UPDATE: Thursday June 8, 2023, 10:24 p.m.: The free community performance along with family STEM and art activities will be from 5-8 p.m. Friday, June 9. In preparation for the event, the small parking lot in the downriver end of Riverside Park will be closed to traffic starting at 7 a.m. Friday.

EARLIER: Ballet Des Moines will return to the Muscatine riverfront on Friday, June 9, as part of its statewide tour celebrating female leaders in STEM and art.

The event (next to Pearl City Station) will feature a free outdoor performance by the ballet company, as well as interactive STEM booths and food trucks.

The festivities will start at 5 p.m. with family-friendly STEM booths by local organizations, where attendees can explore various science topics and engage in hands-on activities. The performance will begin at 7 p.m. and showcase the work of important female choreographers, inspired by the stories of Iowa women in STEM.

This month’s Summer STEM Tour has Ballet Des Moines performing in five cities across the state.

This event is part of Ballet Des Moines’ 2022-23 season, which aims to share inspiring artistry alongside interactive science activities throughout the state of Iowa. This year, the ballet company is focusing on amplifying the voices of female leaders in rural and semi-rural communities where young women may lack exposure and opportunities in STEM fields.

The tour is also a response to youth surveys and STEM education research that highlight the need for strong female role models and mentors.

The Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine, Stanley Center’s Global Education, and the Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce and Industry are proud sponsors. The tour is made possible by the collaboration of various partners, including 4-H, partner academic institutions from each of the six Iowa STEM regions, Iowa Space Grant Consortium, volunteers from MidAmerican Energy, and a collection of women associated with Central Iowa Women’s Organizations.

This is the third year of Ballet Des Moines’ summer STEM tour, which began in April 2021 with three cities, said executive director Blaire Massa.

Blaire Massa is executive director of Ballet Des Moines.

“It was so successful that we decided to do it every year, post-pandemic,” she said Wednesday. This month, they’re performing in Des Moines, Waterloo, Okoboji, Clear Lake and Muscatine.

In April 2022, BDM did a full-length new ballet, “Of Gravity and Light,” based on the science of space, and last summer the performances were space-related. A composer in residence did the score, after a year of research, and the ballet built a school curriculum around the performance, Massa said, with movement and music as part of the tools.

“There’s an enormous body of research that we talk about a lot, that shows incorporating creative elements into education makes education all that more effective,” she said. “It improves academic outcomes, as well as other life outcomes.”

BDM has been part of the Iowa NASA Space Consortium. The curriculum, “Of Gravity and Light: Teaching the Science of Our Solar System Through Creativity and Curiosity,” is rooted in both science and a social-emotional practice, paving the way for a deeper understanding of abstract scientific concepts while helping students grow into more empathetic and compassionate humans.

“Every year, we have a different theme and we explore that place where science an art intersect,” Massa said of the June events. “We’ve had some really incredible experiences and conversations around that.”

Ballet Des Moines performing earlier this year at Des Moines’ Water Works Park.

This year, the STEM is focused on female leaders in science and the arts, she said. The performance features female choreographers.

Every year in Muscatine

“We’ve been in Muscatine every year and Muscatine blows me away every year,” Massa said. “Just the reception, how engaged and inquisitive they are about arts performing. They have a great dance community.”

There’s about 15 different local entities, from the Stanley Center to a robotics group, that are part of the event. “I’m really excited about Friday particularly,” she said.

The programs each year always discuss STEM, inquisitiveness, and curiosity.

Ballet dancers have fun with kids in Muscatine during the June 2022 event.

“There’s a lot of energy in the community around ways to engage families and kids in STEM activities,” Massa said. “We’re always impressed with what the partners come up with.”

It’s about building the next generation of leaders and that confidence in learning and curiosity, she noted. That translates to encouraging girls and women to pursue careers in both STEM and the arts.

Massa recommended a book, “Amazing Iowa Women,” by Katy Swalwell, that will be available at the event. (The book features Tahera Rahman, a former WHBF-TV newscaster who was the first Muslim broadcaster to wear a hijab on air in the U.S.)

These leaders have done life-changing things, and stories of Iowa women are inspiring, she said. “One of the things we like to do is just build awareness and maybe spark a little excitement around something that is a little non-traditional, something they haven’t come across yet.”

“We really try to spark career connections, not in a ‘you should study this,’ but you should open your eyes to how many options there are for people that are interested in what you’re interested in,” Massa said.

“We’re trying to promote the fact that being a scientist doesn’t mean you don’t get to be creative; it doesn’t mean you don’t get to have fun,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you can’t do really exciting things that are pushing the boundaries of how society exists.”

Dancers interact with attendees

The ballet run time is about 75 minutes. The dozen dancers often come out and meet people after the performance.

Ballet Des Moines dancers meet patrons in Muscatine.

“These are dancers are residents of Iowa. We are one of the only performing arts companies in Iowa that hires international dancers to come and live permanently in our community,” Massa said. “I love to see the pride in the community members realizing that this is their state ballet company. The dancers are truly incredible performers.”

The company has tripled in size (to 16) over the past four years and for the second year in a row, every dancer has committed to come back next season, she said.

“That’s pretty unheard of for a regional company, for everyone to want to stay,” Massa said. “We can’t rid of them now.”

The most exciting part of this year’s program is “the breadth of what our art form can give you,” she said. “You will see a tutu; we put some classic work on our tour because there are people who love traditional pieces of this art form.

BDM dancers met with kids in Muscatine at the June 2022 event.

“But Ballet Des Moines doesn’t focus primarily on performing classic works,” Massa said. “Our niche is really to seek out and perform works that are meaningful and relevant and important” from female choreographers and choreographers of color, she said.

Last year, the new artistic director (Tom Mattingly) created “Salem” – “one of the most powerful theater experiences I’ve ever had, and we got absolutely incredible feedback from the community,” Massa said, noting an educational curriculum on power and justice was created with that.

Based on the infamous Salem witch trials, it illustrated “the horrific consequences of mistaking different for dangerous.”

“We do a lot of work that is non-traditional, if your view of traditional is a tutu,” Massa said. “You’re gonna see a lot of that in this performance.”

Art is for everyone

BDM promotes the fact that “art is for absolutely everyone and if you don’t see your story in the work we’re doing, come talk to us,” she said. “That is why we’re here, to tell the stories of the people around us.

Ballet Des Moines performs on the Muscatine riverfront on Friday, June 9 at 7 p.m.

“The season we just launched that starts in September is called ‘The Stories That Shape Us,’ and it’s all about bringing out the voices of our community and people who don’t have the opportunity to tell their story out loud or on the stage.”

Next spring, Mattingly is creating a ballet about the LGBTQ community, Massa noted.

For more information about the company, visit its website HERE.