GAINESVILLE, Va. – With the crescendo of construction on Old Linton Hall Road, Gainesville Ballet Company and School is poised to launch an expansive new facility in Gainesville, Virginia in September of 2013. While the redesigned space may be new to the community, those that will fill the space with energy, rhythm, movement and choreographic interpretation have been entertaining audiences on the stage for many years.
The artistic organization reflects a first-of-its kind endeavor in western Prince William County, drawing upon multiple disciplines of the performing arts, an international faculty and a professional, state-of-the-art space that defines the organization as one of the leading cultural institutions to grace our community. The aesthetic of the facility is fitting to the traditions of the fine arts, with hints of Greco-Roman style in the elegant backdrop. Through vision and commitment, Gainesville Ballet has sought to establish a non-profit organization in the arts, and is a proud member of the Prince William County Arts Council.
Gainesville Ballet has been operating under new direction and ownership since February 26, 2013, as Elysabeth Muscat builds upon the strong foundation established over the past eight years. She has assembled an international cast of professionals to serve as an expanded faculty, with the leadership of Rafik Hegab as Artistic Director and Shady Aly from Egypt. Onica Hobbs and Stephanie Parkinson continue to serve Gainesville Ballet as instructors for the school. Kathryn Walker has also recently joined the arts faculty. Reaching beyond borders, the school will draw upon the global arts community to bring guest dancers for performances in the metro-D.C. region, and to teach Master classes by leading instructors in the industry. The experienced faculty and specialty programming represent a thriving addition to the cultural experiences of residents of the region.
Gainesville Ballet is a values-based arts organization offering professional instruction in a new facility. The space spans 4,700 square feet housing two spacious dance studios with StageStep sprung flooring and non-slip Marley surfaces, a music studio, two large waiting areas, a stretch/lounge area for dancers, two dressing rooms, free wi-fi access, live video feed from the studios into the waiting room, and ample parking. For the dance area, the larger studio is 1,500 square feet and the smaller studio is 500 square feet. Each dance room has been equipped with new mirrors, new barres, and high ceilings. The music studio is 100 square feet. The school is also furnished with administrative offices and reception areas, teacher lounge, costume room and expansive storage space.
The address for the new facility is 7528 Old Linton Hall Road in the heart of Gainesville by the juncture of historic change and commercial development. Much is happening in the immediate vicinity with the new Route 29 and Linton Hall Road interchange, one of the largest construction projects in Virginia. The multi-year transportation project will implement just weeks before the studio launch and will provide easy access to the new arts programs. Efforts to ease the traffic flow continue into the business plaza, as Bull Run Center has greatly extended parking capacity to include a major addition by the newly-launched, stand-alone salon building. This provides plentiful room for the expanded programming and curriculum of the arts.
An Open House is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, September 7 and classes are projected to begin on Monday, September 9, with confirmed dates and times to be announced on the school’s web site. Ballet aficionados can explore the peaceful corridors that lead to creativity, and see a reflection of the thriving arts community on the mirrored walls. The expanded curriculum includes pre-professional ballet, pointe, pas de deux, variations, character, modern, jazz, lyrical, hip hop, ballet/tap, pre-ballet, open ballet classes, adult ballet classes, Master classes, Mommy and Me classes, as well as private and group lessons in voice, and private piano lessons for young students. Classes are available for students of varying ages and ability, to include those who wish to study recreationally or professionally. With the expanded studio space, birthday parties can be hosted with engaging themes in dance and music: The Nutcracker, Ballerina Princes and Princesses, Hip Hop Party and Broadway Stars.
The comprehensive music program will range from classical to Broadway, and represents a major development in the offerings of this region. Music classes are taught by Elysabeth Muscat, the Managing Director of Gainesville Ballet and a former professional opera singer. Ms. Muscat has earned a Master of Music in Voice from the Mannes College of Music and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Tulane University. She has won numerous awards for voice, taught Master Classes and served as a judge for vocal competitions that span the nation. Since 2001, she has served as an educational leader in the music profession as Chair of the Peabody Preparatory Voice Department. She is actively involved in the National Association of Teachers of Singing, and served as the State Governor and President of the MD-DC Chapter.
Gainesville Ballet has a strong history in classical training, on-stage excellence, and community outreach. Two dancers performed in Le Corsaire with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) at the Kennedy Center in April 2013. This is the second time for each ballerina to perform on-stage at this performing arts venue, and reflects the rapidly-growing reputation and proficiency of the pre-professional dancers at Gainesville Ballet. On May 6, 2012, Gainesville Ballet was honored as Outstanding Arts Organization during the 2012 Seefeldt Awards for Arts Excellence. Each year, the Seefeldt Awards recognize individuals and organizations who have contributed to the strength and success of the local arts. The ceremony was part of Arts Alive! 2012 in the Hylton Performing Arts Center with special guest emcees, Bob Madigan of WTOP and Tracee Wilkins of NBC4.
Each year, the dancers can build choreographic repertoire with two professional performances on the stage. The school presents an enchanting version of The Nutcracker during the holiday season, and a spring performance. Past productions include Swan Lake, Act II and a children’s version of Coppélia. Community outreach has included a multi-nation festival, Nutcracker tea with local children, and donations to the military community through a performance of Swan Lake, Act II on Memorial Day weekend.
Building upon a foundation of classical training, the new syllabus will bring a balanced, creative and vigorous approach to dancers who wish to pursue placement in competitive dance programs at the university level and prestigious dance organizations. Well-trained dancers on a professional track require a combination of classes with rigor in training and diversity in scope during the pre-professional years. For experienced students, the class levels have been augmented to support this intensity of technique for those who wish to pursue a career in dance or achieve artistic mastery. The new directors have designed the programs to prepare students for auditions and placements at the highest levels of achievement in the arts.
The arts-infused curriculum has also been designed to provide synergy in scheduling and to nurture the development of talent with breadth and depth. For example, an adult might be able to take Advanced Beginning Ballet during the weekday in one dance studio, while a young child attends pre-ballet in the second dance studio and a teen under home education attends voice class. Likewise, a student might attend ballet on Saturday mornings followed by voice or piano lessons in the music studio. Or, a student who wishes to learn multiple forms of dance may study ballet followed by modern or jazz. The co-location of three studios will provide a unique opportunity for students of all ages to enjoy many forms of the performing arts together.
Leading the way in pioneering programs, Gainesville Ballet hopes to provide arts enrichment to the community based on educational patterns. According to an article in the Lake Ridge-Occoquan Patch dated August 3, 2011, the population classified under home education status is growing. “In Prince William County, the number of students registered for homeschool instruction has increased by 9 percent in the past two years.” Research from the National Home Education Research Institute suggests there were roughly 2.04 million home-educated students in the United States in 2010. These trends suggest that daytime enrichment in the performing arts may be of local interest, and weekday classes for music and dance have been programmed for students of varying ages on Wednesday mornings.
The school is also seeking to launch pilot programs for children with special needs to build access to the arts. Experienced instructors in dance and music would be trained by specialists in the field of special education who can provide insights about how to best teach students with diagnoses of autism, ADHD, and other areas that may impact learning and development in the classroom. Interested families may contact the school to express interest in the development of these programs and to participate in a survey to assess community needs.
Maria-Monica Koo founded Gainesville Ballet in Gainesville, Virginia in 2005 and served as the Artistic Director until February of 2012. From its earliest evolution, the school offered ballet instruction in the Vaganova method taught by Petipa-Vaganova for students of varying ages and ability.
Gainesville Ballet features local talent from Bristow, Broad Run, Front Royal, Gainesville, Haymarket, Manassas, Warrenton, and surrounding areas, with a distinctive style of discipline and grace that radiates from teacher, to student, to community, and beyond. Many dancers travel from disparate locations to study in the program; the school has drawn students from across six counties in Virginia for dance instruction: Prince William, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun, Warren, and Frederick.
Previously, the school was located at 7522 Old Linton Hall Road with a one-room studio for rehearsal and classroom instruction. After damage from Hurricane Sandy changed the neighboring landscape in October of 2012, the stage was unknowingly set for renovation and renewal. The salon built a new façade with a modern flair, and an aura of sophistication and tranquility that is distinctively elegant for the historical backdrop. The nearby junction began as a changing point for stagecoach horses on the Fauquier & Alexandria Turnpike, followed by a stop on the Manassas Gap Railroad. The region is now home to a flourishing community in the Haymarket-Gainesville area with the physical growth evident by the Gainesville Interchange improvement project and rapid commercial and economic development. According to a business article from Forbes magazine dated April 25, 2013, “While Loudoun ranks at the top, it’s far from alone on the list of wealthiest counties that surround Washington. In fact, it’s just the beginning. The neighboring counties of Falls Church City, Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William in Virginia and Howard County in Maryland all make the cut, giving the D.C. area six of the nation’s ten wealthiest counties.” And it is growth that is the gateway to the fine arts.
The new structure has been erected upon the strong stylistic foundation of the former site for Salon Nordine and maintains the classical architectural elements of the original design. This gives the new space the flow and feel of peaceful serenity in a vibrant, state-of-the-art facility.
The three studios under one organization will bring an integrated program of performing arts to western Prince William County and the chance for patrons to enjoy multiple classes at the same time for beginners, pre-professionals and professionals. The public audience is invited to visit the new location and meet the directors during the Open House in September. The staff of Gainesville Ballet can be reached at (703) 753-5005, and via e-mail at email@example.com. Visit online at www.gainesvilleballetcompany.org to learn about upcoming performances, to register for the mailing list, and to read about the many multi-dimensional programs for study in the arts.
QUESTION AND ANSWER
In preparation for the facility launch, an interview revealed great insights from the leadership on the significance of this landmark milestone. The responses are provided as a Question and Answer format with 1) Managing Director – Elysabeth Muscat, and 2) Artistic Director – Rafik Hegab.
1. Elysabeth, you have already achieved so much in the cultivation of the performing arts throughout your lifetime! What does the launch of the new facility represent for you as a vocalist, teacher and managing director? What do you think the evolution of Gainesville Ballet Company and School will bring to those in the local community and in the broader community of arts?
“The new Gainesville Ballet facility represents new growth and opportunities for the performing arts in our community with dance classes, music lessons, future classes for children with special needs, and a professional ballet company with international teachers and performers. I studied ballet and piano for 10 years, started voice lessons as a teen, received a B.S. in Psychology and a Master of Music degree, sang opera professionally in Europe for 6 years, directed Baltimore Ballet for twelve years, and I have been teaching voice at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University since 2001. I enjoy blending my experience in performing, teaching, and arts administration to enhance the cultural life of my community, and look forward to exciting new ventures in Gainesville.”
2. Rafik, it takes a great deal of training and discipline in the field of dance to reach the prestigious role of Artistic Director. How do you feel about this well-deserved opportunity to bring so many varying forms of dance to the community of arts in western Prince William County, and how has your international background prepared you for this pivotal role as an arts leader in the world of dance?
“I am extremely pleased to be the Artistic Director of Gainesville Ballet. I started out as a student of ballet in Egypt, obtained my degree in dance pedagogy and choreography, worked as a professional dancer at the Cairo Opera Ballet (starting as corps de ballet, then being promoted to soloist and principal dancer), touring internationally to dozens of countries in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, then dancing in the United States with several ballet companies, and working as Choreographer and Assistant Artistic Director at the Mystic Ballet. I love teaching and choreographing, and am excited to bring a unique international flavor to the community.”