Photo courtesy of Ballet Arizona

By Allison Brown | September 15, 2021

For the 25th year, Ballet Under the Stars is bringing ballet to the community with four free events at parks around the Valley.

The free performances helps Ballet Arizona, a Phoenix-based professional dance company and school, give back to the community, thank them for their support and ensure everyone has the opportunity to experience ballet, according to Samantha Turner, executive director.

“We do it because we love to give back to the community that supports us as a nonprofit organization,” she says.

“Ticket sales for our performances only pay for a portion of the cost of what we do. We receive more than $1 million in contributions from individuals around the Valley to help support what we do, and we want to thank them for that by providing a free performance. We also want to provide the opportunity for people who, for whatever reason, don’t find themselves able to make it to symphony hall for a performance, whether it’s cost or just difficult to get Downtown. We like to provide these free performances to give everyone the opportunity to experience and enjoy ballet.”

Performances at the parks begin at 7 p.m., though attendees are encouraged to get there early with their own lawn chairs or blankets for a good seat. The company will be at Fountain Park in Fountain Hills Wednesday, September 29; at Sahuaro Ranch Historic Park in Glendale Thursday, September 30; Estrella Lakeside Amphitheater in Goodyear Friday, October 1; and Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix on Saturday, October 2.

Turner says having the performances outside at the parks, while labor intensive and sometimes difficult for the dancers, is part of what makes them so special.

“Living here in Arizona, we have something that no one else in the country has, and that is the beautiful wonderland we live in,” Turner says.

To make the outdoor event happen, crews get to the park at 8 a.m. the day of and build an entire stage from the ground up, including professional lighting and sound equipment. Essentially, the only thing they don’t have compared to the concert hall is walls and a roof. When the show is over, the crew comes back out at night to tear everything down. Then, the next day, they go to a different location and do it all over again.

Ricardo Santos, a professional dancer with Ballet Arizona, says there were some challenges for the dancers that come with performing outside.

“It’s a little bit hot, and sometimes it does rain or sometimes there are bugs, so you never know,” Santos says. “The challenge is really the heat, because we’re in full-on costumes sometimes and it’s hard to breathe a little bit. If we’re doing a ballet and have to go on the floor, stuff like that can get a little tricky because the floor can get slippery from our sweat.”

However, he quickly follows that with “it definitely paid off” and the response from the crowd was so rewarding. Turner says in some locations, they have had up to 5,000 people show up, which is more than the concert hall could accommodate. Even though it has more people, the outdoor venue can be more inviting for families wrangling kids or even pets, both of which are invited.

“Watching the crowd at Ballet Under the Stars is something that’s incredibly uplifting to see,” Turner says. “One of the most spectacular things is watching all the children get up and move, inspired by the dancers. You’ll see them dancing on the sides and some in front of the stage. Out there amongst them are the future dancers who are going to be up on that stage. The beauty of Ballet Under the Stars is out there in the audience, watching that spark of a dream being born. Some youngster is seeing ballet and deciding that’s what they want to do with their life.”

Santos says he was once one of those kids who were fascinated by the dancers and wanted to do that. Santos achieved his goal and has been a professional dancer since he was 18 years old. Now 31 and going into his sixth season with Ballet Arizona, he says Ballet Under the Stars is close to his heart and reminds him why he became a professional.

Ballet Arizona has an outreach program that teaches local kids choreography and basic ballet techniques once or twice a week for about a month. Santos says when he participated, it was rewarding to be able to mentor them and inspiring to have them look up to him.

“Some of the young ones, they are a bit more in their element, and they ask questions like, ‘How is it being a dancer?’ They especially love the ballerinas; they’re so cute. It inspires me just because it’s a reminder of the whole reason I got into professional dancing in the first place — to be able to touch others with my dancing. I like to imagine I was like that actually, when I was 7 years old and thought ‘I want to do that’ when watching people perform.”

If interested in attending, make sure to check Ballet Arizona’s website for updates regarding COVID-19 regulations and/or weather alerts. The performances are free and open to the public; no reservation is required. Seating is not provided; attendees should bring their own chairs or blankets.

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