Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dance feature: New West Palm dance company sets May 1 debut

Christine Winkler and John Welker of Explore Dance Theater.

By Jan Engoren

Ballet Florida,‭ ‬a West Palm Beach institution for almost a quarter-century,‭ ‬closed its doors in June‭ ‬2009,‭ ‬leaving a vacuum that a new not-for-profit professional dance company hopes to help fill.

Explore Dance Theater,‭ ‬founded in‭ ‬2009‭ ‬by two former principal dancers of Ballet Florida,‭ ‬Tracy Mozingo and Douglas‭ ‬Gawriljuk,‭ ‬is‭ ‬hosting its premiere company showing at the Paramount Ballroom in Palm Beach on May‭ ‬1,‭ ‬followed by a fund-raiser at the town’s Amici Ristorante and Bar on May‭ ‬5.‭

According to Mozingo,‭ ‬Explore Dance Theater’s mission is to‭ “‬encourage artistic,‭ ‬cultural support and diversity in dance‭ … ‬and provide high-quality dance performances with a professional ensemble composed of top dancers from around the world.‭’

Mozingo grew up dancing. His mother,‭ ‬a professional dancer,‭ ‬made sure that all her children,‭ ‬including her three sons,‭ ‬all took dance lessons. ‭ “‬In my home,‭ ‬dance was a family value,‭” ‬said Mozingo,‭ ‬who tried everything from hip-hop to jazz and got serious about ballet in his early teens.

He graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts and trained at Pacific Northwest Ballet before joining Houston Ballet.‭ ‬From Houston,‭ ‬he went to Ballet Florida,‭ ‬where he danced for‭ ‬17‭ ‬years.‭ ‬He is currently on the faculty of Palm Beach Ballet Center,‭ ‬Southern Dance Theatre and the Dance Academy of Stuart.

Gawriljuk graduated from the School of American Ballet in New York,‭ ‬started his professional career with Ballet Du Nord in France and danced for Basel Ballet in Switzerland.‭ ‬He also was a principal dancer for Miami City Ballet,‭ ‬Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre,‭ ‬Maximum Dance Company and Ballet Florida.‭

Mozingo and Gawriljuk met through a mutual friend around the time Mozingo joined Ballet Florida. After learning that Gawriljuk shared his interest in surfing,‭ ‬Mozingo went down to Miami to see Gawriljuk perform in the Miami City Ballet and afterward,‭ ‬the two made plans to go surfing. Since then,‭ ‬they have been best friends and colleagues,‭ ‬and now are partners in this new venture.

‭“‬There is life after Ballet Florida,‭” ‬Mozingo said.‭ “‬I didn’t want to work for anyone else and after‭ ‬17‭ ‬years with Ballet Florida,‭ ‬I know many of the donors and they have gotten to know me throughout my career.

‭“‬My goal is to start small with‭ ‬12‭ ‬to‭ ‬16‭ ‬professional dancers and a number of advanced students and put together a‭ ‬4-to-6-week show,‭ ‬which over time I hope to grow into a full‭ ‬38-week contract,‭” ‬he said.

‭“‬I will have new dancers and a resident choreographer to produce new full-length ballets. I want to incorporate other arts such as drama with live actors,‭ ‬live musicians,‭ ‬and fuse visual arts into the dance.‭ ‬I know the community can support a viable dance company.‭”‬ ‭

For the May‭ ‬1‭ ‬program,‭ ‬Explore Dance will perform five short ballets: ‭ ‬Solo Ellos Saben,‭ ‬a neoclassical piece‭; ‬Those Little Things,‭ ‬a story of the changing nature of relationships‭; ‬Entre Dos,‭ ‬an abstract‭ ‬pas de deux that examines the relationship between two people and that between neoclassical and contemporary styles of movements‭; ‬Thick as Thieves,‭ ‬an homage to the friendship between Mozingo and‭ ‬Gawriljuk‭ ‬and their wives‭; ‬and‭ ‬Trouble,‭ ‬a solo created by Mozingo.‭

Resident dancers include Chiara Casiraghi and Lisa Cousineau‭ ‬--‭ ‬both of whom came through Kathleen Klein’s dance program at Palm Beach Atlantic University‭ ‬--‭ ‬Lorena Jimenez,‭ ‬Fernando Moraga,‭ ‬Mauricio Canete,‭ ‬Mifa Ko and Rachel Pino.

‭“‬Palm Beach needs a new dance presence and I am very excited to see the‭ ‬creation of Explore Dance Theater,‭ ‬and look forward to seeing their creative vision unfold,‭” ‬said Klein,‭ ‬professor of dance at PBAU and former head of the Demetrius Klein Dance Company in Lake Worth.

Klein said other former Ballet Florida dancers have founded their own companies,‭ ‬including Heather Lescaille and Tina Martin of Florida Dance Conservatory,‭ ‬and Jean-Hughes Feray of Paris Ballet and Dance in Jupiter.‭ ‬And earlier this season,‭ ‬another Ballet Florida veteran,‭ ‬Jerry Opdenaker,‭ ‬founded O Dance and mounted its first performance at the Duncan Theatre.‭

“I think it’s wonderful that Tracy and Douglas have founded Explore Dance Theater in the wake of Ballet Florida,‭” ‬Klein said.‭ “‬I am confident that with them at the helm,‭ ‬it‭ ‬will be a great dance company. Even though this is a tough time for the arts,‭ ‬dancers are very resourceful and have good problem-solving skills.‭”

Rena Blades,‭ ‬chief executive officer of the Palm Beach County Cultural Council,‭ ‬said she welcomed news about Explore Dance because the variety of dance available in the county has diminished in recent years.

‭“‬Many dancers who lost their livelihood are finding creative ways to continue their artistic pursuits and Explore Dance Theater is one result,‭” ‬Blades said.‭ “‬There is an audience waiting to be wowed.‭”

Jan Engoren is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

Explore Dance Theater’s‭ ‬inaugural production will take place at‭ ‬4‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Saturday,‭ ‬May‭ ‬1,‭ ‬in the Paramount Ballroom in Palm Beach,‭ ‬211‭ ‬Royal Poinciana Way.‭ ‬The celebrity fund-raiser‭ ‬is set for‭ ‬6‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Wednesday,‭ ‬May‭ ‬5,‭ ‬at Amici Ristorante and Bar,‭ ‬375‭ ‬S.‭ ‬County Road.‭ ‬Both events are free and open to the public.‭ ‬For more information,‭ ‬please call‭ (‬561‭) ‬309-9890‭ ‬or‭ (‬305‭) ‬801-3079,‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬

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