Blue streak

Blues and Ballet

Beth Beasley, center, of Sierra Nevada Ballet rehearses at In Motion Studio of Dance.

Beth Beasley, center, of Sierra Nevada Ballet rehearses at In Motion Studio of Dance.

Photo By David Robert

If the word “ballet” conjures up images of little girls in buns and frilly pink tutus prancing around to classical music, then the Sierra Nevada Ballet might surprise you. This thoroughly modern company aims for the eclectic, and their upcoming production, Blues and Ballet, is more blues than Brahms. That’s just fine with Beth Beasley, the company’s newest principal dancer.

Beasley, 30, joined the group in June. “It’s a young company, but it’s growing very quickly,” she says of the Sierra Nevada Ballet. “There’s a lot of national and international interest in it.”

Beasley’s been dancing professionally for 12 years. She studied at the North Carolina School of the Arts, Pacific Northwest Ballet School, and the Hungarian National Ballet, among others.

Although she is a principal dancer, Beasley quickly dismisses any ballet-diva stereotypes. “There’s actually four female principal dancers, so it’s not just one person in the spotlight,” she explains. “Everyone is used for their individual strengths and talents and their individual styles, so the audience really gets to see the whole company.” Her own specialty, she says, is physical comedy. “I’m much more contemporary—I do a lot of comedy, really bringing the audience into the show,” says Beasley. “I have a good time onstage, and I like to bring the audience into it.”

She’ll get to highlight her talents at Blues and Ballet, which sets ballet and contemporary dance styles to blues music from such greats as Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. The show includes special performances from world-renowned tap dancer Sam Weber and ballet dancer Domingo Rubio, who starred in the Robert Altman film The Company.

Beasley is looking forward to this week’s show. “The show is actually very high energy,” she explains. “There’re several pieces that are basically encore pieces … due to audience appreciation, they’re being redone. One is a Gershwin piece, [which] was done at the beginning of May, and the audience went crazy, so they brought it back. Another is ‘Un-Square Dance,’ and it’s a little bit of a comedy—there are five guys and three girls, and we’re competing for their attention.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Beasley adds. “There’s really something in the show for everyone.”

Because the Sierra Nevada Ballet tries to bring a contemporary, experimental flavor to its productions, the result is not always ballet as audiences traditionally think of it. “There’s a song, ‘Take Me to the River'—a lot of time with ballet, people don’t think of the music having vocals, and this one does,” says Beasley. “When I heard it, I loved the music right away; it’s very catchy. With most of the pieces, [artistic director] Rosine [Bena] has done the choreography, and she was inspired by the music.”

Sierra Nevada Ballet’s modern approach also means audiences might not see conventional ballerina costumes featuring yards of pastel tulle. “The costumes are very simple because the dancing speaks for itself,” says Beasley. “Because we’re in an outdoor venue—which, honestly, dancers prefer because it’s more intimate and personal and there’s a lot more energy—we keep everything simple.”