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Southwest Ballet rises from the ashes with 'Phoenix'

| Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005

Waste is a terrible thing to mind.

Just ask Virginia Nicoll, founder and artistic director of Southwest Ballet Company.

On Sept. 17, the ballet's basement storeroom was inundated with raw sewage when rain-swollen Chartiers Creek burst its banks and flooded the main business district of Carnegie.

The muck ruined $200,000 worth of costumes, scenery and props that Nicoll had lovingly accumulated over the 20 year life of the company.

"Imagine 'Swan Lake,' 'The Nutcracker' and 'Cinderella' plus every kind of modern thing, like rickshaws and giant teapots and trees and ballroom backdrops, in a building 90 feet by 30 feet, covered in sewage," Nicoll says. "Boxes and boxes of every kind of tight, leotard, toe shoe, ballet slipper, drums, buckets, everything. I had coffee pots. I had a samovar. ... (Losing) the tu tus really hurt because they're handmade."

The company is essentially starting from scratch. None of the damage was covered by insurance. Apart from about 40 costumes they managed to salvage, Nicoll says they lost everything.

She's helping her own cause by organizing "The Phoenix Project," a benefit concert that features her 10-member professional company performing "Pas de Quatre," choreographed by J. Perrot in 1845, and a new work by principal dancer and resident choreographer Jessica Collazo. The piece stars former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancer Fernando Moraga, who now dances with Southwest Ballet.

Squonk Opera will perform at the Saturday night gala, while both shows include a performance of the one-act play "Getting to Know You," by Kathryn Miller Haines and directed by Nicoll's mother, Jackie. The play won best production and director awards at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival in September. Terrence Orr, artistic director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, will introduce the show Saturday night. Proceeds from a silent auction will be used to pay her dancers, Nicoll says.

Squonk will play two songs on Saturday as photos of Southwest ballet are projected, interspersed with photos from the flood. Recorded music will be used in Sunday's show. Additional Information:


'The Phoenix Project'

Presented by: Southwest Ballet.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: $25; $18 for senior citizens; $10 for students.

Where: Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5491 Penn Ave., East Liberty.

Details: (412) 394-3353.

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