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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 7, 2006

Small ensemble takes its ballet beyond New York

By Carol Egan
Special to The Advertiser

Ballet NY, a small company founded in 1997, will perform Saturday evening at Leeward Community College.

Eduardo Patino

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8 p.m. Saturday

Leeward Community College Theatre

$23 general, $19 students and seniors; or announce on the phone or at the box office that "I am taking a buddy to the ballet" and you and your friends get in for $16 each

455-0385, http://LCCTheatre.hawaii.edu

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Directing a small dance company has hardships and rewards, say Medhi Bahiri and Judith Fugate, the husband and wife who founded Ballet NY in 1997.

"The biggest challenge is funding and support. Most of the funding from big foundations and corporations goes to the major, established companies. Organizations like Ballet NY are constantly having to prove themselves," Bahiri said in a phone interview from their New York home.

But they continue to feel passionate about their profession after having spent the better part of their lives dancing.

For 25 years, Fugate was a New York City Ballet dancer under the direction of the legendary George Balanchine, working her way up from the role of Marie (the young girl) in "The Nutcracker" to principal parts in the repertory. Fugate says, "George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins shaped my entire career as a dancer. I am so blessed to have worked with both of them from an early age!"

In 1997, plagued by increasingly painful osteoarthritis of the hip, the ballerina was obliged to retire from the NYC Ballet. For a time she appeared as a guest artist with various companies. The Balanchine Trust also gave her the assignment of staging Balanchine ballets throughout the world. In 2002 she underwent total hip-replacement surgery.

The Algerian-born Bahiri was raised in France, where he began his training. After a successful career in Europe, primarily with Maurice Béjart's Ballet of the Twentieth Century in Brussels, he became a principal dancer with Ballet West and Boston Ballet. When asked about his role models, he says, "The dancer Rudolph Nureyev was most influential to me. If it weren't for him, I probably would not have become a dancer."

Married since 1985, the two formed their own company in 1997, the year Fugate retired. They called it Dance Galaxy, later changing the name to Fugate/Bahiri Ballet NY. The company's mission is to bring quality dance programs to audiences in less-metropolitan areas. It also offers talented but unemployed dancers and emerging choreographers an opportunity to showcase their talents.

Fugate and Bahiri remain behind the scenes as their small ensemble of dancers brings new works and some important ballets of the past to audiences far from New York.

"Being in the studio with the dancers, seeing them being happy doing what they do best and watching them grow, and most of all the enthusiasm of the audience at a performance" are among the rewards they enjoy, Fugate says.

"After all, that's what it's all about — making the dancers and the audience happy."

Tomorrow night's program will include excerpts from Balanchine's vivacious "Who Cares?" set to the music of George Gershwin, and contemporary works.