After nearly a four-decade run, the Academy of Movement & Music will not be performing their annual ballet recital at Oak Park and River Forest High School in June.
It’s the first time in 37 years that the Academy — based in Oak Park and just across Lake Street from the high school — will not perform at OPRF. Academy parents and students are still not happy about it even though the decision to move occurred shortly after last year’s recital.
A scheduling conflict — and admitted “miscommunication” by the high school —resulted in this year’s recital being bumped to a theater in neighboring Cicero. OPRF’s main auditorium was the recital’s stage home all those years, typically taking place during finals and graduation week and just before the start of summer school.
According to Academy founder Stephanie Clemens, OPRF officials told her last year that outside groups were prohibited from being in the high school during finals and graduation, per a school policy.
But Clemens questioned that since her event is slated a week later.
“This year, they are graduating June 1, and I had asked for the date of June 7, which is the week after. It’s hard to see what the reasoning is,” Clemens said in a recent interview with Wednesday Journal.
An OPRF spokesperson said an incorrect explanation was given to Clemens concerning why the group could not perform that week in the main auditorium.
Karin Sullivan, director of communications and community relations, said the Academy’s performance conflicted with summer school, not exams and commencement.
“At the time, they were trying to schedule the recital, there was a conflict with our calendar. The conflict was with summer school,” Sullivan said. “If it was stated that commencement and exams were the issue, that was an error, and we apologize for that.”
Summer school is scheduled to begin on June 4. Once summer school starts, the auditorium is “unavailable due to the production of our annual summer musical,” Sullivan said.
This year’s severe cold weather in January resulted in the school’s closing for several days, necessitating that extra days be added to the school calendar. That pushed the start of summer school to June 9, Sullivan explained.
Clemens, however, remains skeptical.
“Nobody ever said a word about summer school starting on June 4,” she said, noting that she tried to work with school officials last year to find a replacement date but to no avail. “If summer school was supposed to start, then I can understand what the conflict was. Nobody ever said that, and then the snow days changed it for all of us.”
Clemens, who recalled having to scramble last year to find another location, is also concerned about how the entire situation was handled. She recalled being informed about the cancellation a day before the recital. According to Clemens, it was OPRF Director of Security Randy Braverman who delivered the news.
“[He] came into the dressing room … and said, ‘You can’t be here next year,’ which is not a really nice thing to hear right before you are expecting a bunch of kids to arrive,” Clemens said.
Sullivan called that encounter “regrettable,” but stressed that the facility is open to community organizations, including the Academy, when dates become available. Academy parents also expressed disappointment in not having the recital at OPRF.
This year’s recital will take place at Morton East High School’s Chodl Auditorium, 2423 S. Austin. Clemens said she’s looking forward to that performance and is open to talking with OPRF about returning.
But Holly Utter said she is considering taking her children out of the show because shuttling her children, ages 5, 12 and 15, between multiple recitals would be inconvenient.
OPRF senior Julie Feracota, 18, has been dancing with the Academy for nine years and will perform this year. Having the recital in Chodl, however, will be challenging. She said the performers have to become familiar with the new surroundings, especially the backstage area, something that wasn’t an issue at OPRF. She knows the stage entrances and exists and usually at OPRF, a special floor for dancers was placed on the stage. She said she didn’t know if that would be case at Chodl.
“I know that could be a problem if we’re dancing harder than usual,” Feracota said.
Not having the recital in Oak Park also denies the community a chance to see and experience the art form of dance, Feracota added.
Lisa Green, who has danced and taught at the Academy since the 1970s, agreed.
“I think it is a shame to have to take this many kids outside the community to experience something that has been a safe and positive experience in Oak Park for 37 years,” said Green who as a child performed in the Academy’s first recital at OPRF High School in 1977.