flames of Paris were made, performed, and quickly became popular because of the powerful, heroic themes. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the public was ready for more lyrical works, like Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

6. Ballet companies were inspired by film and stage design.  

In the early 1920s, ballet was influenced by other visual arts. Stage design, in film especially, became popular, and this brought on a new setting for ballet. It also caused choreographers to focus less of difficult choreography, and more on the set, costumes, and expression of the dancers.

7. The Ballet Russe was formed.  

The Ballet Russes are considered today a huge part of the history of this era. These were traveling ballet groups that performed less-complete, but still beautiful, pieces of ballet. Although the choreography was often widely-used, and the sets were small, the artists made the performances great, and original. The stars who emerged were unforgettable.

8. George Balanchine was recognized as a new artist.  

George Balanchine became a choreographer after years of dance experience in the early 1920s. He left Russia during the Revolution to join Sergei Diaghilev’s company, where he was able to perform his first original work in Paris. He paired expressive modern dance with quick, athletic ballet choreography, and went on to create a ballet syllabus named after him. It is still widely used today at schools and companies including New York City Ballet (NYCB) and School of American Ballet (SAB), which he was a cofounder of.

9. Bournonville ballet remained the same.  

While the renowned Vaganova and Balanchine methods of ballet were invented in this time period, the Bournonville method was sustained in its original home of Denmark. The traditional ballets were performed, and the syllabus was taught, without any revisions based on contemporary dance styles, or trends.

10. Modern dance was founded.    

Modern dance was adapted from ballet in the 1920s, although the technical style was far from that of ballet. It was influenced by many art forms, including Greek mythological stories. One of the major founders of modern dance was Martha Graham; Graham has become widely known for her success of the invention of modern dance. She believed that industrialization and contemporary occupations and people should inspire her dance.

*written and researched by BFan Ovation summer ballet intensive students Hannah and Natalie

Catch up with Cinderella: A Rock Opera Ballet creators Hannah and Donna Bontrager!

At the BFan studio the countdown to the upcoming performances of Cinderella: A Rock Opera Ballet have begun in earnest and everyone, dancers and staff, are working hard to ensure that this production of Cinderella is the best one yet! When putting together an all-original and elaborate ballet performance, such as Cinderella, it truly involves the efforts of every member of the BFan team. From behind the scenes administrative work and the perfecting of costumes to the tireless rehearsing by our amazing dancers – it’s clear that when it comes to ballet it truly takes a village!

What better way to get a peek into the preparations for Cinderella than catching up with BFan’s dynamic mother and daughter duo Hannah and Donna Bontrager. These talented women are the masterminds behind Cinderella’s innovative and exciting choreography as well as being the ballet’s producers. We obviously are not the only ones who think that they make quite the pair because they both recently sat down Eugene Weekly’s Rachel Carnes for an interview.

Take a moment to read up on the work these two are doing and their thoughts on this season’s Cinderella: A Rock Opera Ballet performance and why they think YOU should show up at the Hult Center May 8th, 9th or 10th for the most rockin’ evening you’ve experienced in a long time!

Check out the exclusive interview below… And for more information/tickets click here!

BFan Hannah and Donna

Mother-daughter duo Hannah and Donna Bontrager

What’s so timeless about the Cinderella story?

HANNAH: “There’s something that just feels right about this story–a person who has a gut feeling, against all odds, that she is meant for something greater.  There’s a reason why we call professional athletes who come from nothing ‘a Cinderella story.’  Everyone can relate to that.”

Why set it in the 1960s?

DONNA: “I went to prom in the 1960’s.  This is my music.  The more we started exploring the concept (which began as just an offhand comment in the car while we were on tour down to Ashland years ago, and took off from there), the more we fell in love with it, both for the thematic and musical possibilities, and for the historical suggestions.  I knew it was the perfect time period and music for a Ballet Fantastique Cinderella.”

HANNAH: “Coming from my generation’s perspective–and being privileged to work alongside my mom, and the added layer that the performance is Mother’s Day weekend–there’s something so fascinating about knowing more about the time period our mothers grew up in.  Most of my friends are obsessed with Mad Men, and part of the draw is about realizing the extent to which the period was a “man’s world,” and how strong these women, our mothers, are…how far they have come so that we can have more opportunity to realize our dreams and our potential.  To me, Cinderella is a story about a woman breaking free of her confines, leaving the house work at home, and realizing that she could find an identity for herself outside of the kitchen.  Our Cinderella is not the only woman who did that in the 60s.  So, while our Cinderella emphasizes the love story–and it’s playful and fun, not meant to be a social commentary, per se–we love the underlying suggestion of this time period.  The original Cinderella essentially burns her tattered cinder clothes.  Thinking about it, if she had done that 100 years later, it would have been her bra.”

Has the movement vernacular and music influenced your choreography?

DONNA: “Growing up, we really did the Twist and the Mashed Potato.  I knew I wanted them to inform the choreography.  I also drew from Broadway-type movement and even the classical Kirov and Bolshoi Cinderellas.  We truly created a hybrid, very theatrically-driven movement style.”

HANNAH: “As a dancer myself, I can say that Ballet Fantastique dancers know that we ask them to integrate diverse movemental influences into each new ballet. In ZORRO, we actually learned traditional Native American dance steps; in our Roaring 20’s Pride & Prejudice, we did the Charleston and the Black Bottom on pointe.  Cinderella is a blast to dance because it brings all of these diverse styles together.”

What can audiences look forward to?

HANNAH: “When we first premiered this original ballet in 2012, our concept was met with a lot of wide eyes and raised eyebrows. Even Shelley and Cal weren’t sure if we could pull it off at first!  But people tell us that it just works.  Cinderella: A Rock Opera Ballet has actually become a seminal work in BFan’s original repertoire, helping to define and establish our unique brand of new dance theater–classic stories told through new choreography and unexpected music with an often playful twist.  Now, in celebration of five seasons of premiering 100% original new contemporary ballets at the Hult, this was the first production we wanted to bring back–it’s kind of ‘iconic BFan.'”

DONNA: “In the past three years, we’ve actually seen more dance companies across the country telling new stories and even branding their work a ‘rock opera ballet’–we don’t think they’re copying us, but it is pretty exhilarating to have been ahead of this trend.  This is my opinion, but I believe that the idea of doing a ‘rock opera ballet’ is catching on because it’s fun, accessible, fresh, funny.  Audiences who come to a BFan show–and especially Cinderella–will be hard pressed not to be laughing out loud and totally caught up in the fun.  Though I think it will hold special humor for my generation who grew up and fell in love to this music, BFan’s Cinderella is utterly timeless. This is a great date night or a great Mother’s Day family experience for kids.”

Does the piece have a narrator? Why?

DONNA: “Our Cinderella starts in silence for the moments before stepsister Drizz turns on the radio. Then, we’re all drawn into the action–essentially, we’re all hearing the live radio broadcast together. You know that feeling you have when you listen to the radio and the song just perfectly sums up what’s going on in your life? Our concept plays with that feeling–which of course also echoes the feeling we often have that a fairytale can happen to anyone, even a girl who feels her life is hopeless and she’s been totally forgotten.”

HANNAH: “And if the whole show is a live radio broadcast, it actually would have felt wrong not to have a DJ, right?  This is BFan’s brand of cross-disciplinary collaboration and dance theater at its best.  We knew that there was no one better to play our retro radio DJ than Fred Crafts.  The narration we’ve written for Fred is short and sweet–the audience doesn’t need much to know what’s going on–but it’s pretty cheeky. It adds a little context and a lot of humor as each scene unfolds.”


Hannah Bontrager as Cinderella

Cinderella Through the Years

Ballet Fantastique is doing it again… For the first time, we’re bringing back our inimitable, all-original rock opera ballet Cinderella, where the year is 1964, the ball is prom, and the dance moves are the Twist and the Mashed Potato…on pointe.  Straight from the imaginations of Ballet Fantastique mother-daughter producer-choreographers Donna and Hannah Bontrager (premiere 2012), BFan’s Cinderella is back at the Hult for its homecoming run!

For centuries this enchanting tale of a young peasant girl getting her dream come true of becoming a princess has inspired numerous adaptations. As we get ready to perform our own adaptation of the beloved classic we have looked back at some of the past takes on Cinderella. From the more widely known Walt Disney screen variation to one of the early French theatre adaptations, this story continues to capture the attention of audiences young and old for years to come.
For more information regarding the performance and to purchase tickets visit us at http://www.balletfantastique.org/company/event-cinderella.php


One of the early adaptations of Cinderella was a French opera titled Cendrillon (Cinderella in French) by composer Nicolas Isouard. It was performed as an opera with spoken dialogue between numbers. It was first performed by the Opéra-Comique at the Salle Feydeau in Paris on February 22,1810 and was a success throughout Europe at the time.


One of the early film adaptations is the 1899 film by Georges Melies, Cendrillon, which was based on the fairy tale by Charles Perrault. This version by Perrault is one of the more popular interpretations as it introduced the additions of the pumpkin, fairy-godmother, and the glass slipper into the story.


This animated feature length musical by Walt Disney is one of the more iconic movie adaptations. Produced by Walt Disney in 1950, it is also based on the fairy-tale by Perrault. Some hit songs from the movie include “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”.


In 1956 Rogers and Hammerstein introduced a musical written for television version of the classic fairy-tale. It was originally broadcast live on CBS on March 31, 1957 and starred Julie Andrews as Cinderella. The broadcast was viewed by more than 100 million people.


The Slipper and the Rose is a 1976 musical film of the Cinderella story by the Sherman Brothers. They were nominated for several awards following the musicals success.


This Russian ballet was composed by Sergei Prokofiev and is considered one of his most popular and melodious compositions. It was composed between 1940 and 1944 and has been adapted by many ballets such as with this 1987 Russian ballet.


In 1988 the classic inspired an American romantic comedy-drama titled Ever After directed by Andy Tennant and starring Drew Barrymore. It is adapted as a historical fiction story, set in early Renaissance era France and is often seen as a post modern feminism interpretation.


The Paris Opera Ballet performed the 1987 version of Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet in 2008. It was adapted by choreographer Rudolf Nureyev to reflect the art deco style and temperament of the 1930s.


The San Francisco Ballet performed an adaptation of Cinderella for their 2013/2014 season. Choreographed by the sought after Christopher Wheeldon it was hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle as “utterly alluring” and “ravishing.”


The newest film adaptation of the classic fairy-tale comes again from Disney. Although not a direct remake, the film borrows many elements from Walt Disney’s 1950 animated musical film. It was released on March 13, 2015 and stars Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, among others.


The Odyssey: Meet the characters + costume inspiration!



Odysseus Costume

ODYSSEUS (Danced by Fabio Simoes): Strong, courageous, noble, and thirsty for glory, Odysseus must fight a slew of angry Gods on his return trip from the years-long attack of Troy. King of Ithaca, Odysseus misses his Queen, Penelope, back home. Odysseus’s long journey back teaches him the value of patience and the dangers of pride.



Penelope CostumePENELOPE (Danced by Krislyn Willes): Odysseus’s wife and the Queen of Ithaca, Penelope is the ideal depiction of a perfect mother, wife, and Greek woman. She’s also the perfect match for Odysseus because she’s smart and witty. Penelope is faithful to her husband during his time away. Even though everyone is convinced Odysseus is dead and Penelope should remarry, she tries her best to keep the suitors at bay while she awaits her husband’s return. She uses the excuse of finishing Laertes’ funeral shroud and unraveling it every night to make them wait, because she knows that her husband will eventually return and her destiny will be fulfilled.


Athena CostumeATHENA (Danced by Jocelyn Wright): As goddess of wisdom and battle, Athena is confident, practical, clever, a master of disguises, and a great warrior. Athena naturally has a soft spot for the brave and wily Odysseus. She helps him out of many tough situations–including his shipwreck–and guides him back home. Athena is a guiding light for Odysseus and impacts the safety of his travel and takes an interest in Odysseus for the talents he already has and actively demonstrates. Although she reassures Odysseus during the battle with the suitors, she does not become fully involved, preferring instead to watch Odysseus fight and prevail on his own.

Hermes costume


Hermes (MERCURY in BFan’s telling; danced by Leanne Mizzoni): Messenger-god. Saves Odysseus from Calypso and is Zeus’s right hand.




Kalypso Costume

KALYPSO (Danced by Hannah Bontrager): The nymph and purveyor of Ogygia, the island where Odysseus is stranded at the start of the epic. Kalypso is an egocentric, dominating goddess who holds Odysseus captive for seven years in hopes of marrying him. When he resists and is liberated under orders from Zeus, Kalypso offers him immortality if he will stay. When he declines even that offer, Kalypso leads Odysseus to believe that letting him go is her idea, while it is not. While we may admire Kalypso’s spunk and wit, her possessive obsessions make her more trouble.


NAUSICAA (Danced by: Ashley Bontrager): As the Princess of the Phaeacians, Nausicaa is the one who finds Odysseus when he shipwrecks on Scherias. She ensures that he is welcomed by her parents and helped after he gives his story. Also, Nausicca develops a huge crush on Odysseus and wants to marry him, which is unfortunate because Odysseus is already married. Oh well, better luck next time.



Cyclops Costume


Polyphemus (aka the CYCLOPS; danced by Justin Feimster/Lydia Rakov): Shortly after leaving Troy, Odysseus arrives on the island of Polyphemus, is a Cyclops and son of Poseidon. After he tries to capture Odysseus and his crew and eat them, Odysseus is able to trick and blind the Cyclops, enraging Poseidon and causing the explanation for Poseidon’s outrage and need for revenge toward Odysseus.



zeus costume


ZEUS (Danced by Justin Feimster): As the King of the Gods, Zeus is the mediated voice of Olympus and must ultimately decide whether Odysseus shall be permitted to return. He occasionally allows such help by Athena, for Odysseus’s {semi-}safe travel back home.




SIREN (Danced by Lydia Rakov): The Siren is a dangerous woman who lures men to their death with her voice. Odysseus becomes the first mortal who was lured by the Siren to live to tell the tale, because he has his men tie him to the mast as they sail by while he plugs his ears to drown out the luring voice.




CIRCE (Danced by Hannah Bontrager): The witch of the sea, Circe is fierce. She transforms Odysseus’ men into swine. In the end Odysseus gets friendly with Circe (like really friendly), and the sea witch transforms his men back, gives them directions to the Underworld, and sends them on their way.

suitor costume


ANTINUOUS (Danced by Justin Feimster, with suitors Jim Ballard + Adam Haaga): The figurative leader and most obnoxious of Penelope’s suitors, ultimately plotting to have Telemachus killed. He is the first and most angrily killed when Odysseus takes his revenge.




The Odyssey: The Ballet premieres Feb. 27 – Mar. 1 at the Hult Center! Make sure to get your tickets before they’re all gone by clicking on the button below!

Odyssey Ticket Button

BFan History Lesson: Gospel Music

Ballet Fantastique is so excited for its spring premiere of The Book of Esther: A Rock Gospel Ballet happening THIS weekend at the Hult Center, that we wanted to provide BFans with a special history lesson of gospel music.

The roots of gospel music are not well documented, as early recordings were lost. Stories behind the songs weren’t written down. Updated ancient Protestant hymns—from “Amazing Grace” to “Oh Happy Day,” a 1969 pop hit—make up much of the contemporary gospel songbook, but there is no way to overstate the influence of African American compositions of the 1800s on the development of the genre. “Spirituals”  (or “Sorrow Songs,” as they were called) found slaves bringing the rhythms and melodies of their African homeland to tales of Old Testament heroes. While they couldn’t sing openly about their own desire to be free, they could rejoice in the story of Exodus, when the children of Israel yearned to be liberated from bondage with a vigor that suggests deep personal connection. Heavenly salvation and earthly freedom became intertwined. Those who embraced Christianity were told that great rewards awaited believers who endured great tribulations.

Photo: Stephanie Urso

Photo: Stephanie Urso

Coming out of an oral tradition, gospel music typically utilizes a great deal of repetition. The repetition of the words allowed those who could not read the opportunity to participate in worship. During this time, hymns and sacred songs were lined and repeated in a call-and-response fashion, and the Negro spirituals and work songs emerged. Most of the churches relied on hand clapping and foot stomping as rhythmic accompaniment. There would be guitars and tambourines available (musical instruments were often not allowed) every now and then, but not frequently. Church choirs became a norm only after emancipation. Still, most of the singing was done a cappella.

A Special Note on Mahaila Jackson

Mahalia Jackson, one of the most famous gospel singers still to this day, had an overpowering impact on the history of gospel music (one of the songs she made famous, “Trouble of the World,” is the choir’s first piece in Ballet Fantastique’s The Book of Esther premiere). What Jackson was apparently able to do better than virtually all singers before or after her, was take listeners to a place where they could feel the “touch” of the Holy Spirit. Transcending emotion, this spiritual “anointing” is upheld as the pinnacle of human experience.

In many African American churches, the absence or presence of such a gift is signaled by a series of responses from the congregation. According to a study by Mellonee Burnim, respondents repeatedly and consistently reported that for the Holy Spirit to be present, the singer is required to possess a voice that “must transmit intensity, fullness, and the sense that tremendous energy is being expelled.”

This, of course, is exactly what happened in the numerous contemporary accounts of Mahalia Jackson performances. During a particularly emotional church service during this period, Laurraine Goreau records one overwhelmed congregant as shouting, “That woman sing too hard; she going to have TB!” And thus, in the heart of the Depression, began the rise of one of America’s greatest singers.


You still have a chance to catch The Book of Esther: A Rock Gospel Ballet this weekend! CLICK HERE to purchase your tickets now!

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