The second-oldest ballet company in the United States, Dayton Ballet is known internationally as "The Company of Premieres." As one of the top three dance companies in the nation that produces and presents new work, as well as the only dance company to establish a fund designated specifically to create new full-length 21st-century ballets, the organization takes special pride in celebrating its 75th anniversary in the 2012–2013 season.
Dayton Ballet hosts a season of four performances that includes familiar traditional ballets, the classic family-friendly holiday staple The Nutcracker, and new and innovative works. Our "homes" are the historic 1,139 seat Victoria Theatre and the state-of-the-art Schuster Center, which accommodates 2,300 patrons. Over 40 performances are presented in the two venues throughout the season.
While performances are Dayton Ballet's most high-profile events, it is our commitment to dance education, training and outreach that remains at the core of our existence and allows us to develop future audiences through the Dayton Ballet II Company, featuring pre-professional training and performing and our local association with Muse Machine. In addition, our Non-Profit Partners Program allows us to work with community agencies assisting special populations by distributing 1,000 tickets to at-risk youths, senior citizens, handicapped or terminally ill individuals and military families so that they may experience the joy of a ballet performance. Numerous adults enjoy Pre-performance Lectures and Encore! post-performance discussions with Dayton Ballet dancers, choreographers, and other artists.
Dayton Ballet had its beginning when Josephine (Jo) Schwarz and her sister Hermene opened The Schwarz School of Dance in 1927. Jo later studied ballet and danced in Chicago, in New York at the School of American Ballet, and in Europe. She danced on Broadway, but was forced to return home to Dayton after receiving an injury while performing. In May 1937, Jo and Hermene gathered together the school's finest dancers, named the troupe "The Experimental Group for Young Dancers," and staged a performance at the Dayton Art Institute. This was the first performance of what is now Dayton Ballet.
Jo was a pioneer of the American regional ballet movement of the mid-20th century. Through years of persistence, she made Dayton a center of dance. In 1958, the company restructured as the Dayton Civic Ballet, with a board of directors, and federal tax-exempt status. In 1959, the Dayton Civic Ballet became a chartered member of the Northeast Regional Ballet Association. The Schwarz sisters trained and developed many professional dancers who went on to dance in New York, among many other places. The Schwarz sisters also organized many regional dance festivals and choreography conferences. In 1978, the company dropped the "Civic" designation and became the fully professional Dayton Ballet.
Stuart Sebastian, a student of Josephine and Hermene Schwarz, assumed directorship of the company in 1980 at the invitation of Josephine Schwarz. He had danced professionally for the Dayton Ballet and the National Ballet of Washington before assuming the role. He had also choreographed in New York, Germany and England. Sebastian led the Dayton Ballet for 10 years, in which time the company rose in stature and status. After watching the company in 1981, dance critic Walter Terry wrote in Dance Magazine: "In just one year the Dayton Ballet has moved from first-rate amateur rank into the category of professional ballet. Of particular importance is the stature of the new choreography on view in Dayton. Good dancers are now numerous; gifted choreographers remain a rare species. Stuart Sebastian is one of this special breed."
Sebastian brought in new dancers and created the company's first full-length ballet, Sleeping Beauty. He choreographed over 25 new works. Of those, six were full-length ballets, including Swan Lake and Dracula. Under Sebastian, the Dayton Ballet toured more than 75 cities and took its first international tour to Jerash, Jordan. In 1988, the company appeared on national television while performing in the opening ceremonies of the Pan American Games.
Following the departure of Stuart Sebastian in 1990, the company entered a period of transition. James Clouser, former artistic director of the Houston Ballet, was hired as Artistic Director. Clouser, during his two years ath the artistic helm, produced the world premiere of Merlyn, as well as several repertory pieces for the company.
As the former Director of Dayton Ballet Association for 19 years, Dermot Burke served in the dual capacity of the company's Chief Administrative Officer and Artistic Director. He directed Dayton Ballet into a secure and stable financial position, while his leadership inside and outside the dance studio helped the Ballet develop new and expanded performance opportunities. Dermot has been nationally recognized for encouraging U.S. ballet companies to form new cooperative collaborations, allowing a number of midsize ballet companies to present works by such renowned choreographers as Alvin Ailey, Lila York and Christopher Fleming—works that they previously would not have been able to afford. Locally, Dermot raised funds to produce new full-length story ballets in order to increase the library of available works for ballet companies.
Prior to joining Dayton Ballet, Dermot enjoyed a 13-year association with the American Repertory Ballet Company (formerly the Princeton Ballet), where he served as Ballet Master/Resident Choreographer and later as Artistic Director. As a professional dancer, Dermot began his career in 1965 as a scholarship student at The Joffrey Ballet, where he soon became a full company member. While with the Joffrey, he was featured as a principal dancer in major works by renowned choreographers such as George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp, Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, among others. He has choreographed for numerous dance companies across the country, including the Pacific Northwest Ballet, American Repertory Ballet and Dayton Ballet.