Ballethnic brings their signature dance 'Leopard Tale' to Alliance Theatre and Kennedy Center

Ballethnic Dance Company presents “The Leopard Tale” at Alliance Theatre April 8-10. (Sirk Photography)

The Ballethnic Dance Company is known for blending classical ballet with various styles from around the world, and they’ve been doing this for the last 31 years. Now Ballethnic will perform on the stages of two celebrated institutions: Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Waverley Lucas and Nena Gilreath are the husband-and-wife co-founding duo of Ballethnic, and they joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about the significance of these landmark performances.

“I feel like we’re getting recognized for some of the work that we’ve been doing all along,” said Gilreath. “We are tremendously excited that [artistic director] Susan Booth really had the bravery to bring us onto the Alliance Theatre Coca-Cola stage to bring our signature ballet, ‘The Leopard Tale,’ down to the Woodruff Arts Center.”

Gilreath took an interest in dance and movement from an early age and pursued the discipline with passion and dedication. “After being at the [North Carolina] school of the arts, I realized that there weren’t many Black ballet dancers professionally, and I had the audacity to come from a little small town where most everybody worked in factories, to believe that I could do this thing.” But when Gilreath discovered the Dance Theatre of Harlem, it was an epiphany. “I saw Black and brown dancers from all over the world, and I knew that was me. I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. So I eventually moved to New York and danced with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and that’s where I met Waverley.”

Her now-husband Waverley Lucas, creator and choreographer of their upcoming featured ballet “The Leopard Tale,” brings Ballethnic his own history and influences, especially a fascination with world cultures. “When I was a young boy in Detroit, I remember my mother would go to work, and she would take the cords from the television with her so that we wouldn’t watch television,” he recalled. “So I would… just look through all of the encyclopedias and everything, and I’d go to Africa, to Asia… and then imagine from reading and observing the photographs in the books. So I think that’s what has motivated me, and that’s what ‘The Leopard Tale’ is about – that genuine, authentic love that I had as a child.”

In “The Leopard Tale,” the titular leopard moves through his world of the African savannah and hunts for food, searches for water, discovers a mate, battles enemies, and braves stampedes. “It’s a beautiful story in that when we first started ‘The Leopard Tale,’ as Waverley spoke of inclusivity, we wanted to showcase all hues and shades of people, all sizes of people – and what better way to do that than to tell a story about animals,” said Gilreath.

Ballethnic Dance Company presents “The Leopard Tale” at Alliance Theatre April 8-10. More on this and other upcoming performances from Ballethnic can be found at