Kyle Davis and Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan Bring Ballet to Green Bay | Pointe Magazine

April 23, 2024

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Kyle Davis has had a longtime dream of bringing professional ballet to his hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Five years ago, he and his fiancée, fellow PNB principal Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan, decided to make it happen.

The couple started conversations with community leaders in the Green Bay area, including Kelli Strickland, executive and artistic director of Green Bay’s Weidner Center for the Performing Arts, and the team set plans in motion.

Then a familiar obstacle rose: the pandemic. “We honestly thought it was the end,” says Davis, “and that the idea wasn’t going to be revived.”

But post-COVID, things started moving again, and by this past summer, at Strickland’s suggestion, they were pursuing not just a ballet performance but a full-blown festival. Running now through May at the Weidner Center, Green Bay Ballet Festival now includes master classes, pop-up shows, community dance education, and film screenings. It caps off on May 4 with Beer & Ballet, a performance featuring 14 professional dancers, appearances by two local dance studios, and live music from the Weidner Philharmonic orchestra. The festival’s inaugural theme centers on music by Tchaikovsky.

The performing artists include Davis and Ryan, Carolina Ballet principals Taylor Ayotte (a fellow Green Bay native) and Joseph Gerhardt, Philadelphia Ballet principals Mayara Pineiro and Sterling Baca, Houston Ballet first soloists Mónica Gómez and Gian Carlo Perez, and six members of Water Street Dance Milwaukee. The two schools involved, Makaroff Youth Ballet and Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization, are Davis’ and Ayotte’s respective home studios.

“For over 50 years, people like Jeanette Makaroff have been laying the groundwork in northeast Wisconsin for what we’re doing today,” Davis told Pointe over email. “Sarah and I hope it takes root and we can cultivate a professional dance environment in Green Bay.”

We spoke with Davis and Ryan to learn more.

You’re kicking things off with a Tchaikovsky theme. How did you land on that?

Kyle Davis: The Weidner Center had originally wanted some sort of name recognition to draw the orchestra audience into the dance world.

Sarah Gabrielle-Ryan: It felt approachable. Everybody knows Tchaikovsky! At first we thought it limited our rep to choose a theme, but then we realized, no, we actually had more to work with than we thought.

With that theme, what does the repertoire for Beer & Ballet look like?

KD: Together, we’re dancing the Act IV pas de deux from Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake. And then I’m dancing a solo [from Tchaikovsky Overtures], by Alexei Ratmansky. It’s a really exciting piece because there are two opera singers onstage as well—a soprano and a tenor.

We’re also presenting Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux and some other excerpts from Swan Lake—the White Swan pas, Black Swan pas. My home studio [MYB], is going to do the four little swans, and then [NWDO] will do the big swans. The last piece is a new creation we commissioned from Water Street Dance.

How did you reach out to the other guest principals who will be performing?

SGR: We knew Taylor Ayotte was going to be really important. Kyle knew who she was because she’s from Green Bay, and I knew her since she was my classmate for a lot of summer intensives. So it was this “We have to have her” moment; we wanted to make sure that she got to be a homecoming talent. She’s bringing her partner [Joseph Gerhardt].

For Tschai Pas, The Balanchine Trust let us do the piece if we chose dancers who had already danced it together. I danced with Pennsylvania Ballet, now Philadelphia Ballet, so I knew that Sterling Baca and Mayara Pineiro had done it. I asked if they wanted to again, and, you know, everyone wants to dance Tschai Pas! [Laughs.] They said any opportunity to do that, yes!

We crossed paths with Gian Carlo Perez at Ballet Sun Valley and were blown away by him in the Black Swan pas. So as soon as we needed a Black Swan, we reached out to him. This community has no idea—it is going to be blown away. We wanted to make sure that when it comes, it’s going to hit hard.

It must feel very full-circle for Kyle’s and Taylor’s home studios to be involved!

SGR: We’re excited to show the little swans, the youngest of the bunch, then the big swans as slightly older students, and then the professionals. The idea is that the community can see how you develop throughout your career.

KD: As soon as we got Taylor involved, I really wanted to make sure that her home studio was a part of it. And I always knew that if I was ever going to have the opportunity to bring ballet back home, I would involve Jeanette [Makaroff] and Makaroff Youth Ballet.

Kyle has mentioned that you can’t think of a community more perfect for Beer & Ballet than Green Bay. Why is that?

KD: Ah, Green Bay. It’s such a funny place because football is so important, and beer and bratwurst. [Laughs.] When I was growing up, dance in that area was always what you put your daughter in to keep her entertained. There are a lot of competition studios, and then there are these two small ballet-focused studios. It was hard being the one boy in class. I realized that in order for me to pursue ballet at the level I wanted, I had to leave home.

There were a couple of ballet companies that toured to The Weidner for a brief period of time. I was 10 or 12, and it was really eye-opening. I actually saw Miami City Ballet do “Rubies” and Parsons Dance Company perform Caught. It blew my mind. That’s something I’ve always wanted to be able to bring to Green Bay.

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Source: Kyle Davis and Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan Bring Ballet to Green Bay – Pointe Magazine

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