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National Alliance on Mental Illness
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A Well-coordinated Dance: Moscow Ballet Teams with NAMI South Dakota

Last spring, NAMI South Dakota was operating hand-to-mouth: the turnout for its NAMIWalk was not as good as expected, funding was drying up and the economy was beginning to falter. 

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, Bobbie Fachini, the national community outreach coordinator for the Moscow Ballet, was attending a fundraising event, and was introduced to NAMI through a few of the ballet’s co-producers. She was immediately interested in NAMI’s mission and programs, and began thinking about upcoming performance dates and locations for the ballet. 

The Moscow Ballet was set to perform in Sioux Falls, S.D., in October and Bobbie hoped to locate a NAMI group there. She called and set up a meeting with the executive director of NAMI South Dakota, Phyllis Ahrens.  “Phyllis is amazing to work with. She’s great at listening, willing and accepting to become successful. She’s fantastic at taking ideas and running with them.” The two then mapped out a plan.  Phyllis reflects on that first meeting: “the opportunity with the Moscow Ballet just dropped out of the sky.”

The Moscow Ballet has been touring the United States with the Great Russian Nutcracker for 17 years. The production is massive and consists of two tours: an eastern and a western component. Each has 40 performers, 200 costumes, 13 backdrops and performs in 70 markets in the United States and Canada this holiday season. 

Fachini has facilitated fundraisers and several partnerships with hospitals, nursing homes, schools and recovery centers in the past, and decided to put together a much bigger project: looking for organizations that were a good fit and easy to work with.

Fachini saw in the Moscow Ballet’s mission a natural partnership with NAMI:  a therapeutic way to connect art and movement to uplift and energize audiences and participants. The goal of the ballet was to impress upon audiences and funders alike the impact of ballet and other movement/exercise on mental illness.

Another goal was to reach out to audiences that are not accustomed to the performing arts. “It’s hard to reach out to businesses, to talk about ballet and mental illness and NAMI. It’s much easier to teach people, to have them experience movement and feel good about themselves and show that to our prospective funding partners.” Fachini seeks out many ways to impact and help promote fundraising efforts.

Ana Tyutyunnyk has been a soloist with the Moscow Ballet for three years. She is one of three ballerinas who tours the country auditioning local children for local productions. Fachini can’t contain her admiration of the ballerina: “She is a most cherished dance teacher.” While in Sioux Falls, Phyllis Ahrens ran the Moscow Ballet principal, Tyutyunnyk, “ragged,” Fachini says with a laugh.  She even threw a Russian tea party for her. And on Labor Day, Tyutyunnyk performed at the Empire Mall in Sioux Falls for an audience of 100 people.

Both Ahrens and Fachini hope that their relationship will continue on to next year and become an ongoing project. The initial partnership between NAMI South Dakota and the Moscow Ballet will culminate in a performance on Dec. 9.

For more information about the Moscow Ballet and performance dates in your area, visit www.nutcracker.com.

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