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Professor hopes to commemorate death of daughter through ballet

| Wednesday, November 20, 2019

On Nov. 14, 2018, the family of Duncan Stroik, a professor of architecture who has been at Notre Dame for 30 years, experienced the death of their daughter Raffaella.

“Our sweet daughter who is our second oldest died last year in November. She died tragically while she was hiking in a beautiful lake near St. Louis,” Stroik said. “She was a professional ballerina and loved the outdoors, she was very athletic; but there was a sudden snowstorm, like the one last week, it got cold, and she somehow slipped and fell and drowned in the lake, so this was incredibly tragic.”

Courtesy of Duncan Stroik

Raffaella Stroik, ballerina and daughter of Notre Dame professor of architecture Duncan Stroik, will be commemorated in a ballet. A GoFundMe page has been created for the project.

Almost exactly one year later, the Stroiks have found a way to commemorate their daughter by telling her story through her passion: ballet.

“Out of our grief we tried to bring something good out of this horrible, terrible situation, so we thought about what Raffaella loved: beauty, love, noble people and for dance to be inspiring for all ages, so we thought, ‘Why don’t we commission an original ballet that will inspire people?’” Stroik said.

The family is creating and organizing a ballet performance called “A Ballet for Raffaella” and has started a GoFundMe page in order to raise money to make the performance happen. The ballet is currently scheduled for the spring of 2022.

“We have about two, two and a half, years to get ready. It sounds like a long time but there is a lot to do like the choreography and hiring the right people,” he said. ”We are just thrilled that Raffaella’s alma matter, which is Indiana University-Bloomington has agreed to premiere it.”

The ballet will be a creative endeavor combining the work of artists across several disciplines.

“I am an architect not a composer, so the key to the success of the project is to hire the right composer and choreographer to create the ballet,” he said in an email. “As an architect, I will design the sets.”

Stroik and his wife started working on developing this performance a short time after the tragedy.

“We probably started thinking about it around Christmas last year, and my wife and I have been writing a libretto, just like the word they use in opera, so just writing the story,” he said. “We then started talking to ballet experts to get advice and have been preparing for the ballet so now we are fundraising for it.”

Stroik briefly described what the family has in mind for the performance — portraying Raffaella’s story through a very classical ballet style.

“I think about ballet as a beautiful art, and that is why I hope to keep Raffaella’s memory alive through it,” he said. ”She talked about ballet and about wanting to share joy and love through dance, so that’s what we want to do. That’s why we want to do a traditional ballet like Giselle, Swan Lake [and] the Nutcracker — something that would really be an homage to great ballet of all time and also to tell the story of this little princess who died.”

In addition to honoring his daughter’s life, Stroik said he wants the ballet to encourage others to pursue their interests in ballet and music.

“My hope is to encourage young men and women who dance, also to encourage those who love classical music, and also to bring others to show them the joy and the profoundness of classical ballet and how it still speaks to people today,” Stroik said.

Another way Raffaella is currently commemorated is a YouTube video created by her brother, Giovanni, in which he showed what he thinks a day in Raffaella’s life looked like.

“One of my favorite videos of [Raffaella] is a funny video of my daughter, and it is called ‘A Day in the Life of My Sister.’ One of the great scenes is when she is dancing at the Notre Dame campus,” he said. “I think about her in the way she appears in this video. It shows a ballerina dancing around South Bend.”

Raffaella’s family continues to ask for all the support they can get to be able to make this dream of sharing their daughter’s touching story through the art of ballet come true.

“If anyone wants to learn more about the ballet or support it, it’s called ‘A Ballet for Raffaella,’ and its at gofundme.org,” Stroik said.

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