by Gene Marrano
Southwest Virginia Ballet Artistic Director Pedro Szalay is in the midst of a guest teaching session at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, an opportunity he calls “great exposure” for the Roanoke-based troupe. Of course, Szalay said earlier this week, many still ask, “Where is Roanoke?” He’s teaching high school aged students at St. Paul’s 2-3 hours a day for a three-week period, working on a new piece he choreographed called “Domino.”
The dance centers around romance and the game of dominos, which is played heavily in Cuba, “to relieve the stress [of everyday life],” as Szalay puts it. Domino also features the music of salsa songstress Celia Cruz. Szalay, who is of Hungarian and Venezuelan background, said it could become a piece that Southwest Virginia Ballet (designed for students 18 and under) takes on at some point in the future.
Szalay had previously danced with Lesley Tunstall, now head of the dance department at St. Paul’s School, who invited him to come up as a guest teacher. Tunstall had a school in South Carolina before and has also been with the National Ballet of Canada. “Every department [at St. Paul’s] is amazing,” said Szalay of the New Hampshire boarding school, which has an impressive arts program, with theater, music and dance. Students attend school six days a week.
Tunstall said Szalay has been a friend for 16 years. “He’s been my partner and friend and we both have this love of dance together. He was the perfect choice for St. Paul’s. He’s been an excellent inspiration to work with.” St. Paul’s has invited dance instructors from heavyweight ballet companies in Chicago and Boston recently, and brings in about two guest choreographers a year, according to Tunstall.
Domino will be presented during St. Paul’s annual spring show. Being introduced as artistic director of the Southwest Virginia Ballet should only help increase awareness and the reputation for the Roanoke company. SWVB is involved elsewhere as well – costume designer Elizabeth Long is also creating the outfits for Domino.
“It’s very involved,” said Szalay of the plotline for Domino, which features a dozen dancers, including one male. Much of the choreography revolves around the game of dominos and how it is played. One version of the game called “matador” is featured, as is the relationship between a couple as it goes through different phases. “It’s great to work with it,” said Szalay.
Tunstall said the new work by Szalay “is very fun. They [students] always have a smile on their faces. He’s pushing them to the limit and challenging the dancers. They’re like sponges …just loving it.” It’s a sentiment that Szalay has probably heard from some of his Southwest Virginia Ballet students in the past.
See svballet.org for more on the Roanoke troupe, which will perform at noon on Saturday, May 26, on the Elmwood Park amphitheater stage during Festival in the Park. Southwest Virginia Ballet is also conducting Summer Intensive camps from June 18-22, split into several age groups. See the website for more information.