Kitty van der Linde, a local dance teacher in Missoula, founded the Garden City Ballet Company (GCB) in 1984 (Party Scene photo above). The first Nutcracker was held at the University Theatre for four nights in December of that year; the entire show cost less than $5,000 and featured approximately 60 performers.
Kitty graduated from the Brabants Conservatory of Music and Dance (Fonty’s) in the Netherlands. In addition to GCB, Kitty also founded the Garden City Wooden Shoe Dancers (1981) and Sweetwater County Ballet Guild in Green River, Wyoming (1985). Experienced in choreography and pedagogy, Miss Kitty produced The Nutcracker for five years in the early 80s, while teaching partnering classes at the Third Street Studio in Missoula. Miss Kitty has performed in Europe and the U.S., and also has experience in television.
“Garden City Ballet had (at that time) the wooden shoe dancers—this was my way of holding onto my heritage—I taught them to dance in real wooden shoes…I choreographed the dances, shortened the outfit (they were in the colors of the Dutch flag), had my parents send me the real wooden shoes, and we were off. The original GCB Company Productions were the creative outlet for my choreography and direction. It was my baby.” – Kitty van der Linde
After Kitty began this labor of love, it was taken over by Jan Snow, during which time GCB became a non-profit corporation.
“As a child growing up in Montana there was little in the way of training and performing opportunities in classical ballet at a professional level. As the Artistic Director of Garden City Ballet, I had the opportunity to develop a company rich in the classical ballet tradition which enabled our young dancers to both experience the joy of dancing and the ability to compete on a national level.” – Jan Snow
In 1999, Michele Antonioli, Artistic Director of Ballet Arts Academy and Professor of Dance at the University of Montana, took the reins and brought her brand of unique sensitivity to the production.
“My most poignant memories have to do with standing backstage during a performance and watching young and mature dancers on stage–doing what they do so beautifully and with such commitment…and at the same time observing the dancers and parents off stage eagerly watching the action from another perspective. This kind of intense creative adventure offers opportunities to weld families, friends and communities together in a common cause that fosters incredible memories for everyone. I love that.” – Michele Antonioli
Michele passed the baton to Artistic Director Pam Copley in 2002, and Pam continued our mission of giving the young ballet dancers of Missoula the opportunity to grow in their craft while nurturing them through the family experience that is The Nutcracker.
“I love every second of being at the theatre during that final week of rehearsals. Watching the younger children’s faces glow with excitement and the seasoned dancers count down the weeks until they perform yet another Nutcracker provides memories I will never forget. It is a magical experience for a child to grow up dancing in The Nutcracker each Christmas. What a treasure the Garden City Ballet has been for myself and the people of Missoula.” – Pam Copley
In 2008, Michael Murphy came on board as the Producing Director. Michael’s background in directing for the theater and acting was a wonderful addition to the creative team. He restructured the Nutcracker script, as well as worked with set designers to raise the level of production to an all-time high.
“I am a huge believer in creating opportunities in the arts for our children, particularly in those areas that involve collaboration and a focus on excellence. The energy generated by inspiring each other is much greater than any of us can muster alone.” – Michael Murphy
December 2009 marked GCB’s 25th anniversary, and The Nutcracker grew in ambition and stature to have a budget of approximately $100,000 and over 100 performers. The 2010 Nutcracker featured choreography by Pam Copley, Nutcracker guest star and Ballet Arts Academy teacher Colleen Rosbarsky, and former American Ballet Theatre dancer Matthew Murphy, who played Fritz in GCB’s 1992 production.
“Garden City Ballet’s The Nutcracker has been a thread throughout my life as a dancer, parent and choreographer. One of my favorite years was the 25th anniversary. I danced the role of Clara’s mother, my sons Greg and Grant were in the party scene, and my daughter Tess, age five, was a gingersnap. Mayor Engen made a special appearance as Mama G and the crowd loved it. A decade has passed since that performance and my kids are almost all grown up. I cherish that family memory. Dance builds community and brings joy into the world.” – Colleen Rosbarsky
In 2011, Mike Verdon took the reins from Michael Murphy. Mike’s acting career with GCB spanned 19 years, including his unforgettable role as Herr Drosselmeyer for several seasons. His background in theater combined with his intimate knowledge of The Nutcracker made him an ideal choice for this new leadership role. Mike directed in 2012 as well, working alongside assistant director/choreographer Colleen Rosbarsky.
The baton was once again passed back to Director Michael Murphy for the 2013 season — new staging, costumes, and choreography no doubt delighted audiences!
In 2014, GCB celebrated its 30th anniversary and was delighted to welcome back former Artistic Director Michele Antonioli. Michele brings a lifetime of ballet expertise and decades of dedication to Missoula’s own Nutcracker; lucky for us, she directed the 2015, 2016, and 2017 productions before stepping away to spend more time with grandchildren.
In 2018, Jordan Dehline Burt was thrilled to take the reins as Artistic Director. She has choreographed for seven GCB Nutcracker seasons, and grew up dancing every year in her hometown’s production of The Nutcracker as well. Dehline Burt worked in the Missoula County Public Schools for ten years as a Dance Teaching Artist for SPARK!, which allowed her to build relationships with students all over Missoula. She currently teaches at Ballet Arts Academy (BAA).
GCB celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2019! Following the decision of Ms. Burt to step down and focus on her family, we were delighted to welcome back former Artistic Director, Michele Antonioli.
“I am very excited to have another opportunity to be a part of this beautiful production and the Nutcracker community. It is an honor to share this new adventure with Marie Barnett, Jes Mullette and three of Garden City Ballet’s former artistic directors. I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate our 35th anniversary!” – Michele Antonioli
This brings us to 2020 and a very different season due to Covid-19. Michele, along with Assistant Director Marie Barnett, are hoping to audition, cast, rehearse, and individually record (and professionally photograph) each variation for posterity. There will be no live public performances, nor will we be able to sponsor our signature school show. Though it saddens all of us to think about performing to an empty house, we are committed to our dancers and are happy to offer this conservative opportunity. The performance video (available for purchase) will be a treasured keepsake of this truly historic time in our lives.
This holiday favorite has touched the lives, young and old, of more members of our community than can be counted — who continue to find the magical blend of Tchaikovsky’s music and ballet irresistible. The show’s evolution and increasing professionalism have been made possible by a continually active volunteer Board of Directors, a tremendous pool of local dance professionals, and a long-standing relationship with the University of Montana.
Garden City Ballet has come a long way since Miss Kitty first dreamed about producing a Christmas ballet for her students and Missoula audiences. We look forward to many more years ahead, and thank you for joining us on the journey.