Back in 1980, Eric Hyrst, choreographer and former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet and les Grands Ballets Canadiens, and his wife, Diane Gaumond Hyrst, also an accomplished professional dancer, formed the State Ballet of Oregon (known as Ballet Rogue today.) The Hyrsts believed that ballet was a vital part of any arts community. They believed the public, especially those who had not had seen ballet, should have the opportunity to experience professional ballet in a casual, family-friendly setting.




With this goal in mind, the Hyrsts launched Ballet in the Park in 1985, presenting free ballet performances on Monday nights during the summer in the Butler Band Shell of Ashland's Lithia Park. Since then, the performances have become a seasonal Ashland tradition and are sponsored in part by the City of Ashland and by individual donors. Hundreds of people of all ages gather in the park to watch, bringing blankets, picnics and lawn chairs.




This year's performances will take place at 7:30 on the four Mondays in July: 7, 14, 21, and 28 and will include both remountings of past favorites and world premiers.




The program will feature "Pas de Quatre," with music by Cesar Pugni, a reprise of Eric Hyrst's 1983 choreography staged by Ballet Rogue's artistic director Diane Gaumond Hyrst; "The Three Graces," choreographed by Jennifer Strasser with music from "American Beauty"; and "Elements," a world premier, choreographed by Diane Gaumond Hyrst, danced to music by Thomas Newman and featuring the full company.




"Because we are expanding the Ballet in the Park offerings this year, it seemed only right that our evening performances reflect the breadth of what we can do," Hyrst said in a press release, "and our final performance (July 28) will feature guest artists from Ballet Fantastique, who will perform several dances."




Dancers from Ballet Fantastique in Eugene will perform works from their repertoire, which include both classical pieces and Northwest premiers. Dances include: "Daybreak" from Daphnis and Chloe (original choreography by Donna and Hannah Bontrager, with the dancers; asymmetrical neoclassical style inspired by Maurice Ravel's symphonic piece; "Variations from Paquita" (a bravura ballet favorite as performed by the Kirov Ballet with sparkling Spanish virtuosity; "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (Sleek original choreography by the dancers to Henry Mancini's jazzy, brassy movie score with a concept by dancer Nicola Thieme).




Ballet Rogue and Ballet Fantastique plan to collaborate on future dance events.




"Ballet Rogue and Ballet Fantastique have similar scope and vision," Hyrst said. Donna Bontrager (co-director of Ballet Fantastique) and I are planning to share dancers in future performances. This year's Ballet in the Park is the beginning of an exciting collaboration."




As part of Ballet in the Park, Bontrager will be teaching two master classes, giving local dancers the opportunity to experience the Vaganova technique. Bontrager will hold a class for intermediate students from 2 to 3:15, Sunday, July 27, and a master class for advanced dancers from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the Medford Dance Center, 201 W. Sixth St., Medford. Cost is $20 per class.




"It is important for local dancers to be exposed to different teachers and different styles of dance," Hyrst said. "This is why we have invited two guest artists to teach master classes this summer." John Grenback of the Oregon Ballet Academy of Eugene will hold a class for intermediate students from 2 to 3:15, Sunday, July 20, and a master class for advanced dancers from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the Medford Dance Center. Cost is $20 per class.




Some of the dancers who have danced in Ballet in the Park have gone on to work in nationally recognized companies including the San Francisco Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet, and the Northwest Ballet.




Ballet Rogue will continue to offer the free Little Ballerinas classes, for children ages 5-9, from 9:30-10:15 a.m. on the days of the Ballet in the Park performances: July 7, 14, 21, and 28 on the Butler Band Shell stage. Taught by Ballet Rogue company dancer Kayla Garret, boys and girls, regardless of dance experience, are invited to participate. Children must be accompanied by an adult and dressed in appropriate dance attire with their hair pulled back.




Immediately following the Little Ballerinas classes, from 10:15-11 a.m., Garret will teach a new free Proper Stretch and Warm Up class modeled on the New York City Ballet Workout. These classes are open to students ages 10 and older. Students need no previous ballet experience but should be dressed in appropriate dance attire.




See or call 512-0282 or at 973-9285.