Ballet students pay tribute to lifetime instructor
At the age of 93, Louis Nunnery – Catawba County’s renaissance man, dance instructor, choreographer, painter, decorator and collector of luxury cars – passed away on Feb. 11.
When his lifelong students and friends heard the news, a small group of them met at the only place that seemed right – The Louis Nunnery School of Classical Ballet in downtown Hickory. The ballet company Nunnery started in 1952.
The group included Tiffany Brittain, Paige Levin, Rebecca Catalona, Gretchen Wilson and Greg Jenkins. During the meeting, Brittain said they just knew they have to pull off the year's spring show.
In the past Nunnery had staged performances of “Cinderella,” “Sleepy Beauty” and “Swan Lake.” The group decided there was no better way to pay tribute other than pulling off “Swan Lake.” The group's hard work will be showcased on May, 21 at 7 p.m. at P.E. Monroe Auditorium at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory. The show is free and open to the public to enjoy.
“We started the very next day,” Jenkins said. “Everyone pitched in and we've learned it takes a village.”
Brittain said the group knew that classes had to continue. Wilson, with more than 40 years experience, was given the role as teacher. Jenkins and Brittain began working to organize the school and the spring ballet. Jenkins said over the past few months, he and Brittain have had to turn Nunnery's old school system of books and organization into new school. Brittain laughed at the idea of Nunnery's information being put into a spread sheet as they had done it. They also worked to order costumes and backgrounds as well as create programs and invitations. The two were amazed by how much needed to be done, and Nunnery had always done the work himself.
“He just made it happen,” Brittain said.
While Brittain and Jenkins have worked behind the scenes, the two are also acting as the main characters of the ballet. Wilson is also facing the challenge of teaching and dancing in the school.
“We do want to honor him in some way and there's no bigger honor than coming back to dance for him,” Wilson said.
Wilson started dancing for Nunnery at age nine. She remembers being chosen to dance with Nunnery from 3-9 p.m. everyday after school. Wilson said during her years of dance, Nunnery suggested she take music lessons to help her keep time with music. Wilson took violin lessons. She laughed as she said after all that time she never learned music and still dances too fast.
As she has fallen into the role as the main dance teacher, she has tried to channel Nunnery. She said there was just something grand about him and he commanded presence. She is trying to do the same with the students. She said he left them with a love and an appreciation and taught them grace, poise and discipline.
“While teaching or dancing I'll look back at his chair to ask him how something looks and he's not there,” Wilson said.
“For three weeks no one sat in his chair,” Brittain said. “We would sit around it, but not in it.”
Wilson said while teaching this year's spring performance she is trying to do it Nunnery's way. She said she wanted to choreography to stay true what he taught all of his students.
“The school will go on and the show must go on,” Wilson said.
The show will indeed go on as the group has planned for sponsorship opportunities for students and summer classes. Anyone can sponsor a student at three different levels. A silver sponsorship is $250 and covers classes for half a year. A gold sponsorship is $400 and covers a whole year of classes. A platinum sponsorship is $600 and covers a year of classes shoes and an outfit for a student.
For those interested in summer or fall classes, call now. Summer classes begin June 3 and include exercise and ballet from 9-10 a.m., Monday-Thursday. Intermediate to advanced ballet is offered from 7-8:30 p.m., Monday-Thursday. For those interested, call 828-896-7163 or 704-430-8871.