Gainesville Ballet Theatre presents ‘A Little Bit of Everything’ on Sunday
Published: Thursday, May 22, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 at 4:22 p.m.
Joni Messler Studio of Dance presents its 55th annual recital, “A Little Bit of Everything” on Sunday. The performance begins at 2:30 p.m. at the Cofrin Theatre at the Oak Hall School, 8009 SW 14th Ave.
Tickets are $6 in advance at Joni Messler Studio or at the door.
“A Little Bit of Everything” also serves as the 40th-anniversary spring concert of Gainesville Ballet Theatre.
Founded by Joni Messler in 1974, the Gainesville Ballet Theatre is the non-profit performing company of Joni Messler Studio.
Messler herself owns her namesake studio business as well as directs the Gainesville Ballet Theatre. And works by both will be featured in Sunday’s performance.
“The first part of the program is primarily GBT works,” Messler says.
The opening number, “Steven Foster Fantasy” is a Gainesville Ballet Theatre classic, set to famous melodies by the 19th-century American folk composer. “Because it’s a big anniversary year for both GBT and the studio, we’re not having just a recital,” Messler explains.
“The first part of the show is a lecture demonstration of sorts,” she says. “The studio offers jazz, modern, ballet and tap, so each teacher of that category will have taught the students a brief demo to share with the audience; something representative of what happens in a weekly class.”
“Then the teacher will come explain what the audience just saw. The idea is to share with the public — this is what happens with studying. This is the means to the end, and it’s not what most people see. Then the same dancers will return, costumed, and perform a work.”
Messler says that the second half of “A Little Bit of Everything” functions as a traditional recital, with all the students of the school performing class routines.
The studio’s graduating high school senior is Elijah Eyerly. (For full disclosure, yes, that’s my son). Elijah, who graduates from Oak Hall Upper School with a Performing Arts Consortium emphasis, studies rhythm tap with Lauren Kleiman. Kleiman teaches tap, jazz and musical theater dance at the studio. She is also the president and founder of Stomp the Swamp, UF’s rhythm tap troupe.
Additional Joni Messler Studio faculty include Lauren Gajda, Mimi Gray and Laura Bratcher.
Bratcher, a nurse manager at Shands Children’s Hospital, trained under Messler as a child, continued her studies at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City and was a professional company member of Southern Ballet Theatre (now the Orlando Ballet).
“Laura has been with me since she was 6,” says Messler. “She never stopped dancing or teaching. She’s taught for me for years, and she’s donated years as ballet mistress to Gainesville Ballet Theatre. So I’d like to bring her special recognition. If that love for dance is in you, it’s something that you never want to give up.”
No one at her studio embodies that message more than Messler herself. She established the Joni Messler Studio of Dance in 1959 when she moved to Gainesville with her husband, Clarke Messler.
“It was very hard at first to be accepted by the community as an outsider,” she says. “Gainesville was very small and very different then. Of course, I couldn’t tell my customers that we were transient, just here for Clarke to finish engineering school.
“We kept saying to ourselves, ‘Well, we’ll stay just one more year,’” she laughs. “And 55 years later, we’re still here.”
During those years, former Balanchine ballerina Marie-Jeanne taught on faculty at the school for over a decade. And the late jazz dance legend Gus Giordano would guest teach at the studio.
“I helped arrange for his (Chicago-based) company to give a performance here at UF,” Messler says. “Gus worked so hard to make jazz a respected art form with a set technique,” she says. “I remember being one of the first area teachers to offer jazz. Many parents here at that time were not accepting of it, so I had to be careful. Jazz dance was all from the waist up at first — it was after Elvis [Presley] that it really took up using the hip. Sometimes I think, wow, I was around when jazz dance really got started.”
Guest performers and choreographers for Gainesville Ballet Theatre have included Stuttgart Ballet soloist Fiona Fairrie, Orlando Ballet principal Chiaki Yasukawa and Joffrey Ballet acclaimed principal Victoria Jaiani.
Messler has worked directly with Gretchen Ward Warren (author of the famous “Classical Ballet Technique” text) when she was American Ballet Theatre II ballet mistress; with former New York City Ballet principal Patricia Wilde; and with Patsy Swayze, the actor Patrick Swayze’s mother.
“Patsy had this huge school in Houston,” Messler says. “She was a wonderful tap and jazz teacher. Patrick loved dancing and he loved his mom. When he was a teenager he would go down and demonstrate for the little kids in her classes. She always finished her jazz class with a very emotional song. And Patrick was so great at it — you could see how he loved acting.”
Some of Messler’s other memories range from being introduced to Mikhail Baryshnikov at an American Ballet Theatre performance, to performing “over 50 years ago” at Gator Growl.
“I did a tango-style dance with a young man,” she says. “They told us Vice President Lyndon Johnson was in the audience.”
Messler has received the City of Gainesville Lifetime Achievement Award, the Florida Dance Association Nancy Smith Award and a formal letter of commendation from American Ballet Theatre’s ABT II. She is also former president of The Florida Chapter of Dance Masters of America.
“Thinking back on 55 years, being a dancing teacher has been most wonderful in terms of the people I’ve gotten to know,” she says. “People from so many cultures and backgrounds and walks of life have come through these doors. It’s made life so interesting.”
“And the kids I have, I just adore them,” she says. “They make it so much fun.”
Sarah Ingley can be reached at email@example.com.
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