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Cover Story - Posted August 25, 2017 10:25 a.m.
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Photos courtesy of Lone Star Ballet

Lone Star Ballet

Outsiders who view Amarillo as only a dusty, windy Panhandle outpost have clearly never encountered the elegance on display with every Lone Star Ballet performance. Since its founding in 1975 by the late dance icon Neil Hess, the ballet has become one of the most highly regarded companies in the state.

Lone Star Ballet’s artistic director says much of this is due to a base of local performers, who have learned the art of dance and grown up within the broader LSB educational system. “We have a tremendous amount of talent in Amarillo and a tremendous amount of talent at Lone Star Ballet,” Vicki McLean says. Visitors to the region are often surprised that a city the size of Amarillo has a strong symphony, opera and ballet, McLean says. But that’s because they don’t always see beyond the stereotypes. The arts are just as much a part of Amarillo culture as its western heritage.

“We don’t ever say ‘You can’t come in, you’re in jeans and cowboy boots,’” she says about ballet performances. “We say, ‘Come in. I think you’re going to find something you love.’”

Audiences have discovered a love of dance and an appreciation for local dancers for more than four decades now at Lone Star Ballet – and that appreciation is not just limited to Amarillo. Performers have started here and moved on to major dance companies from New York City to San Francisco. They have appeared on Broadway stages and at Radio City Music Hall.

Just like Amarillo Little Theatre trains its future performers in an academy setting, the Lone Star Ballet teaches students the art form in dance academies located in Amarillo, Borger, Dumas, Hereford, Panhandle and Plainview. “All of our dancers are area dancers,” says McLean. Lone Star’s Academy offers classes for all ages, starting with children as young as preschoolers. “We take them from their beginning steps. Some of them want to be professional dancers or some want to teach. Some of them want to do it because they love to dance. All of them learn how to take it to each next level. They start as beginners and move up.”

The ballet’s most experienced dancers reach a point where the “next level” requires joining the professional company – and that means performing at a high level in front of crowds. “Our professional company is a combination of some of the professional dancers who have been working with me for several years, plus some of the dancers from WT,” explains McLean. She says that final step is a crucial milestone in a dancer’s education. “It is very important that they have the opportunities to perform on stage. That is a major part of learning. You can take dance lessons but as you get older and decide you really want to be a dancer, you have to learn how to be a professional. They love their classes but they really love that stage.”

While the ballet season usually includes at least one performance from a touring company, the 2017-2018 season is entirely local. Other than the traditional guest dancers for the leading roles in “The Nutcracker”, all other performers are from the Panhandle – and that’s a part of Lone Star’s mission. “People like to see local talent, people that they know on the stage,” McLean says. “Our whole mission is to take dance to as many people as possible.”

That philosophy has resulted in the plans for this season, which McLean describes as “an exceedingly full year for us.” It begins with a repeat of the ballet’s original production of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” on Oct. 27 and 28. “It’s our annual Halloween scary show,” says McLean of the ballet, which the company first staged in 2012. It tells the classic Washington Irving short story of the haunted Ichabod Crane, using dynamic computer-generated backgrounds to provide many of the spooky elements of the tale. “It’s great fun with the Headless Horseman and the whole business,” she says.

That production will be followed by “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 8, 9 and 10. Considered one of the state’s premier Nutcracker ballets, this year’s performance features the return of Nutcracker veterans – and married couple – Carlos Miguel Guerra and Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg. The acclaimed husband-and-wife duo recently concluded lengthy tenures as principals of the Miami City Ballet. “They were the original Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier when we did the new Nutcracker in 2007. This will be our 10th anniversary, and they are coming back to do their part of the show,” says McLean

In February, the ballet continues its tradition of staging a romantic production with the brand-new “Lone Star Legends and Love Stories” on Feb. 9 and 10. An update to a production in 2011, this original show conveys five love stories important to the history of Texas. These romances involve Panhandle pioneers Charles and Molly Goodnight, Comanche captive Cynthia Ann Parker and Chief Peta Nocona, the colorful Frenchy McCormick and Mickey McCormick of Old Tascosa, Alamo survivor Susanna Dickinson and Almeron Dickinson, and Emily West and Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna. “She was an indentured servant who came in from the east and became involved with Sam Houston,” McLean says of the mixed-race West. “She allowed herself to be captured by Santa Anna and became a spy for Sam Houston in the Santa Anna camp. It was because of her that they were able to take him down in the Battle of San Jacinto.” As Texas legends go, West was the inspiration for the classic Western song “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

“These couples not only had a wonderful love story [with each other], but they had a love story with the state of Texas,” says McLean. “They were instrumental in Texas becoming a state. They built this part of the country.”

Lone Star Ballet’s final performance of the season is another original production, George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”, on April 20 and 21. According to McLean, “it’s all the wonderful Gershwin music and a wonderful love story about people who looked for something new in their lives after the war. Paris gave them the opportunity to do that.”

She hopes the original productions and local performers continue to draw veteran ballet audiences as well as younger – and perhaps newer – patrons of the arts. “We have a lot of young people in the ballet who also perform in the [Amarillo] Opera and at Amarillo Little Theatre,” McLean says. “I would love to see these young people come and support their peers. There’s a rapport between audience and performer that is very special – a live performance where there is somebody looking back at you from the stage. Everyone should experience that excitement.”

Learn more about the Lone Star Ballet and purchase tickets for this season’s performances at lonestarballet.org.

Amarillo Little Theatre and the ALT Academy

Amarillo Museum of Art

Saint Ann of Amarillo

Chamber Music Amarillo

Friends of Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1024

Lone Star Ballet

Amarillo Opera

Amarillo Symphony

by Jason Boyett

Jason has written more than a dozen books and is the host and creator of “Hey Amarillo”, a local interview podcast. Visit heyamarillo.com and jasonboyett.com.
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