There probably wasn't a dry eye at the final performance of Rochester City Ballet's spring season, but the overall feeling was upbeat. The company's April 26 concert, at Canandaigua Academy, began with a video tribute to Timothy M. Draper. Beautifully composed by videographer Timothy Leverett (for example, an inspiring photo of Draper at work appeared onscreen just as we heard the word "hero" in "Wind Beneath My Wings"), it moved from obituary to filmed history of the school and company. With personal reminiscences, stunning performance shots, and pictures of Draper and his dancers winning major international awards, the memorial ended by addressing Draper directly: "So tonight, in loving tribute to you, we dance."
They danced thrillingly. They were mostly adolescents and high school kids, but in performance, they looked like finely trained, artistically polished artists --- the best ballet company in this region. Even jaded ballet experts have expressed enthusiastic admiration for what Draper achieved with his dancers. Now the challenge is to build on and advance that achievement.
Recovering from the shock and tragedy of losing their young founder, teacher, and director, the company has plans to do more than just continue. Those plans include expanding into a new school; adding a performance of Cinderella in addition to their current collaboration with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (The Nutcracker); and the pursuit of new ballets, like the quirky Correspondence, by acclaimed choreographer Robert LaFosse, which they danced with élan on this program.
A national search is in the works for a new artistic director, but their acting director, Jamey Leverett, is a priceless asset. She is not only responsible for continuing the company's superbly rehearsed, homogeneous style and technique, as well as its gracious performance sense; she is also an unusually gifted in-house choreographer. Her two sophisticated, modern ballet pieces that opened the concert are a delight. Leverett is also co-choreographer and stager of the company's classic repertoire, like the impressive Firebird that ended the program. I hope RCB can find (and afford) an established artist to help them grow, but not at the cost of losing Draper's main protégée, Ms. Leverett.
Most of RCB's young, local stars are now dancing in some of the world's greatest ballet companies (American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, etc.). That Draper's local phenomenon continues was evident in the noticeable growth of many of the company's remaining young artists. Jim Nowakowski and Jonathan Davidson have visibly matured, both physically and stylistically, just since The Nutcracker in December. And Hayley Meier assumed the prima ballerina roles, especially as the "Firebird," with all the panache of her predecessors. Tim would be proud.