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Dante’s Inferno Sets Classical Ballet on Fire

On February 21, 2014, Ballet Bellevue, Tice Dance Works, and Burmer Music came together in a blaze to debut Dante’s Inferno: The Ballet. The Theatre at Meydenbauer Center reverberated with the powerful original symphonic scores from Glenna Burmer and Tim Huling, bringing to life the stories of Dante’s Inferno, Demeter and Persephone, and Sacred and Profane. With seamless collaboration between choreographers Ronn Tice and Jennifer Porter, Inferno was an exciting and otherworldly ballet.


Demeter and Persephone relays the story of the ancient Greek goddess of fertility, Demeter, and her daughter, the beautiful Persephone, who is seduced by Hades. The ballet opened with spring giving way to summer, and Persephone—danced by Megan Horton—gliding through the seasons and into the home of the gods. Horton’s gorgeous pointework, impeccable technique, and lithe extension created a delicate, buoyant scene—soon shattered by the entrance of Shane Tice’s Hades. His power, precision, and strength as Hades brought Persephone into the underworld, and into a dark and satisfying pas de deux. Horton and Tice made excellent partners, and the story was well-rendered and illustrated by their ethereal costumes and elegant choreography.

Demeter in "Demeter and Persephone" Photo by Fred Burmer, Burmer Music LLC
Demeter and Persephone
Photo by Fred Burmer, Burmer Music LLC

By far the most complex and enchanting piece of the evening, Sacred and Profane showcased two striking ballet dancers in dynamic choreography by Porter. Sacred and Profane explored the struggle between the two sides of a woman’s personality—the lyrical, lilting “Sacred” of Mireya Mascarello, and the fiery, sharp “Profane” of Alisha Cushing. Beginning with arcing port de bras and intricate near-embraces, the music of Burmer and Huling pulled the two women into expressive solos and then wove them back together again in synthesis. Mascarello’s precise pointework and effortlessly long lines created an angelic, honest, and enthralling “Sacred” to mirror the powerful extension and alluring flexibility of Cushing’s “Profane”.

Sacred and Profane, by Jen Porter Photo by Fred Burmer, Burmer Music LLC
Sacred and Profane by Jennifer Porter
Photo by Fred Burmer, Burmer Music LLC

The final act of the ballet culminated in the dark tale of Dante’s journey through the circles of Hell—Dante’s Inferno. With fog rolling across the darkly lit stage, the curtain opened on Dante lying on a platform, lost in a metaphorical forest of sin. As Dante, Tice again took the stage with control and accuracy, his formidable dancing gave way to sincere acting. Tice was joined by three, feline-masked ladies en pointe, who pulled him into a magnetic quartet with their embodiments of lust, pride, and avarice. As Dante emerged from this first hellish test and made his way through the dark regions of the Inferno, the choreography intermittently stalled beneath elaborate props, costumes, and cumbersome visual tricks.

Ballet Bellevue dancers in Dante's Inferno  Photo by Fred Burmer, Burmer Music LLC
Ballet Bellevue dancers in Dante’s Inferno
Photo by Fred Burmer, Burmer Music LLC

Throughout Dante, the originally-recorded and captivating soundtrack compelled the dance. The score, which featured original compositionHuling for Demeter and Persephone, Huling/Burmer for Sacred and Profane, and Burmer for Infernowas played by acclaimed musicians from The Seattle Symphony and the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, and conducted by Grammy-award winner David Sabee. The combination of these talents carried the stories forward with expert emotion.

Illustrating the seasons of mythology throughout the ballet were the ever-changing backdrop of gorgeous landscapes and the dusky lighting, both of which pleasantly complemented the dancing. During the second act, however, impressive props became the focal point and the choreography was limited, as the dancers spent more time carrying in large columns and manipulating unwieldy costumes than dancing.

Ballet Bellevue dancers in Dante's Inferno Photo by Fred Burmer, Burmer Music LLC
Ballet Bellevue dancers in Dante’s Inferno
Photo by Fred Burmer, Burmer Music LLC

Ballet Bellevue and Tice Dance assumed a colossal undertaking in setting classical ballet to three larger-than-life legends, and—while the second act ached for less intricate props in place of more engaging choreography—the ballet entertained and impressed with epic music, accomplished ballet technique, and emphatic storytelling. Dante’s Inferno was a ballet like no other—truly entertaining, twisted, and charming. More information about Ballet Bellevue and any upcoming performances can be found at their website.