The dance community mourned when we learned of the tragic passing of young, emerging ballet dancer, Raffaella Stroik. Shocked and confused, those that knew her and those that knew of her were forced to accept the fragility of life and the importance of doing what you love for as long as you can. No one felt this more than Raffaella’s parents, Duncan and Ruth Stroik.
In the midst of their grieving, Duncan and Ruth seeked a memorial worthy of their beloved daughter. This took the form of something their daughter loved the most: a full-length ballet, created for and loosely about Raffaella’s life. From its conception, the ballet has been a collaborative work and is close to reaching its GoFundMe goal of $250,000.
We asked Duncan Stroik, Raffaella’s father, for some insight into the fundraising and creative processes behind the new work: Raffaella the Ballet.
Can you tell us a little bit about your mission for this endeavor? What do you hope to accomplish or say through the ballet?
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.
What has the process of creating this ballet been like so far? How have you begun compiling artists to complete all of the various elements required to create a ballet?
Having been the father of dancers for over 25 years (all of our kids danced), I was aware of the need to hire a top quality composer, choreographer, set designer, and costume designer for this new ballet. As an architect, I hire talented experts to help me build buildings. The Dean and faculty at Indiana University, the school Raffaella attended, have been advising me and offering ideas. I also know talented people in the classical music world like Andrew Balio of the Baltimore Symphony and the Future Symphony Institute.
Since Raffaella died, I have been listening to contemporary classical music and watching choreographers in a new way. My mantra is WWRD: What Would Raffaella Do? With the help of my wife, my intention is to be the impresario or producer of the ballet and bring together a top composer and choreographer to create the ballet. At a later point, we will bring in a costume designer, and yours truly will design the sets.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced throughout the fundraising and conceptualization of this new work?
Like a good building or movie, creating a ballet takes time. Initially, I wanted to rush through it, hire everyone, and get it performed. However, wiser minds and the need for excellence caution patience. Raffaella was a good ballerina with high standards, and she whispers in my ear that everything needs to be of the highest level.
We have worked on the story for over a year and have gotten lots of good criticism. Once we hire Tchaikovsky and Petipa, they will transform it into what it needs to be, and I am very open to their recommendations.
On the fundraising front, we have been amazed at the outpouring of support both financially and spiritually for the ballet. So many people have written to me from across the country, saying that this is a worthy memorial to our daughter. In just a couple of months we have raised over $119,000 out of our target of $250,000. I am confident that others will bring our fundraiser to completion!
Can you describe your vision for the ballet and why you decided on creating a traditional story ballet?
Raffaella loved to dance many types of ballets. Many found her performances in Emeralds and Serenade scintillating. She had amazing teachers for these Balanchine gems, such as Michael Vernon and Violette Verdy. However, she had a special place in her heart for the classics with their beautiful costumes, sets, and narratives. She felt especially connected to Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, and Romeo and Juliet.
Emeralds, Coaching by Violette Verdy
As an architect, I love how these masterpieces can speak to everyone because they have a little bit of everything in them: story, music, fantastical sets, ancient costumes, wooing and fighting, love and hatred, friends and enemies, nobility and fairies.
I realize that it is more typical today to create new ballets without a traditional story, although I have been inspired by some amazing exceptions from top choreographers and composers like Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Cleopatra, and Alice in Wonderland. A model for me is from the Northern Ballet in Leeds, where David Nixon and Claude-Michel Schonberg (among others) have created stories that rival theatrical, operatic, and film productions.
From what I have read and heard about Raffaella, she was a light in the lives of everyone who knew her. What do you want people to remember most about her?
Her desire to bring joy to people and employ the arts as a means for bettering our world. Her motto was that "beauty will save the world" from Doestoevsky. We all have a role in society, and hers was as the dancer who shows us truth through beauty. Ballet is an art form which is both creative and disciplined...and not easy. Beauty is hard to create and hard to live by, but the great ballets offer us the ideal for life.
Is there anything else you would like the dance community to learn or gain from this project?
I want the dance community, especially young dancers, to know how much we appreciate what you do. You have a crucial role in society, and you bring us meaning through laughter, sadness, and joy. You show us great evil and how great good, especially true love, can triumph over it.
Raffaella the Ballet is a story of a young ballerina who danced her heart out and gave love to all she met— like all of you are doing! May others be inspired by Raffaella and be encouraged to go even further in their artwork.