Previews: FIRST STATE BALLET THEATRE at The Grand Opera House

Bottom line: We need to make visa applications for professional arts people easier to access.

By: May. 10, 2024
Previews: FIRST STATE BALLET THEATRE at The Grand Opera House
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It is not surprising to those who work in the live arts, performing arts or fine arts, that we understand a vibrant arts community attracts visitors who spend money and help keep local businesses thriving. They keep Delaware residents spending their money locally, vital income for local merchants.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that in 2022 arts and cultural production in Delaware accounted for $1.1 billion in economic impact and 8,971 jobs; all relating to the arts creating 1.3% of the state’s economy.

This article is ‘organization’ specific – First State Ballet Theatre – but this issue can be extrapolated to any arts group dealing with the frustrating bureaucracy of obtaining visas to acquire international talent.

Firstly, some background. In the late 90’s, a touring group of Russian dancers were stranded in Philadelphia. The Russian government turned a blind eye. Marsha Borin, a doyenne of local ballet, brought them to Wilmington. Her vision was to create around this small corps of professionals The Russian Ballet of Delaware. (An apocryphal story that was later shared suggested that none of the troupe had seen a dentist in years. Marsha’s husband was a doctor. He rallied his dental colleagues and 31 root canals were given at no expense).

It was decided to mount Romeo and Juliet at The Playhouse, accompanied by the triumphal music of Prokofiev. But a huge cast was needed for this 1998 production.

That’s where I come in. Marsha needed warm bodies; some with ballet training, some with not so much (me).

I was cast as a Montague swordsman; the fight scene with the Capulets choreographed by none other than lead dancer Pasha Kambalov, our Romeo. Each night I readily dispatched 6 Capulet bullies, chortled over their corpses and never lost a minute’s sleep.

Within a short span relationships were severed. Robert Grenfell, an executive at Verizon and a disciplined and dedicated dancer, came to the rescue. Robert was a businessman, knew the ropes, created the 501©3 and was well connected in the community. Without him, the company would have never survived.

He, along with Pasha and Kristina, founded First State Ballet Theatre.

FSBT moved into The Grand in 2003 and became Delaware’s only professional ballet organization. In over 2 decades they have grown exponentially and presently employ 20 dancers under contract. That is in addition to an active training school for both children and adults.

This year they received a $300,000.00 from the prestigious Longwood Foundation to build a satellite academy at The Town of Whitehall, founded by Brian DiSabatino, CEO of the EDIS Company.

Now, to the crux of the matter. Aoi Tashiro, born in the Yokohama, is in her second year. She is a professional. She is exquisite. She is driven. She brings grace not only to FSBT but also to Delaware’s creative culture. Why must Aoi (and others) go through hoops to obtain a work visa?

A P1 visa is good for only one year. It’s expensive. Aoi must hire a lawyer. It is both time and emotionally wearing. Artists like Aoi, who have proven themselves as professionals, need an expedient O1 visa, good for 3 years.

I asked Aoi why would she not consider returning to Japan to dance?

“No, not so good. Japan ballet not so good.”

She loves her new family at FSBT. She is still learning her English. Yes, dear readers…I could edit her replies. I chose not to.

“First of all, I felt the warmth of family. That’s nothing change from first time and now. I did not expected how connect with company members and directors because it’s job and professional and I’ve never felt like this warmth before. I really appreciate I can be part of FSBT and have second family in US.

And we are working so hard. Sometimes Russian style is hard for me but I really liked Russia ballet so it is pleasure to dancing real Russia ballet and learning from Pasha and Kristina. Also I really like costumes and Grand opera house as well”.

Former Prima ballerina Rie Aoki, also from Japan, has been her mentor since arrival. Rie retired last year and is on the faculty.

Anyone who has ever been face to face with Rie understands this special lady is a tsunami force of nature.

Aoi on Rie:

“Honestly, I don't know how to explain about Rie for me. She is ACTUAL my role model and inspiration every second

But same time, She is my mom, old sister and teacher.

Words can not describe how much I want thank her. I would like to give back by showing you how much I have glown.

I really want to be dancer like a her, who make a lot of people smile”.

Bottom line: We need to make visa applications for professional arts people easier to access.

Photo by Tisa Della-Volpe

First State Ballet Theatre- First State Ballet Theatre


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