On her toes

Rosine Bena

Rosine Bena is beside herself with her love of ballet.

Rosine Bena is beside herself with her love of ballet.

Photo By David Robert

Many of the area’s early arts investors were perhaps too blinded by casino lights to foresee the viability of ballet in Northern Nevada. It took a non-Nevadan with a passion for ballet to see the area’s potential.

The daughter of professional ballet dancers, Rosine Bena established the Sierra Nevada Ballet in 2001 to bring to the region something she thought was sorely lacking—a professional ballet company.

“I started the company because I saw a lot of very good students who, as soon as they got to a certain point, had to move away because there was no professional ballet company here,” says artistic director Bena, adding that without knowing what a professional ballet company was like, young dancers didn’t know what they were striving for.

Bena, who is in her early 50s, moved to Nevada in 2000 from the Bay Area and became head of the ballet program at Western Nevada Performing Arts Center in Carson City and at In Motion Studio in Reno. She was artistic director of the world-renowned Peninsula Ballet Theatre School in San Mateo, Calif.

“I flew back and forth all the time,” says Bena. “It was a nightmare.” She’d leave at 8:30 a.m., then teach ballet from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. for two or three days before returning to Nevada. “The insanity just grew from there.”

A ballerina for nearly 30 years, Bena began her ballet studies as a young girl at the Washington School of Ballet in Washington, D.C. Her first piece of choreography was professionally performed when she was 21. In the late 1960s, she became the first American woman to be accepted by the internationally acclaimed Stuttgart Ballet in Germany. After spending the bulk of her career dancing in the United States, she retired from the stage in 1992, looking forward to focusing more on her choreography and directing.

As artistic director of the Sierra Nevada Ballet, Bena plays many roles behind the scenes.

“It’s really hard here because you’re having to educate your audience at the same time as building an audience,” says Bena. For example, the company’s 2002 Roy Orbison tribute was meant to appeal to a broader audience while exposing people to ballet.

This concept was also employed with Sierra Nevada Ballet’s annual production of Peanutcracker: The Story in a Nutshell, performed in December in Carson City and Reno. Eight hundred at-risk students in Reno were able to see the production—a condensed version of The Nutcracker for children—for free.

Bena sometimes pushes the audience with new works, such as her spring 2005 production of A Painter’s Love Story, a collaboration with the Nevada Museum of Art’s Maxfield Parrish exhibit. The 2006 spring season will bring performances of Romeo and Juliet, Paging Mr. Astair and A Gershwin Concerto. A production of Gian Carlos Menotti’s The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore—a ballet/orchestra/opera work that spoofs society while entertaining both children and adults—is slated for 2007 in collaboration with Nevada Opera and with updated choreography by Bena.

Whatever drives Bena to create these productions, it isn’t the money. Much of her work is voluntary or donated. “The dancers have to get paid before anyone else,” she says.

Additional reporting by Kat Kerlin