Syracuse City Ballet Celebrates 20 years!

As most of you know, Syracuse City Ballet is celebrating 20 years this season. An amazing feat that Kathleen Rathbun, Artistic Director and staff like to describe as “Imagination in Motion”. Why? Well, let me tell you. But first we should start from the beginning.

It all began when a young, vibrant and rambunctious child was put into her first ballet class. It was undeniably love at first sight, and she was “hooked” since that day. She continued her passion for the art form by independently hosting productions in her garage. A treat for the neighborhood, this young girl created dances, costumes and sets, as well as utilizing the garage door for the main curtain.

As she grew older she trained with the Syracuse Ballet Theater, moved to New York City to attended Julliard on scholarship, graduated, and landed a job with the Princeton Ballet. Unexpectedly, like most fairy tales, she met her prince charming and moved back home to Syracuse, NY. When she moved home, the Syracuse Ballet Theater she once trained with was no longer existed, so she began teaching at the Metropolitan School of the Arts. A few years later that school also folded. This brings us to about 26 years ago.

Desperate to bring ballet and dance back to Syracuse, she decided to open up her own school to continue sharing her knowledge and passion to young men and women. After a few years of successfully establishing her school, she felt it was time to give her students the same opportunities that she had training with Syracuse Ballet Theater. It was important to her that these students not only get the adequate training and discipline, not only perform in their yearly recital, but that they would have the opportunity to perform in major classical ballets alongside professional, world renowned ballerinas and men. It was time to turn her childhood garage into a stage; she premiered Snow White in 1996.

Another woman (an arts advocate with an equal passion for ballet) was sitting in the studio lobby as her children were in rehearsal for Snow White. The music stopped, tiny feet shuffled across the floor and moments later the Artistic Director peeped her head out the brown double doors, “Does anyone have any experience with painting sets?” smiling at the mothers sitting in their chairs. The woman (arts advocate) spoke up, “Sure, I can help”.

These two ladies became friends and partners as they set out to establish a ballet company that would be a separate entity from the ballet school. Reporters and journalists told them they would never make it, as Syracuse for so long, and continues to be, a sports town. 20 years later, these two women, Artistic Director, Kathleen Rathbun and Associate Director, Harriet Casey continue to inspire youth, professionals and audiences as they have produced major ballets such as Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Dracula. They have been involved in dozens of charity events, have partnered with major arts organizations like Syracuse Symphony, Open Hand Theatre, Shakespeare Festival, and have groomed men and women to become successful, creative and passionate people in our community and society.

So, “Imagination in Motion”? I like to think of it as many things. Of course when you think of ballet and dance, it is movement. Dancers are in motion. But dance is also moving, it can inspire, it can exploit an experience, an emotion, a journey, a motion. It can derive from imagination, a memory, a song, a poem, a feeling. Dance and ballet is always changing, always moving, always in motion. Ballet began during the Renaissance in Italy around 1500, and it continues to prosper, and change. Figures such as Misty Copeland, Principle Ballerina of ABT is an example of breaking the barrier for what a ballerina should look like, what roles she should play. But as far as Syracuse City Ballet, as far as celebrating 20 years… Kathleen had a vision, she imagined, she created a dream and she put it in motion. And 20 years later, she is still in motion.


-By: Stephanie Dattellas, Ballet Mistress of Syracuse City Ballet

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