Princely Steps

Ballet Tucson breaks out the glass slippers

The last time Cinderella and her Prince fell in love on the Centennial Hall stage, in a Ballet Tucson production way back in 2004, they were played by imported stars.

This Mother's Day weekend, Ballet Tucson's own professional dancers will take on the roles of the fairy-tale pair in the romantic story ballet.

"This is the first time we've had our fully professional company doing Cinderella," says Ballet Tucson artistic director Mary Beth Cabana.

For an extra added kick, the storybook lovers are played by real-life wife-and-husband Jenna Johnson and Daniel Precup, Ballet Tucson's principals. And their steps have been choreographed by ballet superstars.

Former American Ballet Theatre dancers John Gardner and Amanda McKerrow (also married) have been associated with the Tucson company part-time the last two seasons. For Cinderella, they created new dances for the crucial ballroom scene during which Cinderella and her Prince are smitten: "They contributed the variations and pas de deux that Cinderella and the Prince do in the ballroom scene. Cinderella is all gussied up. The Prince lays his eyes on her and falls in love."

The two Ballet Tucson stars have been "getting wonderful coaching from Amanda and John," Cabana says.

The three-act romantic ballet tells the timeless tale of the impoverished young woman who wins her Prince with the help of some fairy godmothers and a certain glass shoe. Ballet Tucson's professional dancers take on all the principal roles, but the troupe's Ballet Arts school will still provide about 100 young dancers, from tots to teens, to dance the minor parts of pages, grasshoppers and star girls.

"It's the traditional story, with pretty scenery and lots of scenes," Cabana says. The settings alternate from Cinderella's ashy fireplace in her stepmother's house, to a garden where she encounters the helpful fairies, and from the ballroom to a moving "travelogue" of the countries the Prince journeys to in an effort to find his vanished love.

Based on the French fairy tale Cendrillon by Perrault, Cinderella first was staged as a ballet as early as 1813. But nearly all modern versions--including Ballet Tucson's--have their origins in a 1945 Bolshoi version set to the music of Prokofiev.

"It's a wonderful story, and I'm proud of the production," Cabana says.

The McKerrow-Gardner choreography is not the only innovation in the company's new Cinderella. With 18 pro dancers and trainees in the troupe, the choreography throughout has been ramped up. Former Ballet Tucson choreographer Mark Schneider and associate artistic director Chieko Imada composed most of the movement for the troupe's first Cinderella in 2002, setting it on advanced students. But now that Ballet Tucson has gone pro, Schneider came back to rework the dances.

"He beefed it up for the level of dancers we have now," Cabana says.

Young men were in short supply when Ballet Tucson used primarily dancers from its school. Now the troupe has a strong corps of young men, including Isaac Sharratt, Stuart Lauer, Michael Dunsmore and Daniel Escudero, all of whom distinguished themselves with muscular, showy dancing in the Dance and Dessert concert in March.

For Cinderella, Schneider has them playing the Prince's macho band of buddies. All four get to show off their chops at the ball where the Prince is meant to find a bride, doing tour-de-force dances with reams of hopeful young ladies.

The red-headed Sharratt also plays the Pumpkin Fairy, who metamorphoses into Cinderella's grand carriage.

"We have a full coach," Cabana says. "Two unicorns pull it--Stuart Lauer and Michael Dunsmore."

The troupe also has a strong contingent of up-and-coming young female dancers. Megan Terry, Erica Alvarado, Emily Conelly and Aurora Frey play the Four Seasons Fairies. Samantha Chang dances the Time Fairy, who keeps track of the minutes to midnight, when the fairies' spell runs out.

Meredith Dulaney dances the Fairy Godmother, who transforms Cinderella from raggedy maid into glittering lady, and Deanna Doncsecz plays the wicked Stepmother who does everything she can to keep Cinderella among the cinders.

In keeping with ballet tradition, men take on the roles of the jealous stepsisters, turning them into bumbling comical figures "dressed in the most hideous ball gowns you can imagine," Cabana says.

Joseph McGrath, an actor associated with the Rogue Theatre, plays a dashing black-caped Drosselmeyer in Ballet Tucson's Nutcracker every year. As a stepsister, he switches to a "bright-beaded orange gown with a blue lamé jacket and a wig of birds' nests." Company dancer César Rubio festoons himself in a gown of "shocking pink and kelly green. They're funny."

Otherwise, the costumes, designed by Madelene Maxwell, are fairy-tale pretty, Cabana says. At the ball, Cinderella and the Prince are in matching blue and gold, and everyone else is in a different shade of blue, from "the palest blue to navy, powder blue and brilliant royal." Young girls in the corps de ballet are "star girls in royal blue dresses encrusted with sequins and beads."

Cabana says she's excited to put Cinderella on stage again after a four-year hiatus: "The audience who only knows us as a professional dance company hasn't seen it."

In its first four seasons, the troupe has been building a repertoire of the full-length narrative ballets, including Swan Lake and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and performing them as season finales.

"It's nice to see all these works we've been building and bringing them to the next level," Cabana says. "These big story ballets are really for the community and family."

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