BALLET CONCERTO: South Florida Classical Ballet Pioneers Retire After 55 Years
The season of back-to-school is in full force and as many young dancers around the country get ready for another great season of dance training, Miami began its school year without one of its oldest and most prestigious dance schools. Ballet Concerto School founders Martha del Pino and Sonia Diaz announced to their student body in August that they would not be opening their doors for a 56th season, come September. After 55 years of arguably one the highest quality classical ballet schools in Miami, the co-artistic directors are ready to retire. Both octogenarians, del Pino and Diaz have never stopped directing the school, with del Pino still teaching until last year and Diaz managing day-to-day operations. The decision came after both agreed that the time was right for retirement.
Retirement is well deserved for these two women, after all, 55 years is much easier said than done and both deserve to bask in all the remarkable things they did for the arts in Miami, for ballet, and for the thousands of students that passed through Ballet Concerto's doors since 1961. Ballet Concerto is a true Miami institution: the second oldest ballet school in Miami, the first helmed by women, one of the first Cuban owned businesses in Miami, and the first Hispanic owned arts institution in the region. Most notably, Ballet Concerto Company, a separate entity established in 1964, was the first professional ballet company in Miami, setting a precedent for classical ballet in the area by staging all of the classic full-length ballets and bringing the most extraordinary ballet artists of the twentieth century to South Florida for the first time. Guest artists included Rudolph Nureyev, Carla Fracci, Cynthia Gregory, Natalia Makarova, Ivan Nagy, Gelsey Kirkland, and Alexander Godunov to name a few.
The school has also produced some recognizable names among the many students to take the professional route. The most illustrious of these was Fernando Bujones (1955-2005) who became the first American male dancer to win the Gold Medal at the 1974 International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria. Bujones became a Principal Dancer at American Ballet Theater at age 19, the youngest male to do so in the Company's history. He later returned to Ballet Concerto Company as a guest artist, and in 1986 performed the world-premiere of Narciso, a ballet choreographed especially for him by Eduardo Recalt, the Company's third artistic director. Some other notable alumni: Hilda Maria Reverte (Pittsburgh Ballet), Mariana Alvarez (National Ballet of Washington, San Francisco Ballet), Marielena Mencia (International Ballet of Caracas, Bavarian State Ballet), Alina Hernandez (American Ballet Theater), and Rita Martinez (Joffrey Ballet). Not to mention, the dozens of alumni who have continued the legacy of Ballet Concerto through their own dance schools, both in South Florida and around the country.
Ballet Concerto will be remembered as a key player in the development of arts and culture in South Florida, especially within the Hispanic community. Diaz and del Pino, who defected from Ballet Nacional de Cuba, where they danced alongside Alicia Alonso and under the direction of Fernando Alonso, implemented and maintained the rigorous classical curriculum that Cuban ballet has since become known for. No other ballet schools were teaching this method in South Florida until recent years, with the exception of individual teachers, Ballet Concerto stood as the sole bearer of a Cuban Classical Ballet Technique for much of its existence. Along with the late Eduardo Recalt, who joined Ballet Concerto Company as its third director after defecting in 1967, Diaz and del Pino instilled in their students incomparable discipline, respect and love for the art form, and most importantly a sense of family. These women dedicated their lives to the art of dance, and to their students; it has been their entire existence, their family. And the same has been reciprocated, as so many of the students who passed through the barres of Ballet Concerto consider the school and its directors not only a part of their upbringing, but a part of their extended families, most evident through the many second and third generation students that have studied under Diaz and del Pino.
In their statement to students and families, the Directors expressed their gratitude for affording them the opportunity to share their love for ballet, "Sonia and I are extremely grateful to all of the wonderful families that have trusted us with their children's artistic education throughout the last fifty-five years. We have been very fortunate to do what we love and share the art of ballet with the generations of students that have passed through our doors. The children, the parents, and even the grandparents have become our family and we have seen so many of them grow up and start their own families. Additionally, we are so appreciative to all who believed in Ballet Concerto Company through the years and helped ballet flourish in this community. We could not have done all that we did without the support of all of the benefactors and those who served on the Board of Directors. We thank you for giving us so much to be proud of."
There is no question of the void left by the closing of this Miami establishment, mostly in the heart of the three generations who studied and danced at Ballet Concerto and in the memory of those who witnessed the evolution of the cultural arts between the 1960's and 1980's, when the school and company were at its peak. Even so, there is a labor of love and a legacy that no one can come close to matching, and for that, Martha del Pino and Sonia Diaz, can rest easy knowing they did something extraordinary. For those of us who lived and learned in the time of Ballet Concerto, their legacy will be one of gratitude for all they did for the arts in South Florida and all that they taught us, about ballet, about dance, about the arts, about hard-work, about resiliancy, and most of all, about love.
Photo Credit: Sonia Diaz, Martha del Pino, Eduardo Recalt. Ballet Concerto Company Archives