By KATIE HOPSICKER
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In less than a month, Albany Berkshire Ballet will celebrate its 50th year with “The Golden Age of Dance” gala and three-city performance tour of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Since the beginning, Berkshire Ballet’s mission has been “to create new repertoire and bring together dancers and choreographers from higher education to create new meaningful work in multiple modes of dance,” said Director of Communications Joe Durwin.
And meaningful work it has been. The company, originally a ballet guild, can credit its start to “the brainchild and creation of Madeline Cantarella Culpo” who started her dance school in 1955 in Pittsfield. A student from Juilliard, she came to the Berkshires and established her school, until it “made sense to start staging professional productions.”
As the company’s Artistic Director, Culpo recently received a Berkshire County Lifetime Achievement Award. She is “one of the longest-serving artistic directors in the world,” said Durwin. Additionally, Culpo served on the board at Jacob’s Pillow, the iconic dance space in Becket, Massachusetts, and she can still be found teaching classes three times a week.
Durwin expressed “gratitude” for Culpo, as the “company has grown and worked all over the world.” Having been around for so long, its “familial quality” has created a “hometown feel of a local family’s dance company with elements of the top-tier” professional dance world.
With Albany Berkshire Ballet reaching 50 years, Durwin also explained the other milestones for Culpo and her company. “Albany was added to Berkshire Ballet in 1989 with the addition of the second school,” Durwin said, adding this will mark the 30th anniversary for the Albany location. Additionally, the company’s winter Nutcracker is in its 45th consecutive year.
To celebrate, Albany Berkshire Ballet is hosting a 50th Anniversary
Gala on Aug. 17 at the Berkshire Plaza Hotel in Pittsfield. Durwin says the gala will honor a “huge celebration of the range of performances and the legacy of the company.”
Additionally, the summer celebration is continuing with three performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The company will perform at The Egg in Albany on Aug. 23, the Academy of Music in Northampton, Massachusetts on Aug. 31, and the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on Sept. 7.
Since 1987 the company has had a “rich history for the ‘Midsummer’ production,” and this will be the first new production in more than 20 years. The reinvention will not only include the classic storyline but also introduce new staging and choreography by Director of Dance at the University of Missouri at Kansas City and Berkshire Ballet alum, Paula Weber.
Weber has “always wanted to choreograph a ‘Midsummer.’” She revealed that she is thrilled: “I’m thankful to be here and I’m thankful for the dancers… they are gorgeous and they are strong.”
When asked what influenced her choreography, Weber responded, “I wanted to stay away from what I knew or remembered [and] wanted to make sure I told the story correctly.” She added, “What I did for the piece was I read the book… I watch, I look, then I stop. Then I invest myself in the music.”
The original score for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is only about 45 minutes long, so Weber had to find additional music to make it a full-length ballet — this makes the performance extremely unique. Weber stated that while finding music she “put [her] influences in the blender… make sure everything blended nicely together.”
Her message is based on her belief to “find your own way of making what you want to portray in dance.” She added “I’m thrilled… I’m humbled by [the company’s] trust in me.”
With a rich history, a grand gala and a reworked ballet, Albany Berkshire Ballet’s celebration will conclude the summer in style. For tickets and more information visit https://www.albanyberkshireballet.org/.