Celebrating Women’s History: Harriet Strong, Movement, and the Power of Innovation.
BalletNova’s ArtsFairfax Project Support Grant Recipient
ArtsFairfax connects you to all things arts in Fairfax County, the City of Fairfax, and the City of Falls Church. We believe that arts and culture activities transform and empower our communities. In the months ahead, discover the good work of this year’s ArtsFairfax Project Support Grant recipients.
Meet Elizabeth Spatz, Educational Outreach Coordinator, for BalletNova Center for Dance, whose mission is “to provide unparalleled training and education for dancers by offering the finest in programming and events as the premier center for dance excellence in Northern Virginia.”
Just in time for Women’s History Month, she shares about BalletNova’s project, “Celebrating Women’s History: Harriet Strong, Movement and the Power of Innovation.”
ArtsFairfax: Tell us about your project.
Spatz: This project, which I co-lead with choreographer and BalletNova Associate Director, Constance Walsh, brings dance and the art of choreography into the public schools. We aim to foster creativity through movement inspired by Constance’s filmed dance, “Dear Harriet,” as inspiration.
Students watch the film, analyze the movement and choreography to find meaning, and learn more about its subject matter. Then, inspired by the film and this foundation, students create their own choreographic studies based on themes surrounding the life and work of Harriet Strong.
Choreography: Constance Walsh
Music: Oliver Davis
Dancers: BalletNova Conservatory Division
Filmed in BalletNova’s Fredgren Studio Theatre, May 2021
ArtsFairfax: It’s so cool that you’re using both film and movement to spark this creativity. What inspired the project’s creation?
Spatz: In the spring of 2021, BalletNova was unable to present its spring performance for a live audience, so we set forth to film dances to be screened for audiences at home. Constance Walsh created “Dear Harriet” after discovering the story of Harriet Strong while researching women who were influential in farming innovations and the environment. Ms. Walsh was surprised she had never heard of Harriet Strong, and decided that her story would translate well to a choreographic project. After the successful screening of the film, Constance and I discussed how this would be an excellent vehicle to illustrate how choreography can be used to create a narrative and how this application could be developed into a workshop appropriate for students.
ArtsFairfax: How does this project support your overall mission?
Spatz: BalletNova believes that dance is for “every body” and strives to expand into the community to show the power of dance and creativity. We want to show that everybody can express creativity through movement, and that dance isn’t any one thing.
ArtsFairfax: Did you know you would want to work with students for this project?
Spatz: We first piloted this project with BalletNova students in a class that had little to no experience working with their own choreography. It took some time for them to get “warmed up” creatively, but soon enough, they came up with incredible choreographic studies based on themes they saw in “Dear Harriet.” Then we brought the workshop to an elementary school with a fifth grade class. There, the students had some incredibly insightful comments and thoughts regarding the work. They, too, made some powerful movement studies based on observations and discussion. Throughout the life of this project, it has been a powerful experience to see people embody the story of Harriet Strong and learn about an important person in history through the art of choreography.
ArtsFairfax: Before we go, tell us what you appreciate most about the community you serve.
Spatz: The community is so open to new ideas and everyone we have worked with is willing to be creative and try new things. Dance and creativity bring them, and us, together in ways we could not have imagined!
ArtsFairfax: Thank you, Elizabeth! We know the project has been ongoing and will continue through the school year. How can Fairfax residents get involved?
Spatz: Fairfax residents that would like to have this presented at their own school can contact BalletNova at email@example.com.
BalletNova was founded in 1981 by Kathryn and Kenneth Fredgren as Arlington Center for Dance and in 2008, moved to its current Falls Church location. Recognized as one of Northern Virginia’s premier dance training facilities, BalletNova offers classes year-round in several divisions and genres for over 1,000 students. The Young Students Division introduces dance to children ages 3 – 8. The Pre-Professional Division provides serious training to aspiring professionals. The Youth/Teen Division has recreational classes in dance for ages 9 – 17 and the Adult Division offers classes in multiple genres for all levels. Outreach programming includes free open houses, programming at local Pre-K-12 schools, and a robust free ticket program. Two major productions, The Nutcracker and Spring Performance, are performed by BalletNova Pre-Professional students with special guest artists rounding out the cast. BalletNova will perform “Coppélia” for its Spring Performance at Capital One Hall in Tyson’s Corner April 15-16, 2023.
Besides offering excellent dance education and performances, BalletNova also has its own black box theatre named after its founders – The Fredgren Studio Theatre. Equipped with theatrical lighting, sound system, grand piano, wings and seating for 175 patrons, this theatre serves as an important resource for local performing artists. Although specifically designed for dance, this black box theatre is also perfectly suited for music and theatre productions, including filmed works.