The Villager, September 11, 2001,  by Jan Snyder, Contributing writer

Dancing Daze 
Festival Ballet celebrates sixth anniversary

Tucked away in a bright, welcoming studio on Robinson Road is one of The Woodlands best kept secrets. The Woodlands Dance Academy also houses the Festival Ballet Company, the creation of founder and artistic director Deborah Rayburn.

The company currently is in rehearsal for the upcoming sixth season of presenting dance to the area. 

The company brings its productions to life on the stage of The Montgomery College Theatre. This season's first production will be "The Nutcracker," running from Dec. 14 through 16. A perennial holiday favorite, "The Nutcracker" opened Festival Ballet's first season in 1996 and has been staged each year since.

"We love our theater," Rayburn said. "It's such an intimate setting. It's nice to have the audience comment about the costuming, headpieces and theatrical make-up that the dancers wear. They can see all of it because they are right up front. The audience seating is great. You have the stage with the seating raked upwards creating a really intimate atmosphere."

Rayburn's passion for dance and Festival Ballet in particular is obvious as she talks about their productions. Along with her husband, Mike, the managing director, and ballet master John Brinkman, she is bringing to life their mission, which is to enlighten and entertain audiences with classical and contemporary 

"Dancers in our company vary in age from 13 up to 23 years old," Rayburn said. "What's so wonderful about what goes on here is that since Festival Ballet's inception, we have always had an atmosphere here that drew serious dancers, professionals as well as serious students."

The 2001-2002 season will present a mixed repertoire featuring "Sylvia," "Tarantella," plus a new choreographic work by Houston Ballet principal dancer Tim O'Keefe. A new modern work by Cynthia Cupach will be featured in February and the season will end with the timeless love story "Cinderella," presented from May 31 through June 2.

According to Rayburn, "We start pulling things together in July and start rehearsing in August. In December we take the stage. The fun part of it is we are gearing up for 'The Nutcracker' and setting up Tim O'Keefe's ballet at the same time. So for a young professional company, it is a new set of challenges. Without a wonderful artistic company, this couldn't all happen."

Rayburn began her own dance training with Houston's Rogulio Rodriguez and continued her training with Houston's Margo Marshall, Deborah Quinam, Barbara Legualt and the Houston Ballet Academy. She performed with the ballet companies City Ballet of Houston, Houston Dance Theater, Allegro Ballet and the Repertory Dancers. 

Ballet Master John Brinkman started his dance career with Texas National Dance Theater. He taught and choreographed at The Colorado Youth Ballet School and spent three years dancing works with Tulsa Ballet Theater.

An executive board of directors and a member board of directors handle the behind-the-scenes work for Festival Ballet. 

"Many of them are dance associates that I've met through the years," Rayburn said. "Some are business people in the greater Houston area. 
We have a wonderful guild that is great about organizing people within the community. The support arm for the company is who helps us get on stage; it's not just one person."

For more information, opportunities to volunteer, or season tickets, call (281) 292-9441 or visit the company's Web site at