Nomads no more
After 15 years of borrowing rehearsal space, Sierra Nevada Ballet has a permanent home—and has already expanded to fill it
In a small, nondescript shopping center on the corner of South McCarran Boulevard and Longley Lane, there is a space that has been transformed into a dream come true. As of June 1, it’s the new home of the Sierra Nevada Ballet and the first space that is truly its own. From the outside, it’s unremarkable but, inside, everything is fresh and new. The first room to the left of the light-filled lobby is a spacious, mirrored studio with a recently constructed sprung floor. Farther down the hall is another, smaller studio space and dressing rooms with showers. The whole facility is outfitted specifically for dancers.
“It had to have the right ambiance,” said Rosine Bena, the company’s artistic director. “The windows and the airy, light feeling. I really loved it. The atmosphere of the studio is really important.” She said the space just felt right, like coming home.
The new space houses the Sierra Nevada Ballet Company and the Sierra Nevada Ballet Academy.
“They have been begging, borrowing and stealing space for the past 15 years, and now they have their own,” said SNB board member Tom Clark, explaining how monumental this is for the organization.
The Sierra Nevada Ballet was officially established in 2001, growing out of the Reno Ballet, which went on hiatus in the late ’90s. Rosine Bena, who was living in the Bay Area at the time, was invited to direct the Reno Ballet from 1995-96 and fell in love with the area. She comes from a family of dancers—her parents were both dancers and had started a company and a ballet school in the Bay Area, Peninsula Ballet Theatre. Bena had a 28-year stage career as a professional ballerina, dancing in productions such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker with the Stuttgart Ballet and the Washington Ballet. Bena helped her parents with their dance company, danced for Peninsula Ballet Theatre, and eventually became director of the ballet school.
When she married a man living in Nevada and moved to Reno, she became director of ballet at Western Nevada Performing Arts Center in Carson City. She quickly realized that there was nothing for the students to look to.
“There were very few ballet companies that came to this area,” said Bena. “So, my mother said, ’You need to start a professional ballet company so that [your students] have something to look at.’ That was our inspiration to start Sierra Nevada Ballet.”
In the beginning, SNB provided an apprentice program and a trainee program for 12- to 24-year-olds. The program was so successful—even producing a number of professional dancers—that the board decided to start a program for younger dancers. Thus the Sierra Nevada Ballet Academy was established in 2013, which was housed in Fascinating Rhythm School of Performing Arts—until now.Room to Grow
As the Academy began to gain momentum there was no room to expand since it was renting space in an already established performing arts school that had its own classes.
“The board elected to find our own home, which is a very big step for us,” Bena said. “As far as the academy goes, we are able to expand, to do more classes. The only way we could think of to do that was to have our own space where we could actually offer somebody a professional training to be a professional ballet dancer. You can’t do that without your own space.”
SNB’s new home will also allow for freedom in scheduling classes or adding in an extra rehearsal and the ability to rehearse in costume without having to move equipment back and forth. Plans are in the works to start a youth group to feature the younger dancers and a program for older adults interested in exercising, based on a popular class Bena taught in the Bay Area.
Already, SNB has filled out its academy schedule with offerings including pilates, classical and musical theater, mime and ballet, both traditional and contemporary.
“In today’s ballet world you have to be able to do all kinds of things,” Bena said enthusiastically, explaining a new class called Modern Hip-Hop that combines ballet, modern, and hip-hop style dancing taught by Alex Kaskie. It’s a class that challenges the dancers to try something new but that relates to what they are learning in other areas.
SNB stages five or more individual productions per year, including a spring concert made up of new works, a summer event performed in Reno and at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, and a piece for Artown’s Dancing by the River series. The company performs in various venues including the Pioneer Center, Brewery Arts Center in Carson City, and Oats Park Arts Center in Fallon. SNB also intends to start touring more in rural Nevada. The goal is to eventually have a professional company with fully paid dancers for 10 months out of the year.
One of the company’s most popular performances is the annual Peanutcracker, a version of The Nutcracker condensed into 45 minutes for young children. This production reaches over 4,000 children in the area, and SNB offers reduced ticket prices for children and buses students from at-risk schools.
Carlee Bertero saw the Peanutcracker ballet in kindergarten and decided she wanted to be a ballet dancer. She auditioned for and got into the SNB apprentice program and eventually danced in Peanutcracker herself.
“I just moved up to the company this year,” said Bertero who also started teaching at the academy a year ago. “Ballet has really opened up a lot of doors for me. Sierra Nevada Ballet has given me so many opportunities, whether it’s dancing or working with children. It’s everything I dreamed it would be.”
SNB’s current production is a new version of Cinderella. There are thousands of versions of the story, the first dating back to ancient times. For this new version, Bena took an excerpt to the spring performance series in May and solicited feedback from the audience on what to do with the stepsisters. “I couldn’t decide what their fate should be,” said Bena. “The audience came up with the most amazing ideas, so I took those ideas and put some of them together, and the ending for the stepsisters, well, the audience absolutely loved it.”
If you’d like to see the ending for yourself and find out what happens to the stepsisters, there is a final performance on Aug. 6 at Nightingale Concert Hall.on Point
With funding from the Carol Franc Buck Foundation and an anonymous donor, SNB was able to completely redo the new space. Professionals donated time and expertise to complete the work—including an architect, contractors, and people with construction experience to build it out. And, the company has enough money to pay for the first six months of rent. In-kind donations came in, including a printer and a desk for the office area.
“In one way, it’s wonderful to start in your own space,” Bena said. “In another way, it’s frightening. It’s truly a miracle that we had so many people come out of the woodwork to support us. I had no idea so many people cared.”