Since 1953, Wichita Falls has been a center for ballet excellence, starting with two talented and passionate immigrants, Irina Kladivova and Frank Karhanek. Irina was a Czechoslovakian prima ballerina and Frank was trained in the grand Russian tradition. Adopting the last name Pal, they built their home in Wichita Falls and sought to train youth who had a passion for dance. In 1963 their dance company was incorporated as the Wichita Falls Ballet Theatre.
Highly revered throughout the city, Frank and Irina brought the first production of The Nutcracker to the area in 1963. The WFBT dancers were accompanied by a young Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra. The Pals were instrumental in directing the WFBT company to push beyond our community borders and become a part of Regional Dance America, and both Frank and Irina are lifetime members.
In 1988, the directorships passed to Gari Boehm and Patricia Thornton who had served as their assistants. During this period the WFBT was 1 of 30 ballet companies recognized nationally as an Honor Company by Regional Dance America, based on a demonstration of artistic and technical excellence. The WFBT has also been listed among 3 of the 24 companies in the Southwest Region who were invited to perform in the Regional Festival Gala for ten consecutive years. In 1990, RDA honored Frank and Irina at Festival, and in 1992 they dedicated the festival to Irina as a memorial for her passing.
A number of WFBT dancers have worked to become professional dancers and many work as dance faculty performing in a variety of prestigious venues. Many dancers cite their training ground to have begun with the Wichita Falls Ballet Theatre.
Valentine and Mishic Liberatore reawakened the passion for ballet within our community in 2013 when they became WFBT co-artistic directors. The presentation of their inaugural version of The Nutcracker marking the 50th anniversary of The WFBT received a standing ovation and marked the beginning of a new era of passion and excellence in company performance.
In 2016, Valentine became the Executive Director of the WFBT, while Mishic remains Artistic Director. Today, upgraded studios and facilities are used for rehearsals, auditions, and development of choreography. The WFBT holds company auditions for its season which runs from August-May. Under their leadership and excellent teaching skills, the company is enjoying a renaissance of enthusiasm and quality.
The Nutcracker continues to be a staple for the holiday season, and is a natural introduction to the magic of ballet for all people from all walks of life. Each year the ballet attracts larger audiences at the city’s largest venue, Memorial Auditorium. Many new residents are amazed that a city of 100,000 has a pre-professional ballet company adding to the culture and diversity of Texoma. Exceptional support came from the community philanthropists and private foundations in 2014 when new costumes, sets, props and lights were purchased with grants and donations and a new warehouse was purchased.
In 2014, the World Premiere of the Liberatores’ full length production of The Nutcracker signaled a new vibrant direction in the Tchaikovsky tradition with live music by the Wichita Falls Community Orchestra, and with the new costumes and sets.
Going forward, WFBT has added a spring performance to their schedule, starting with the original production of The Western Ballet, a retelling of the history of Wichita Falls in 2015, and with a collaborative and unique production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream which included portions of live acting with players from Backdoor Theatre in 2016.
The WFBT also presents a free program called “Afternoon with the Arts” each spring which usually serves a young audience of more than 5,000 students. In 2016, school children delighted to a shortened performance of the spring show, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Additionally, our company students performed at the Frontier Ballet Festival in Fort Worth, and the company shared its talent as featured performances for area non-profits.
The WFBT is thrilled to offer another spectacular full season this year under the artistic direction of Mishic Liberatore. Exciting additions this year include The Nutcracker and Signature Series, to feature Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and a world premiere this May of Alice in Wonderland. Our commitment to excellence, passion, and creativity remains strong and continues to push the WFBT forward, paving a clear path for the future of dance in Wichita Falls.
photo by b.guilliaux