Remembering Carol Bartlett By Carolyn Kelemen

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Dancers gather to celebrate Carol Bartlett, her life and legacy.

The late Carol Bartlett rehearses her Peabody dancers. Photo by Kevin Weber.
The late Carol Bartlett rehearses her Peabody dancers. Photo by Kevin Weber.

Most college and prep school dance concerts serve both as a showcase for the dancers and a homecoming. Last Sunday evening, however, family, friends, and noted dancers from around the world gathered at the Peabody Institute to pay tribute to Carol Bartlett, who died last December.

There was hardly a dry eye in Peabody’s Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall last night as it was a bittersweet showcase of Bartlett’s protegees. Sweet because the Legacy program was well-produced by Peabody’s Dean of the Peabody Preparatory and faculty with talented young men and women dancing their hearts out. Bitter because their mentor died before completing the works they so deserved.

The late Peabody Dance Artistic Director was a diverse and prolific choreographer whose work reflects the music-dance collaborations so much a part of the Conservatory. Born in Colchester, Essex, England, Carol was trained in the tradition of the Royal Academy of Ballet as a child, then earned a degree in Education from the University of London. She was a performer in England and Switzerland, but chose to concentrate on teaching and choreography here in America.

During her 25 year tenture at Peabody, Bartlett established and taught a core-training program in all areas of contemporary dance, and created and directed numerous original full-length story ballets, excerpts from both seen in the memorial program.

It opened with Bartlett’s signature warm-up which illustrated how skillfully her work in the classroom led to performance. There was a mix of live and recorded tributes – both spoken and danced – by young students, alumni, colleagues and grateful partners with Carol in the arts and life.

Jeffrey Sharkey, Director of the Peabody Institute, and pianist for ‘In Memoriam,’ choreographed by Meredith Rainey, called Carol’s work “Joyous.” Jesse Nissim read her poem “Day cracks between the bones of the foot,” published in 2013. Roger Brunyate pointed out Carol’s gift for comic relief – a trait he claimed came from her British background – specifically in their collaborate Puss-In-Boots pantomine.

Other highlights in the program included a poignant speech by Barbara Weisberger, founder of the Pennsylvania Ballet and a huge supporter of Carol’s Peabody Training for Boys. A dedicated task force is continuing to work on the many grand plans that Carol began for the centennial of Peabody Dance during the 2014-15 season. One suspects that the glorious 87-year-old Barbara Weisberger (once a baby ballerina with George Balanchine) will be back with a new hip and lots of ideas for this special 100-year-old celebration.

. Barbara Weisberger cheers on her proteges from the Estelle Dennis Program for Boys at Peabody Institute in Baltimore.  Photo courtesy of Peabody Institute.
Barbara Weisberger cheers on her proteges from the Estelle Dennis Program for Boys at Peabody Institute in Baltimore. Photo courtesy of Peabody Institute.

For this writer, my favorite moment took place in the Alumni Improvisation led by Elizabeth Montgomery who recently auditioned for the Trish Brown Dance Company. Danced to live music by Angel Lam and based on Carol Bartlett’s Meander, the seven dancers captured the feel of her work – sincere, caring, and optimistic. In her tribute, Montgomery beautifully summarized the evening with the words, “In the basement of Peabody, you (Carol) built us a kingdom and we danced in it together.”

For information on the dance programs at Peabody Preparatory of the Johns Hopkins University – 21 East Mount Vernon Place, in Batimore, MD, call (410) 203-0664, or visit their website.