Sunday, June 09, 2002

Ballet academy director's plans cover wide spectrum

Catching up

By Carol Norris
Enquirer contributor

        When Daniel Simmons arrived in Cincinnati three years ago, he decided one thing would determine if he stayed or not: acceptance.

        “My own personal thing was how the community, (Cincinnati Ballet artistic director) Victoria Morgan and the board would accept me,” says the director of Cincinnati Ballet's Otto M. Budig Academy. “I have strong views and a long-term idea — I want to train professional dancers and music theater performers. I'm not interested in students taking class just to be taking class.”

    What: The Otto M. Budig Academy of Cincinnati Ballet in The Twelve Dancing Princesses
    When: 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday
    Where: Jarson-Kaplan Theater, Aronoff Center, downtown
    Tickets: $18 at Cincinnati Ballet Box Office, 1555 Central Parkway, and the Aronoff Center, 621-5282.
        He's still here, so things must be working, right?

        “Yes, they've harmonized,” he says. “Now we have to see where it goes.”

        His initial goal was to change the company's ballet school with its mishmash of classes into an academy with a set curriculum and a focus on training professional dancers. He immediately established the Venture Dancers, which gives students performing opportunities and puts them on a classical ballet career course.

        This year he initiated Dance Spectrum for kids whose talents are in musical theater rather than ballet. His advanced students are close to being able to move into professional companies, but his “babies” often provide the greatest satisfaction.

        “The other night at the end of rehearsal with about 130 students, a little 7-year-old girl came up and said, "Mr. Simmons, I just love you and you always smell good.' I loved it. The babies are really amazing — they laugh and giggle, but they're really amazing.”

        His biggest surprise: “The tremendous amount of parental support. That's been wonderful.”

        And a huge hurdle that's ongoing: “Working with children who have too many other activities.”

        This week he presents The Twelve Dancing Princeses, his third full-length production with the academy. He chose it “because it's a beautiful story, a Grimm Fairy Tale, with so many magical things — a fortune teller, magic gardener, and so on. It's so attractive for creating drama, but it's also for the kids and it provides something I believe in, a full-length family ballet.”

        In addition he choreographs for Cincinnati Ballet's professionals during the season and keeps the Venture Dancers hopping with ongoing appearances around the Tristate.

        Is he overworked?

        “We're busy. I get tired. Nancy (Fountain, his assistant) and I start at 9 a.m. and we're still going at 9:30 at night. This pace has been going on since February. But the kids are on target and I'm really happy with their progress. I've met my initial goals — I've provided them a professional atmosphere.”

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