It’s the end of an era at the Sacramento Ballet. The 30-year reign of Ron and Carinne Binda Cunningham as artistic directors of the city’s only professional dance company, concludes with the final performance of “The Genius of Balanchine” on June 17.
Next season, the reins of artistic director will be taken over by Amy Seiwert, herself a former dancer with the company, who left to join the renowned Smuin Ballet in San Francisco before starting her own dance company there.
A celebration of Ron and Carinne’s career – a free and open to the public “Thank You Party!” – will take place at 5:30 p.m. this Sunday at Land Park Village Green on the corner of Sutterville and Freeport boulevards. (To attend, RSVP here).
The Sacramento Ballet was founded in 1954 by Barbara and Deane Crockett, who came to Sacramento from San Francisco where they were associated with the San Francisco Ballet. With financial support from SMAC (the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission), the California Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Crocketts were able to begin hiring professional dancers, finally realizing – in 1986 – Barbara Crockett’s dream of having a professional ballet company. Sacramento Ballet remains the only Sacramento arts organization with a resident company of artists.
Ron Cunningham was hired by Crockett in 1988 as artistic director. Carinne Binda joined her husband here the following year (they both came from the Boston Ballet). They became co-artistic directors in 1991.
During their years here, the Sacramento Ballet has presented original works created by Ron Cunningham as well as dances by such famous choreographers as Septime Webre, Agnes DeMille, Twyla Tharp and Trey McIntyre. The company’s repertory also includes 18 dances created by George Balanchine, who is considered the father of American ballet.
Not just any company can perform a Balanchine work. Since his 1983 death at age 79 from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the Balanchine Trust has controlled rights to his creations. The Trust studies the company’s makeup, evaluates its dancers’ abilities and assigns a certified Balanchine répétiteur (tutor or coach) to “set” the dance on the company. John Clifford, a former principal dancer with Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, most often oversees the Sacramento dancers’ preparation for performances. He was in town May 30 to June 2 directing the company’s work on “The Genius of Balanchine” next week.
Binda is considered one of the toughest teachers herself when it comes to Balanchine works, and it is her demanding eye and the dancers’ high skills that have allowed the Sacramento Ballet Company to have so many Balanchine dances in its repertory. No company as small as this one has as many.
Excerpts from several of Balanchine’s greatest dances will be performed in this rare all-Balanchine program. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday (June 14-16) and 2 p.m. Sunday (June 17) at the B Street Theatre home at The Sofia, 2700 Capitol Ave. Tickets are $65 and are available at the ballet box office, (916) 552-5810, or online at BStreetTheatre.org.
Photo by Alexander Cain Biber