October 18, 2022: Nestled away from the busy morning traffic, dancers grab their bags, pointe shoes and stride toward the doors of their studio, 224 EcoSpace, sore muscles reminding them of yesterday’s rehearsal.
Early risers are mid-stretch, while the remaining dancers trickle in slowly, finding their barre spot, finishing coffee and perfecting hair.
Every dancer’s preparation for the day is different; individualized routines and rituals have been crafted over time to best prepare the body and mind for the day ahead. Promptly, at 9:30 a.m. class begins and bodies start to move in unison through patterns that have withstood the test of time.
In many ways, ballet is timeless; for centuries, dancers have practiced a series of movements, codified in French, which stretch, strengthen and align the body. When the first ballet school opened in France in 1661, the codified vocabulary spread throughout the world. Just over 270 years after its established birth, ballet as we know it would change forever, with Hartford playing a pivotal role.
October 18, 1933: The man later known as the Father of American Ballet sets foot on American soil. The Wadsworth Museum in Hartford secures the needed funding and paperwork to bring George Balanchine, Russian-born ballet genius and choreographer, to America.
The mastermind behind Balanchine’s arrival in Hartford is the director of the Wadsworth, Chick Austin. Young, innovative, and desiring broadened art exposure, alongside balletomane, Lincoln Kirstein, work in tandem to bring Russian ballet to America. Their shared vision and financial backing land Balanchine in Hartford, ushering in a new era of the art form with the birth of neoclassical ballet.
Although a series of events would later place Balanchine in New York City as the founder of New York City Ballet, it is imperative to acknowledge Austin, Kirstein and Hartford as the catalyst of this momentous advent.
With Balanchine’s influence sending neoclassical ballet racing across America, prestigious companies begin to surface among the states; a notable one being the former Hartford Ballet. With its exceptional reputation and dedicated audience, Hartford Ballet performed for decades before its closure in the mid-1990s.
In 2016, Ballet Hartford was established. Its mission is to bring and to be art for the city through high-caliber excellence and professionalism in technique and artistry. Currently led by Artistic Director, Leyna Doran, and Company Manager, Hannah Bush, the organization is devoted to honoring the rich history of ballet here in Hartford from the times of Balanchine’s presence until now.
Much like the young, ambitious, and arts-minded friendship between Chick Austin and Lincoln Kirstein, both Doran and Bush are committed to seeing the arts flourish, transform the community, and bring revitalization to the Greater Hartford area.
With Doran stepping into her role as Artistic Director just prior to the onslaught of COVID-19, and Bush a few months after, the global pause paved the way for ample time to build relationships within the community.
The 224 EcoSpace at 224 Farmington Ave., is an expansive center once home to the Hartford Ballet. It graciously houses Ballet Hartford and its accompanying school. Classical music, once again, fills the grand studios, as dancers jump, spin, and suspend time with ethereal grace and control.
Amidst the classes, demonstrations, and rehearsals, an overwhelming sense of gratitude fills the space. Echoes of the great ballets created in the past ring from the special Marley flooring to the sky-light, vaulted ceilings. The past is honored and in Hartford, ballet is back where it belongs.
244 Farmington Ave., Hartford
On Facebook and Instagram: @ballethartford
PERFORMANCE CALENDAR: Tickets are available online and through EventBrite, search Ballet Hartford
November 26th- Nutcracker: Then and Now @ University of Saint Joseph
December 2nd- Nutcracker: Then and Now @ The 224 EcoSpace