I spent a glorious night at the ballet last night among Sugar Plum Fairies and a darling cast of Bon Bons. AND I got to take my six oldest children, age 4 to 17, including Noah (6 – with Down syndrome) with me. AND the audience was filled with people, many with disabilities, some without. AND I was given the tickets by our local Down syndrome support group, Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas.
For many, this is the only opportunity they have to experience the magic of Ballet Austin. This Night of Community is gifted to non-profit social service organizations in the Austin area. The Night of Community is the last dress rehearsal of each of Ballet Austin’s production. Usually dress rehearsals of major productions are closed to the general public, but Ballet Austin’s Night of Community opens these performances up to a very special set of guests. Eligible non-profits receive free tickets that they then distribute to their staff and clients. The show rolls from beginning to end usually without interruption (except for intermission). With your typical ballet ticket running from $50-$75, this is a considerable gift to the Austin community.
The Austin Ballet’s 50th Anniversary performance of the Nutcracker was beautiful, as every performance of the Nutcracker is, but other than the littlest ballerinas stealing the show and the masterful stage presence of Edward Carr as Drosselmeyer, the real magic was in the audience. A good one-fourth of the audience had obvious special needs, many with cognitive disabilities. The remainder was made up of people without any obvious disability, family members and assistants.
We sat in front of a lively group from the Mary Lee Foundation Rehabilitation Center. Their appropriately-placed sighs, “awwwws,” applause and calls of “Bravo,” enhanced our ballet experience. There was a sweet 3-year-old boy with Down syndrome sitting with his beautiful family in front of us. I had to laugh, because between his rapt attention and Noah’s rapt attention, absolutely no one could complain of children with Down syndrome having a short attention span. The kids were mesmerized.
Another funny little sidenote: If I would have walked into the Long Center auditorium after the lights were out and had I not been able to see the audience, I would not have known there was anything special about them. The only annoyance or inconvenience through the whole performance was the sound of a high-speed camera clicking away over and over and over again, and that camera seems to have belonged to a very “typical” professional photographer. Oh, the irony.
Final sidenote: I always get a kick out of attending these events, because Stephen Mills, the artistic director of Ballet Austin, sits all alone in the front row to watch these dress rehearsals. It’s an intimate moment to see the man take in his work, like watching an artist stand back and size up his latest masterpiece. Trinity (17) mentioned at the end of the performance as we were walking to our car that the only time he applauded was when the children took the stage. (Yeah, only Trinity would pick up on a detail like that.) Perhaps she missed another round or two of his applause, but I had to smile at the notion that Mr. Mills might be very focused on the technical aspects of the entire dress rehearsal, but even he couldn’t resist the charm of the youngest members of Ballet Austin.
Many, many thanks to Ballet Austin, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas (underwriter), Seawell-Elam-Foundation (sponsor), www.austinventures.com (season underwriter), Chase (education underwriter) and the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas for giving us a night to remember.
For more information on how your organization can apply to receive Ballet Austin’s Night of Community tickets for upcoming productions, please visit http://www.balletaustin.org/education/nightofcommunity.php.