The sun casts a golden glow on the Pofahl Studios Saturday afternoon. Inside, prestigious dancers from different parts of the world prepare to perform Dance Alive National Ballet original pieces in the Gainesville studio.
People trickled into the studio about 1:30 p.m. to get front-row seats for “Meet the Dancers,” an event that allowed the local audience to connect with the dancers and experience parts of performances in a more intimate setting.
Pofahl Studios is the headquarters for Dance Alive National Ballet, a nonprofit professional company that has been on Florida’s state touring roster for about 40 years.
Sisters Kim Tuttle and Judy Skinner run Dance Alive, which was created by their mother, Mary Ellen Pofahl, in 1966. They’ve helped bring various classic and modern repertoires to the organization since taking over in the ‘80s.
Unlike a normal stage performance, Saturday’s event allowed the audience to gain a closer connection with the dancers. Nothing separated the first row of seats from the studio floor, where international artists performed five pieces for the local crowd.
“Gainesville doesn’t know what they have here,” Raymond Chobaz, the conductor of the University of Florida’s Symphony Orchestra, said of Dance Alive at Saturday’s event. “[The dancers] are extremely inspiring.”
Chobaz said he has collaborated with Skinner and Tuttle since 1983. About every two years, the UF Symphony Orchestra does a big production with Dance Alive. He said it is stimulating for the students to have the opportunity to work with foreign professionals and see them perform.
“I just came here to support my old friends,” Chobaz said.
As the minutes ticked by, Pofahl Studios’ students, colleagues and fans filled about 80 of the 100 blue chairs in the room.
Tuttle and Skinner walked around the studio to shake the hands of everyone in the front row and express their gratitude. The family they had built over nearly four decades could be seen clearly by the many handshakes that turned into warm hugs. One audience member took Tuttle’s hand and ushered her into a waltz.
Yulia Pivotskaya walked out in a cream lace dress as a young English woman, Lucy Westenra, for the show “Dracula.”
She glided so gracefully across the stage that the audience almost didn’t notice the looming dark figure with a black cape that appeared from the left corner.
And then the Count, played by Sergii Sidorskyi, made his grand entrance.
Sidorskyi started dancing with Dance Alive in September, coming from a career as a principal dancer at the National Theatre of Ukraine. He holds the People’s Artist award, the highest award a dancer can receive in Ukraine.
Following “Dracula,” Jessie Dominguez performed a heartfelt solo to Ave Maria, choreographed by Dance Alive guest artist Ani Collier. Dominguez joined Dance Alive in the fall as a principal dancer. Before coming to Gainesville, Dominguez danced for the National Ballet of Cuba for 15 years.
A few weeks before her performance, Dominguez noted her excitement for learning a new repertoire and her love for the stage.
“When you feel the energy from the audience, that’s the most amazing thing in the world,” Dominguez said.
That afternoon, she connected with the audience with each small movement, breath and expression. When Tuttle introduced her, she explained that Dominguez’s father passed away exactly one year ago.
Her performance was a tribute to him.
“To come in every morning at 9 o’clock and walk in to work hard for six hours on their bodies daily is maybe not so rewarding as being on stage,” Tuttle said. “The stage is their thing.”
The show continued with a medley of duos and solos to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” choreographed by Skinner. Principal dancers Carla Amancio, Gretel Batista, Ashley Brooke-Lunn, Mia Caceres-Nielsen, Fhilipe Teixeira and Roberto Vega wore variations of blue jumpsuits and dresses.
“You have to see [their performance] to believe it and to appreciate it,” said Tim Heflin, a former Dance Alive principal dancer.
During a brief intermission, Valladon, who has been a Dance Alive principal dancer for eight years and is assistant artistic director, set up props for L’amour, “a ballet about love in its many forms,” which was inspired by the songs of Édith Piaf and choreographed by Tuttle.
“I really enjoy my part with [Batista] in ‘L’amour,’” Teixeira said. “It’s very emotional, so I have a great time. It’s my favorite.”
This is Teixeira’s sixth season with Dance Alive.
Though Valladon enchanted the audience with complex turn sequences and his sharp technique, he appeared to be equally gifted in comedy. Wearing a tattered and striped boatneck shirt, Valladon played a drunken Frenchman.
While Teixeira and Batista performed an eloquent duet, enriched by artistic lifts, Valladon’s character hobbled about the room with a dazed stare and wry smile.
The room filled with laughter during his antics.
“And you know what’s funny? I don’t drink!” Valladon said after the show.
By the end, the performance had the audience on its feet and clapping.
“There are a lot of new people with new ideas,” Heflin said. “And they have a different expression, and they’re all wonderful.”