Ballet Forte Celebrating 20 Years of Artistic Brilliance

300-balletBy Joan Frances-

Viewing an exquisite work of art is like a spiritual experience. The heart beats faster, and there is a genuine appreciation for the composition and its creator. Absorbed in an overwhelming feeling of exhilaration, one feels renewed and elated. The endowment of BalletForte Dance Company and aspiring young dancers have given the Fort Bend community a gift through the artistic performance of classical ballet and contemporary dance. As they celebrate 20 years of regaling performances, the history of BalletForte is filled with talent, devotion and enrichment.

Before becoming a dancer, Michael Banigan was a tennis player. Once he started his dance training at age 14 to improve his coordination, he never returned to tennis. He worked on the art of dance proficiency for several years and joined the Allegro Ballet of Houston. Banigan continued his career as a freelance dancer for several ballet companies predominately in Texas. In the summer of 2003, he was awarded a full scholarship to attend Regional Dance America’s Craft of Choreography Conference. His creative talent matured as he presented a new ballet, Comburent Conversations, as part of the Jewish Community Center’s “Dance Month.” After the commencement of BalletForte with Dianne Jarrell, Banigan discovered a great love of choreography, which is highlighted in many of the company’s poignant performances.

Jarrell has been dancing since she was five years old, training under the tutelage of Denise Brown in Dallas. She performed with the Dallas Civic Ballet performing both leading and solo roles. She co-owned and directed the Dance Institute of Dallas until she moved to Houston in 1992. In 1996, Jarrell was working as a teacher at a local dance studio where she met Banigan, who was teaching dance as well. They became friends and decided to partner together and open a ballet company. Soon after, they established a dance studio with 12 company dancers. Their mission is to “increase public awareness of the arts and to promote and foster an appreciation for excellence in classical ballet through education and performance opportunities.” BalletForte now has 40 dancers with a repertoire of both classical and contemporary dance. They are a member of Regional Dance America/Southwest and join approximately 21 member companies throughout Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

One of BalletForte’s most anticipated performances is its full-length production of The Nutcracker each December. The first Nutcracker performance had approximately 20 cast members, and this year, it has over 120. Tryouts were August 29th, and practices are held each week until show time. The supporting cast consists of aspiring young students who return year after year to be a part of the magic of the season. Banigan enjoys teaching these novices. “Watching young dancers star in a professional production is gratifying and moving,” Banigan said. “They work so hard to gain confidence and poise. It makes everyone so proud and worth every minute of it.”

Among those who enjoy performances of The Nutcracker are elementary and middle school students in Title 1 schools in Fort Bend ISD, Lamar CISD, Stafford ISD and Houston ISD. In the off season, BalletForte provides workshop classes for disadvantaged children to experience performing in front of an audience. The dedication and commitment of Banigan, Jarrell and the volunteers who donate their time working on fundraising events provide financial support for this premier, pre-professional ballet company.

For the past 20 years, BalletForte has contributed to the artistic enrichment of Fort Bend County. With sold-out performances every year, The Nutcracker is a highly anticipated celebration of the holiday season. Special thanks to the devotion and talent of this dance company, and we look forward to many more years of efficacious entertainment.