LIFE IS JUST A (DANCING) DREAM FOR CINCINNATI COUPLE
Photo credit: Jim Sofranko
Dancers: Meridith Benson & Martin Roosaare in Giselle
Upcoming season marks 10th anniversary of de la Dance Arts in Cincinnati
– by Kathy Valin
reprinted from Cincinnati CityBeat
Aside from those who become marketable marquee stars, it’s not all that common for dancers to find a sustainable living in their art form. Or long-term romance. Or family. It’s a hard-knock life, being a dancer.
But, through talent, hard work and astute planning, former Cincinnati Ballet and Joffrey Ballet of Chicago principal Meridith Benson, and former Cincinnati Ballet dancer and artistic director of Ballet Theater of Chicago, Mario de la Nuez, have made a dream come true.
When the couple first met as dancers during Cincinnati Ballet’s 1988-89 season, they probably had no idea that in a few years they would be married. So far, that’s lasted 21 years and produced four children, all of whom share their love of dance. After a stint together in Chicago, they’ve found a home base in Cincinnati, as co-directors of a thriving Columbia Tusculum area studio/school, de la Dance Arts (celebrating a ten year anniversary this season), and a small professional company de la Dance Company, incorporated three years after the school.
Benson, who began her professional career as a ballet prodigy at eleven, danced as a highly regarded principal with multiple companies, and toured internationally, adding nearly all of the classical repertory to her resume. She still performs with de la Dance Company, notably as an exquisite Sugar Plum Fairy, and in the lead role of the 1841 Romantic classic Giselle. De la Nuez, a native of Havana, Cuba, who grew up in New York City, has credits in musical theater, jazz, modern, and classical ballet; plus film credits as a dancer and choreographer.
Originally, the couple planned to establish a small company that stayed “true to the classic roots of dance,” but they started with de la Dance Arts. “We’ve been lucky,” says de la Nuez. “Today we are doing very well, we are even able to use some of our students in our productions.”
The 2015-16 de la Dance Company season begins November 27 at the Aronoff Center’s 437-seat Jarson-Kaplan Theater with The Nutcracker Jazzed Up! for two consecutive weekends. It’s become a trademark of de la Dance Company to perform two-weekend runs, and they do it probably more than any other local company.
The production, an original take on The Nutcracker, incorporates jazz arrangements of the Tchaikovsky score by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. “It was a surprise sell-out in 2007, when it premiered,” says de la Nuez, who afterwards hatched the idea of extended runs, which have been profitable in building audiences and increasing box office.
“It was risky, but we decided on two weekends. Why give people the chance to see you only one time? You’ll almost become irrelevant if you don’t have more shows,” says de la Nuez.
Giselle is slotted for two weekends in April, also at the Jarson-Kaplan. Also at the Jarson-Kaplan, are Dance Cincinnati Youth Competition in February; DanceCincinnati2016, Cincinnati’s largest annual dance showcase, in March; and, in July, two weekends of Dance Under the Stars, a popular, fully-fledged performance staged at Oakley Playground, with new works from de la Nuez, renowned Jose Limon veteran Andre Megerdichian, resident choreographer Alexandra Brannon, and Shane Ohmer, whose credits include Pacific Northwest Ballet and The Bad Boys of Dance.
“Doing a dance school is hard,” says de la Nuez. “Having a company is hard. Raising money, it’s a whole other thing. Planning for future is taxing [increasing the company size and touring are in the works]. So is having four young kids still going to school.”
Benson and de la Nuez had their kids late. “Lots of our friends didn’t get married in order to pursue careers, or they got married and went a different way. We got both!” he says.
“We never pushed our kids,” says de la Nuez. “We were always in the studio, and all of a sudden they are all dancing. Sometimes it’s a struggle, but it’s an amazing thing.”
“How do I do it all?” Benson says. “Sometimes I think not very well. We are always on the go. We don’t get much rest. The kids have all adjusted to our lifestyle so much that they think this is how everyone is.”
“If I try to chill at home, they are all rambunctiously dancing around, begging to go to the studio! Fortunately (and unfortunately) they all acquired Mario’s and my energy, passion and loudness.
“They are happy kids. What holds us together is love.”