Since she moved back to her native Fort Worth in the 1960s after years of performing ballet nationally and internationally, Margo Dean knew she wanted to offer the residents free ballet. To make it more accessible, she wanted it to be outdoors.
But where would Dean, founder in 1969 of the Margo Dean School of Ballet, find a stage suitable for dancers, who can’t just jeté on any old wood or concrete slab?
She rented a flatbed truck and pulled it up at the site of Fort Worth’s now-defunct Shakespeare in the Park, in Trinity Park, in 1983. The truck offered the springy floor that the dancers needed and also served as a springboard for what would become an annual tradition, Ballet Concerto’s Summer Dance Concert. Her friend Francisco Martinez, who still has his own Los Angeles-based company, choreographed all the works.
“There was no scenery and little lighting,” says Dean, “but we did it anyway.”
Thirty years later, you might say that her free outdoor ballet has kept on truckin’.
The 2013 edition at Trinity Park Pavilion — with a dance mat atop the concrete stage where it has been performed for about a decade — opens for a four-night run Thursday. And it will be performed despite a setback earlier this week.
The company’s equipment was vandalized Sunday night after a rehearsal and wasn’t found until Monday night. Trash cans had been turned over, and lighting equipment had been broken (but not stolen).
So Monday night, the dancers rehearsed with car lights shining on them. They’ll have the lights replaced before the performances open, Dean says.
A dream come true
The pricing for reserved table seating has gone up this year — it’s $30 — but for picnic seating on the lawn, it’s still free.
“This is my dream to have [ballet] accessible to all people,” Dean says. “They don’t have to put out any money and they can have a picnic on the lawn.”
Between the first year at Trinity Park and the recent performances there, there were about 20 years of hopping among the Cultural District’s three museums with a rented outdoor stage — a few times at the Kimbell and Amon Carter, but mostly at what used to be the lawn between the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History and the old Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (now the Fort Worth Community Arts Center), where the parking garage sits now.
Dean says she had the idea after visiting New York City in the summer, often on ballet stints, where there were always free outdoor performances in Central Park. Over the years, she was able to bring in choreographers like flamenco great Fernando Bujones, Spanish choreographer Luis Montero and renowned choreographer Bruce Marks, who led Utah’s Ballet West when Webster Dean, the son of Margo and her husband of 64 years, Beale Dean, danced with that company. (The Deans also have a daughter, Giselle — a name you know comes from a ballet lover — who works for a charity helping mentally ill children in New York.)
Montero, whose work Andalusian Suite will be revived at this year’s Summer Dance Concert, says that when he met Dean, it was love at first dance.
“Margo loves dancing, and I love dancing,” he says. “When we met the first time, the love for dance was mutual, so we were good friends.”
Montero choreographed his first work for Ballet Concerto in 1988 and has been back almost every year since.
“Every year it is a good show,” he says. “I wish it were in a theater with good lighting, but it’s a fantastic show.”
That’s in part due to the caliber of dancers Dean has brought to the stage. Over the years, she has pulled in dancers from regional companies, including Texas Ballet Theater and all of its previous incarnations. Ballet Concerto has also built a rapport with the dance departments at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., Northern Illinois University and Western Michigan University.
Guest artists this year include Brandon Nguyen (Atlanta Ballet), Shea Johnson (Ballet Arizona), Max Caro (Texas Ballet Theater), Justin Hogan (Louisville Ballet) and Michele Gifford, formerly of New York City Ballet and TBT.
In addition to Andalusian Suite, Montero will stage the Spanish classic Paquita, and Webster Dean will restage his mother’s 1940s-themed String of Pearls. Webster Dean, who has danced with the Royal New Zealand Ballet and other companies, is Ballet Concerto’s associate artistic director and repetiteur.
“He has an incredible eye for reproducing ballet by looking at video,” his mother says. “I think he enjoys the challenge of being able to see every little detail.”
Despite the threat of storms (one year the series was rained out), heat, mosquitoes and noise competition from the occasional airplane or the fireworks show from the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s nearby Concerts in the Garden, the wheels of the Summer Dance Concert have kept turning, even when financial support was hard to come by.
“It’s important to make it accessible to anyone and everyone in the community,” says Webster Dean. “It gives exposure to first-time ballet-goers, for people who wouldn’t normally go to the theater. And the quality is meant for seasoned ballet lovers.”