Abigail Alpern Fisch

Member Spotlight: Rosine Bena and Ananda Bena-Weber

Posted by Abigail Alpern Fisch, Nov 09, 2020 0 comments

Abigail Alpern Fisch

Rosine Bena (left), photography by Sara Weir, and Ananda Bena-Weber (right), photography by Alejandra Llorente.The Sierra Nevada Ballet (SNB), a professional ballet company based in Reno, Nevada, will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2021. The SNB’s founder and artistic director is former professional ballerina Rosine Bena. SNB is made up of professional dancers from Nevada and from other areas of the country augmented by talented trainees and apprentices from the northern Nevada community. Among these professional dancers is Ananda Bena-Weber, Rosine’s daughter, who is the associate artistic director of the company and a principal dancer. SNB continues to expand and to encourage talented students at its Academy to remain in the Nevada area to pursue their careers and inspire others in the area to take advantage of the cultural enrichment. The mother and daughter duo spoke with us about the work of SNB, their artistic collaborations, and why they enjoy being members of Americans for the Arts.

1. How did you each become involved with dancing and ballet?

Rosine Bena (RB): I grew up in a ballet studio because both my parents were ballet dancers and owned their own ballet school. They kept my crib next to the piano. The ballet studio has remained my favorite place to be for 69 years. Ananda was born when I was still performing. She attended my classes and rehearsals in her swing and one of her first words was “Bravo!”.

Ananda Bena-Weber (ABW): I was born into a family of dancers. My mother and father met while dancing ballet together as partners. My grandmother was my main ballet teacher throughout my childhood and teen years and taught me to teach ballet. I studied ballet with my mother and then began to work for her as a dancer and later as a choreographer, director, and adviser.

Rosine Bena, Anne Bena, and Ananda Bena-Weber—3 Generations of Ballet Dancers, from the book “Family of Women.” Photography by Carolyn Jones.

2. What are your roles at SNB?

RB: I am the founder and artistic director of the company and the SNB Academy. Ananda is the associate artistic director and a principal dancer. As artistic director, I am responsible for running the company including presenting and directing performances and overseeing our extensive educational component including an Apprentice/Trainee Program, the Educational Outreach Program, New Choreography Program, the Doral Academy Dance Program, and the “Dancing In the Schools” Program. I also teach the dancers as well as some classes for the Academy, choreograph for the company, and train the staff. Ananda is a principal dancer with the company and teaches in both the Academy and company and choreographs for the company in Spring and Summer.

3. As mother and daughter, how do you work together as an artistic team?

RB: Most of the time one of us will take the lead with a vision and then the other will join in. We work together to bring the conception into a reality. We have done several original full-length story ballets together: Romeo and Juliet and Sleeping Beauty (my conceptions) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream—A Steam Punk Ballet and Twelfth Night—A Ballet Noir (Ananda’s conceptions).

ABW: In recent years, we have hit a wonderful stride of artistic collaboration working together to create projects. We understand a mutual aesthetic and artistic goal and can seamlessly shift roles each to help the other. If Rosine choreographs a piece, she will often bring me in to coach it and vice versa. If I devise a general directorial staging concept, she fills in the minute details. Knowing each other as we do and being as close as we are allows us to ‘finish each other’s sentences’ in a way that can be exciting and valuable. I am deeply grateful to be able to have this kind of artistic collaboration with my mom. It is a great pleasure and an interest. Plus, it gives us an excuse to spend time together.

Amanda Bena-Weber in the air, performing with SNB. Photography by Alejandra Lorente.

4. How has SNB and the SNB Academy adapted to the challenges of COVID-19?

RB: Though we have had to cancel all live SNB performances, we have begun to do virtual and live streaming presentations with the company, and we have two virtual educational performance presentations in the planning stages. We are also doing hybrid and Zoom classes with the SNB Academy.

ABW: I have continued to teach at SNB over Zoom and submitted work online for festivals. I have been deeply moved and impressed by work that Rosine has created during COVID-19. The piece she choreographed for the ARTOWN festival using Zoom is inspiring and beautiful. It is especially touching because she effectively uses dance via Zoom to convey the sense of loneliness, isolation, and longing for others that we all feel in life when our communications are relegated to being virtual. It brings the audience much needed validation and catharsis during these times. I recommend watching the piece online! You’ll be glad you did! 

5. What are you most proud of from your work at SNB? What are you looking forward to next?

RB: The fact that we started a professional ballet company from nothing in a state that had little prior exposure to professional ballet and have kept it going for 20 years is quite amazing. Sometimes it feels like a miracle. Both Ananda and I are very proud of our collaborative full-length story productions. We are looking forward to the day when we can once again present live performances. We hope that we can then carry out our plan to have professional dancers paid 10 months a year, present more performances, and tour.

ABW: From my work at SNB, I am most proud of the two productions that I directed and devised a steampunk Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Twelfth NightA Ballet Noir. I am also a classically trained actress, and I love Shakespeare. It was a real pleasure to devise ballets based on his plays. The amazing group of talented artists who participated in the piece left me humbled and in awe.

Rosine Bena dancing “Les Sylphides.” Photography by Peggy Meyers.

6. What do you enjoy about being a member of Americans for the Arts?

RB: I really love being a member of Americans for the Arts. This organization helps all of us to learn more about the state of the arts on a national level. It is so easy to become singly focused and caught up in the day-to-day issues of running an individual arts organization. Americans for the Arts keeps us informed of national issues and unites us by sharing the stories, ideas, issues, and practices of other members

ABW: I love being a member of Americans for the Arts because it makes me feel empowered to participate in arts advocacy for the good of everyone in our nation. Americans for the Arts does so much to raise awareness about the good that the arts do for individuals and our society. Their programs and research give us such valuable and comprehensible information about the ways in which the arts enhance and enrich our lives, and improve our education, intelligence, and experience. I also enjoy the sense of community that being part of Americans for the Arts provides. Especially during these challenging times, it is such an important organization.

RB: Now is an especially important time for all of us in the arts to unite and support one another and all the arts organizations and arts education organizations in our country. The arts lift up the soul. The arts WILL survive because we MUST!!!

Americans for the Arts Membership

This series features the many Americans for the Arts members doing transformative work for arts education, public art, advocacy, arts marketing, and more. An Americans for the Arts Membership connects you with this network of more than 6,000 arts leaders and gives you access to latest professional development and research. You can become a member by visiting us online, sending an email to [email protected], or calling 202.371.2830.

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