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Rare new fairy-tale ballet honors late dancer


Kelly Pratt

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 04/04/24

Raffaella Stroik's family found a unique and beautiful way to honor her memory: They commissioned a brand-new ballet in the classic style.

The unexpected death of professional ballerina Raffaella Stroik at the end of 2018 sent shockwaves through the global dance community, as well as through the Catholic community: Her father is famed Catholic architect Dr. Duncan Stroik, who designed many of the most beautiful and iconic churches of modern times, including the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

In the midst of this heartbreaking tragedy, her family found a unique and incredibly beautiful way to honor her memory. They commissioned a brand-new “fairytale ballet,” a ballet that follows the lineage of the most famous and popular classic ballets, such as Swan Lake, Cinderella, Giselle, and The Nutcracker

After years of hard work and collaborative effort from people around the world, the “Raffaella Ballet” is completed and the World Premiere is set for June 29 and 30, 2024. Inspired by her life, this full-length ballet seeks to embody Raffaella’s motto, “Beauty will save the world.”

The new fairytale ballet honors the life of dancer Raffaella Stroik.

A ballet sharing joy and love

Dr. Stroik explained the inspiration behind the new ballet in a 2020 interview with Pointe People:

Our life was destroyed when we lost Raffaella. She was full of joy and faith and gave our lives richness and purpose. How could we cope, what should we do? 

My wife, Ruth, had a dream about a story of a little girl who longed to meet a prince. That was what inspired us to write a new fairytale, a new ballet.

Our goal is to share the joy and love that Raffaella felt when she danced. She believed that she was close to heaven when she danced, and we believe she is there now, helping us to create a new ballet. We want to encourage and support young ballet dancers and show people how wonderful the art of ballet can be.

An all-star team

Now at last, the ballet is about to premiere. The Stroik family assembled a truly stellar team to create the ballet of their dreams, including composer Prof. Michael Kurek of Vanderbilt University and choreographer Claire Kretszchmar from New York City Ballet.

Claire Kretzschmar and Silas Farley in Nutcracker. Kretzschmar choreographed the Raffaella Ballet.

The set designer is Raffaella’s sister, Gabrielle Stroik Johnson, who is a classically trained architect, figurative painter, and former dancer. The principal dancer, Isabella LaFreniere of the New York City Ballet, met and danced with Raffaella while training in South Bend.

Dr. Stroik shared with Aleteia a little bit about what the process was like to put together an entirely new classic ballet. 

What was the process like for putting together a brand-new ballet, especially not having done it before?

The first thing we did was to develop the libretto, the story, which we wanted to be of the same genre as the classics: Swan Lake, Cinderella, Giselle, Nutcracker, La Bayardere. That necessitated watching and listening to all of the great ballets, which helped me realize how much I appreciate ballets with a story, beautiful sets, elegant costumes and of course great music.

The second thing I did was look for a living composer who could do a new traditional ballet. That meant speaking with a lot of classical musician friends, including Andrew Balio, who is first trumpet at Baltimore and who leads the Future Symphony Institute.

That led us to a talented composer who had just written a melodic classical album that was #1 on the Billboard charts. But what really got me excited was his Second Symphony entitled Tales from the Realm of Fairie. This was beautiful classical music and I could imagine my daughter dancing to it.

Principal dancers Isabella Lafreniere and Jonatan Lujan practice for the Raffaella Ballet.

Are there plans for the ballet to be performed outside of South Bend at this point?

I have gotten so much support from the artistic team to bring this full length traditional ballet to the world after the premiere. We will be professionally videotaping the ballet and marketing it to ballet companies in other cities who would be interested in performing something classic that no one has ever seen before!

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