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What a difference three-hundred sixty-four days makes…

Autumn 2012 brought me back to New York for the first time in years. I enjoyed a reunion with a former employer for whom I taught ballet for many seasons, a performance by New York City Ballet, and a re-familiarization with a city I sorely missed. As rich as those experiences were, none of them served as the highlight of my visit.

As documented in my Ballet in Cleveland blog, the evening of September 20, 2012 found me at the XL Cabaret for Cocktail Hour performed by Ballets with a Twist. That evening I created a kinship between our two companies. I believed in its work and knew it had a lot to offer to my city (where we do not enjoy regular performances of professional ballet). This sparked a drive to do whatever it took to make a Cleveland presentation of Cocktail Hour a reality. Seeing Cocktail Hour on that early autumn night in New York was not only one of the most memorable of my life, but it marked the defining moment in moving toward a dream that was realized on September 19, 2013.

The night of the New York Cocktail Hour performance connected me with fellow Dd Mover and Shaker Matthew Donnell. As a result, I became a Dd contributor and began sharing my journey as a dance entrepreneur. Now I have come full circle to that night and am proud to share details of my first presentation of a professional ballet company at Cleveland’s PlayhouseSquare, the second-largest performing arts center in the nation.

Upon booking the company, an audition was held for local children to dance in the production and began on what would be endless hours of ticket promotions, marketing, and event-planning. These moments were frequently surreal to me, as I slowly began to recognize that this dream was actually happening. Ballet in Cleveland would present Ballets with a Twist in one of the nation’s most beautiful theaters, and we would bring Clevelanders a new experience. As the reality unfolded, these words from Shakespeare resonated:

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”

Ballets with a Twist’s time in Cleveland was, from start to finish, a dream. That’s not to say there weren’t bumps along the way or moments when I wondered how it would all come together. But each day brought triumphs and reaffirmed my love for the arts and the magic of the stage.

The week began with master classes led by soloist Dorothea Garland and other company artists, and Marilyn Klaus, director and choreographer. The way the students and their families responded to the Ballets with a Twist artists brought me joy knowing that I was providing them with something truly unique that would not have been possible without our presentation company. We made appearances on television programs such as Live on Lakeside and The List, mixing up Manhattans and Martinis, showing Cleveland viewers a preview of how ballet can bring cocktails to life. There was also company class, rehearsing with local musicians and young dancers, technical rehearsals in the theater, and then the business of really making things come alive with dress rehearsals and final notes.

When I saw Cocktail Hour at the XL Cabaret in New York City, they were performing alongside Cyndi Lauper for her True Colors Fund. While I knew that booking Cyndi for our Cleveland Cocktail Hour debut was just a bit ambitious, I also knew that we would find some way to astound our audience. I was not disappointed. The Ballets with a Twist team thought outside the box by recruiting one of the best marching bands in the nation to open the show, the Mighty Shaw High School Marching Cardinal Band. The morning of dress rehearsal the artists and musicians met, and per the direction of Ballets with a Twist’s composer Stephen Gaboury and band director Donshon Wilson, the “Brandy Alexander” dance came to life with the Shaw Band’s triumphal notes. More than a few of us experienced all-over chills, heart-stopping moments, and even tears. We mean it when we say, “Cleveland Rocks!”

It is my belief that ballet should be a celebration; an all-encompassing experience. We filled the Ohio Theatre lobby with gourmet food, including cocktail flavor-infused cupcakes, stocked the bar with the cocktails featured in the ballet, and marked the historic evening with a celebratory champagne toast led from the grand staircase. I am harder on herself than anyone I know, but I say without reservation that it was a perfect, first-class production both onstage and off, from start to finish.

Ballets with a Twist dancer Kimberly Giannelli summed up the realization of our collaborative vision best with these commemorative words:

….to another round…..
We are home in NYC and missing all of the wonderful times and people we met in Cleveland! We remember a beautiful moment from two women, Marilyn Klaus, and Jessica Wallis, who are single-handedly changing the face of ballet. It’s no wonder that when they team up, dreams happen!

Written by Jessica Wallis

Jessica Wallis has enjoyed a life in the arts. Jessica was an original company member of Children’s Ballet Theatre (now Ballet Theatre of Ohio) and was a scholarship recipient of The Dance Institute of The University of Akron where she was granted a solo role in its premier production of The Snow Maiden. As a teacher at Martell School of Dance, she taught pre-school though adult level classes and choreographed over forty pieces of original choreography for public performance. She is an honors graduate with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Education from The University of Akron, and is also a former third grade teacher. Jessica is a Zumba Fitness instructor and an adjunct professor of dance at Kent State University. In March of 2012, Jessica founded “Revitalization of Dance In Cleveland” to re-establish a presence of classical ballet in Cleveland, which is now known as Ballet in Cleveland, under its parent organization, The Cleveland Classical Ballet Association. In July 2012 Jessica was appointed as co-chair of the Cleveland Young Arts Professionals Network. She is also a member of PlayhouseSquare Partners, The Cleveland Professional 20-30 Club, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Cleveland, Engage!Cleveland and Cleveland Connexion.