Ballet company helps pupils start lives out on right foot

MARIETTA – For more than three decades, dancers from the Mid-Ohio Valley Ballet Company of Parkersburg have graced the stage in original and classic shows while contributing to the arts education of youth in the area.

Incorporated in 1982, the ballet company has received Artsbridge grants to keep its dream alive since its inception, putting on two to four major shows each season and many in-school performances and camp experiences for youth.

The upcoming season will include the company’s annual performance of “The Nutcracker” at Christmastime and a spring production of “The Little Mermaid.”

“There’s nothing quite like classical ballet training,” said Suzy Gunter, the company’s artistic director since 2010. “There’s nothing better to give a kid all the things they need in life, and the physical and mental things they gain are immeasurable.”

The company is comprised of six senior dance members, typically young adults finishing high school, 10 teenage apprenticeship members and 10 trainees who are 12-years old.

“Then we also have about four or five professional guest artists that come in to dance alongside the company, depending on the performance,” Gunter said.

Performances by the ballet company are held in the auditoriums at Marietta High School auditorium or Blennerhassett School. Studios are on Ann Street in Parkersburg.

Rebecca Segrest, 17, discovered the ballet company after she moved to Parkersburg from Nebraska 10 years ago. She is among the company’s senior dancers.

“Up until I moved here I had never danced before, and when I saw them perform ‘The Nutcracker,’ I immediately wanted to be in it,” she said.

Two years ago, Segrest played the part of the big bad wolf when the company performed “A Trio of Fairy Tales,” which she said is her favorite role so far.

“It’s a way to get away from the rest of the world, and it’s my passion, so I can pour everything out from the day into it,” she said.

Gunter said the company boasts $783,000 in offers and scholarships toward future dance and academic endeavors that have gone to ballet company alumni.

“I was looking to get involved in something and didn’t like how competitive many traditional sports were,” said Matt Dillon, 17, of Belpre, another of the company’s senior dancers. “With ballet you’re only competing against yourself, so you can really get a more self-driven experience than traditional sports.”

Dillon has been with the company for three years, but last year played the title role in the 2013 performance of “The Nutcracker.”

“When people ask what your role is and you say ‘the nutcracker,’ they immediately recognize the role, which is really cool,” Dillon said.

In addition to its main performances, the ballet company each year performs 25 to 50 arts in education programs in schools in Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The programs meet the Artsbridge mission to “improve the quality of life in the Mid-Ohio Valley by promoting and supporting the arts through financial and technical support, and arts education in our schools and community.”

Gunter said the company does lots of community outreach with dancers performing many hours of community service for events, nursing homes and festivals throughout the year.

At the end of June, ballet company dancers will participate in the Fine Arts Day Camp that incorporates dance, art, music and more in a program for young people.

The ballet’s official school, the Mid-Ohio Valley Ballet Academy of Fine Arts, teaches the classes and gives youth the experience they need to feed into the ballet company.

“Artsbridge has been instrumental to our success with the company,” Gunter said. “We’ve collaborated on how to get arts into the schools and how to keep it alive.”

The ballet company used to be the Parkersburg Civic Ballet, and was started by Gunter’s mother, Norma.

“I’ve always taught at the school, but the ballet company was her brainchild,” Gunter said. “Then I took over when she retired, and have been here ever since.”