Entrepreneurship in the Arts

The Des Moines performing arts community grew an inch last week through the performance of the Wizard of Oz. Though the show came to life after a year of planning and design, it actually represented a multi-year milestone for Ballet Des Moines. Under Serkan Hasanusta’s passionate eye, the Ballet showed how entrepreneurship is alive in the arts.

 BDM re-launched as an organization in 2006 and has brought many performances to Hoyt Sherman and Civic Center. Though attracting dancers with national stage presence has never been difficult for the professional duo of Serkan and his wife, Lori Grooters, Des Moines hasn’t had a ballet company for sometime, with its own local dancers who produce, train and perform regularly. Serkan and Lori serve as creative director and ballet mistress for Ballet Des Moines and concurrently teach hundreds of dancers at their school, the School of Classical Ballet and Dance).  Working with the Ballet board and larger arts community, they have dreamt of and realized the possibility of a full professional ballet company in Des Moines. In 2011, BDM committed to and brought Alice in Wonderland to the Des Moines stage with 300+ area local dancers with professionals, sets and music coming in from outside Des Moines. The Des Moines community orchestra brought the music to life and Serkan knew he had the building blocks. He pitched the grand vision of the Wizard of Oz. It was an audacious goal, a serious investment, and a production worth calling our launch event.

The story of the Wizard of Oz was brought to American book lovers in 1909 and has captured the hearts and minds of children and adults since. It was natural, therefore, to involve young dancers, aspiring ballerinas, pre-professional men and women, and professional dancers. Serkan managed the cast through painstaking auditions supported by Lori and several instructors. He built a vision for the costumes during this audition and decided to build his own costume trove. BDM has been blessed with our own master costume mistress, Ashley O’Keeffe, who created, edited and designed many costumes. Serkan’s quest for costumes took him to his native Turkey where iPhone facetime based video conference calls between Ashley and Serkan facilitated live design meetings.

He built the sets here in Des Moines with craftsmen such as Felix, who have managed the sets for the Nutcracker, Alice and more. With significant support from Christine Branstad who donated the use of her family’s facility to build the sets elaborate sets containing Dorothy’s house, forest, Oz and Kansas were built and transported to the Civic Center. The show was boosted by the flying witch, the tornado, flying monkeys and lava flow – all created here in Des Moines under the watchful eye.

Naturally, last week on April 7th, I walked into the Civic Center a week ago with palpitation. I knew the show would be as good as I had seen rehearsals. From curtain up to curtain down, however, the show was magical. 150+ children ranging in age from 7 to 17 became munchkins, flowers, monkeys, guards, and more. There were farm hands, witches, Auntie Em and the Wizard. The Tin Man squeaked, the lion trembled in fear and the scarecrow was pliable like clay. Dorothy seemed to effortlessly float from Kansas to Oz and back. Lava flowed and the witch flew. When the curtain finally came down, the unprecedented crowd filling the Civic Center instantly rose to a standing ovation

Scenes from the Ballet (requires Facebook login)

Creative entrepreneurs can mold beauty from clay and Serkan has delivered just that. Watching him work from the sidelines has been pure joy for me, both as a parent of one of his pupils and as a board member for the Ballet. He outlined a big, hairy, audacious goal and executed. He didn’t have all the answers but learned daily and pivoted. The production had a bottom line with stakeholders who trusted and sponsored the vision, parents who drove kids back and forth, contractors who executed minutiae, and volunteers who ran the floor and backstage. Serkan knew these variables, managed these variables, and managed to inject passion at every step.

Des Moines is lucky to have visionary entrepreneurs in the arts who invest their passion in our communities.

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Communities grow when they’re enriched by the arts and Des Moines has made significant commitments in venues, organizations, people and promotion of the arts. Ballet Des Moines is one such supported organization that brings its namesake dance form to area events. I am proud to serve as a parent of a young dancer on the organization’s board.