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A Fairy Tale Come True

“It all started with a little pig…”

California native Valerie Mae Brown, Artistic Director and co-founder of New York City’s Pink Pig Ballet, knows well the random and unexpected nature of creative inspiration. Two years ago, while living with her pig, Zeus Truffle Brown, in Brooklyn, Brown realized that “there was something I should be doing. I needed to start a ballet company… I guess Zeus started it. I don’t know why or how, but he did.”

So, with Zeus as mascot and honorary business partner, Brown and her close friend Becca Simone Bogue launched Pink Pig Ballet, holding auditions and securing discounted rehearsal space at Steps on Broadway. When choosing dancers and brainstorming choreographic concepts, Brown and Bogue adhered to one central mantra: “We didn’t want to take ourselves too seriously; that’s not who we are.” Like its name, Pink Pig Ballet is best described as “fun” and “quirky,” according to Brown.

Valerie Mae Brown and company in Jack White and the Seven Sins

In keeping with this theme of lighthearted, approachable art, the company has planned a Fall Ball to spread the word about PPB, and to raise funds for Brown’s next choreographic project, a full-length story ballet called The Little Mermaid’s Maid. The benefit — which is scheduled to take place at Le Cheile Irish Pub in Washington Heights, from 8 to 10 pm on Monday, October 15th — will feature a live performance of excerpts from the new ballet, a full buffet dinner, complimentary beer and wine, and a silent auction. Proceeds from the evening will fund prop purchases, costume construction, and marley floor rental. Thanks to a partnership with the August Strindberg Repertory Theatre, performance space at the Gene Frankel Theatre for the company’s shows on November 7th and 14th has been donated.

For Brown, the purpose of the Fall Ball goes beyond mere fundraising. As her vision for PPB continues to expand, she is intent on building a solid audience base, not only for her company, but for ballet in general. “I think it’s really weird that so many people in New York have never seen a ballet…We need to get people hooked on ballet early in life, get them familiar with the whole concept of it. It’s harder to grab them later on.”

Though PPB’s Fall Ball caters to a fairly mature crowd, its repertory does not. The Little Mermaid’s Maid, Brown’s second full-length project to date, draws heavily from a certain Disney cartoon tale, and mixes popular music with classical movement. “I hate the concepts of ‘high art’ and ‘low art.’ I feel like we can get a broader audience, maybe a younger audience,” by expanding the company’s scope and resources.

In spite of the rather fantastic nature of her latest story, Brown emphasizes that her ballets are fables, not fairy tales. “We all grow up with fairy tales in our heads, which is wonderful. But as we get older we realize that not everyone becomes a princess, and lots of us end up kind of being servants for much of our lives. This story is about Molly the Maid, who comes to realize that her life is happy, and that everyone is a servant, in one way or another.” For Brown, such realism, tucked within the folds of a fanciful tale, is just another way of making ballet more accessible, more meaningful to a wider audience.

Valerie Mae Brown with dancers from Pink Pig Ballet

Over the course of the coming few years, Brown hopes to bring her entertaining, engaging ballets into local schools in order to foster a love of dance — ballet, in particular — in future generations. “Within the next 10 years, I want to open up a school and run the company out of that.” She also plans to further develop PPB’s repertory by reaching out to other artists in the New York metropolitan area. “I don’t want to get cemented into anything…The story ballets are my vision, but I want the dancers to have an opportunity to work with some of the other great choreographers in the city, and also give those choreographers a chance to show their work.”

With an ambitious season ahead of her, new artistic collaborations in the works, and a full-time position as Master Pointe-fitter at Capezio just getting underway, Brown is busier than ever. But she is content with her full plate, and confident that Pink Pig Ballet’s star will continue to rise.

And what of the company’s mascot? “For the record,” Brown says, “Zeus is very happy living on a farm right now — not in Brooklyn.”

For more information on Pink Pig Ballet and its upcoming Fall Ball, click here.

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Written by Leah Gerstenlauer

Leah began her dance training at the age of four in her hometown of Chelsea, Michigan, with her wonderful older brother (who is, incontestably, the best in the business of brothering) by her side. She continued her studies in Michigan and California — earning her B.A. in English at Chapman University along the way — before landing in New York City, where she currently freelances as a dancer and writer. She reads voraciously, drops into art museums regularly, and enjoys the fact that after nearly a decade stuck behind a steering wheel, her daily commute now requires only a good pair of sneakers and a MetroCard.