Dancing every role from the Dew Drop Fairy to the Snow Corps, Kentucky Ballet Theatre ballet dancer Brie Lowry performed in the “Nutcracker” last year. It was with mixed emotions that Lowry hung up her pointe shoes to retire from dancing this year.
“It was a difficult choice for me but the right one for my life,” says Lowry, who also is the troupe’s executive director.
For years, she juggled both artistic and administrative leadership roles with the company. Now that she isn’t spending hours rehearsing in the studio each day, she is free to deepen her commitment to dancing in a new way: by bringing it to others.
Lowry and the company’s board of directors have ratcheted up efforts to weave dance into the fabric of communities that might not otherwise experience the cultural rewards of dance.
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In addition to the six performances of “The Nutcracker” at the Opera House, Kentucky Ballet Theatre is bringing “The Nutcracker” into hospitals and schools with educational and outreach programs serving more than 1,000 children and adults.
“I’m super passionate about the educational outreach programming, so I really enjoy the opportunity to impact live ballet and write more programs and generate more content,” Lowry said.
Some of the amped-up programming begins right at home with the company’s Sugarplum Workshops, which are offered to children ages 4 to 11 after each Saturday matinee performance of “The Nutcracker.” In years past, the company offered a brief meet-and-greet with the dancers, but this year, they are taking them on stage and backstage and even into the dance moves themselves in a program modeled after American Ballet Theater’s children’s program.
“Instead of going to the third-floor gallery, we will take the children backstage to have their photos taken with the dancers,” Lowry says. “There will be sweets and treats, and then we will break out into two sessions based on age group. There will be an arts and craft workshop as well as a dancing workshop, so the kids can learn some of the choreography. We will have the curtain open, so it will be a true backstage experience.”
The program costs $20 and is for one child and an accompanying adult.
“We wanted to kick it up a notch,” she says. “It really is special for those kids who maybe are interested in starting dance.”
The ballet company also has begun offering teachers educational supplement packets to provide supplemental cultural enrichment opportunities to the more than 900 children who will attend the company’s school performances.
And with support from Berea’s Partnership in Education, Kentucky Ballet Theatre will visit schools in Corbin and other rural areas to bring “The Nutcracker” to students who wouldn’t get a chance to attend a full performance.
“We take the second act and we use the variations,” Lowry says. “Beyond the dancing, there’s a conversation on dance that happens, and we do some rhythm exercises with the kids as well as a couple seated demonstrations. We do question-and-answer, and talk about the costumes. It’s an interactive program, so the kids aren’t just getting a field trip.”
It’s not just kids who benefit from the amped-up outreach. Doctors, nurses, patients and passersby at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital and Eastern State Hospital will get a taste of “The Nutcracker” when the troupe performs in the lobbies as part of a partnership with UK Healthcare.
“That’s a really hard day,” Lowry says, “but the reward is really worth it.”
“The message for is that arts really are for everyone and it’s a way to offer some joy during the holidays,” she says.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.