OGDEN — For 70 years, the Ogden Symphony Ballet Association has been bringing classical music and dance performances to local venues.
On Wednesday afternoon, with the snip of a ribbon by an oversized pair of scissors, the arts organization that had been OSBA suddenly became OO — Onstage Ogden.
Melissa Klein has been executive director of OSBA/OO for a little over a year now. Before that, she spent another year as the organization’s development director.
“I think one of the things that was really appealing to me when I came to work here was to see the direct impact OSBA had in the community,” Klein said. “Our patrons and donors have remained so loyal to bringing music and dance here that it’s inspiring. My hope is that with these new changes we are investing in the next 70 years for OSBA. Keeping that tradition alive is important to us.”
Klein says an image update was long overdue for an organization formed just a few years after World War II. And one of the primary reasons for Wednesday’s name change was that “Ogden Symphony Ballet Association” was misleading.
“It kind of stemmed from us dealing with a lot of misunderstanding of what we do in the community,” Klein said. “People felt we were actually a symphony or a ballet, so we were always answering questions of where we were playing.”
Which they weren’t. Playing, that is. OSBA is not a performing group, but rather an arts-presenter group that works to bring in artists like the Utah Symphony and Ballet West.
Klein said that in talking to arts patrons who’d been in the area for decades she learned organizers had tried to change the name several times over the years — “but it never got any traction.”
What’s more, Klein realized suggesting a name change for an organization that had been around for seven decades could be fraught with dangers. Some longtime OSBA supporters weren’t happy with the change, but she’s surprisingly OK with that.
“The way I look at it, we are fortunate to have so many people who feel like they have ownership in OSBA,” Klein said. “They’ve really contributed to the success of the organization, and I have enormous respect for that.”
Klein said they wanted to “do this right,” so they hired a brand-design firm and a consultant to guide them through the process. And they tried to minimize blowback by keeping everyone in the loop and engaged in the process.
In the end, Klein believes that whatever the organization formerly known as Ogden Symphony Ballet Association is called, the primary concern is its mission. And that, she says, hasn’t changed.
“I know there are some people that Onstage Ogden wasn’t their first choice,” she said. “But our priority is our commitment to classical performing arts, and that hasn’t changed. Just because we changed the name and look doesn’t change our purpose.”
Partly to show that commitment to classical music and dance, Onstage Ogden has added a fifth Masterworks performance to the 2019-20 season.
“That’s one way of showing we’re not changing directions, or our legacy,” Klein said.
This isn’t to say the new Onstage Ogden isn’t trying to stretch itself a little. Organizers have brought in some contemporary dance in the past couple of years, and next season they’ll be starting a chamber music series in downtown Ogden.
“All of these are ways to reach different audiences, but stay in the realm of classical music and dance,” she said.
And that, according to Klein, has been her vision all along — finding ways to expand audiences without changing the programming direction entirely.
“We’ve been joking at the office that next month is rap concerts,” she said with a laugh. “But I assure you it’s nothing like that. My background is that I was a professional musician. We stick with what we know and do well.”
According to information provided by Onstage Ogden, the group’s journey started back in 1949, when a newly formed symphony guild brought the Utah Symphony — with then-conductor Maurice Abravanel — to Ogden High School for a community performance. It cost the organization $400 to present a concert for almost 300 people.
Eventually, the symphony guild and the local ballet guild would merge to form the Ogden Symphony Ballet Association. Since then, organizers say they’ve brought more than 1,000 concerts, dances and other performances to Weber County.
Symphony and ballet has always been in the organization’s wheelhouse. Although the former OSBA dabbled with bringing the Utah Opera to Ogden a few times, Klein said the venue here wasn’t quite big enough to properly stage an opera. Besides, she says, opera is “very, very expensive” to produce.
Going forward, Klein wants to continue to grow the organization’s outreach and educational programs, “so we are bringing in the next round of classical music and dance lovers.”
“That’s important to put down those roots so we have future patrons,” she said. “So that’s one area we hope to put a lot of time and energy into.”
Klein says one of the challenges they’ve faced in the past with bringing the Utah Symphony or Ballet West to Ogden is they didn’t really have the artists available during the week for a school show or an assembly. But since Onstage Ogden has begun to bring in touring dance troupes and chamber music groups, they’ve had more artist-in-residence opportunities available to reach out to young people.
“I believe that sometimes it just takes seeing the right live performance to shift someone’s direction and inspire them,” Klein said. “I know it sounds cliche, but the power of live performance is transformative.”
Klein said she thinks some people don’t recognize the unique value in bringing the Utah Symphony — one of just a dozen full-time orchestras in the country — to a community the size of Ogden. And most of the time, she says, it’s both more affordable and more accessible to attend the Utah Symphony in Ogden, rather than Salt Lake City.
Klein says the new Onstage Ogden isn’t straying from its Ogden Symphony Ballet Association roots.
“Some of our patrons had the fear that we were going to move away from that,” she said. “But I want to make sure we’re communicating how much we value having the Utah Symphony in Ogden, and what a special thing that is. It’s a cornerstone of what we do.”
For more information on Onstage Ogden, call 801-399-9214 or visit symphonyballet.org.