'Fairies' flip, float and fly

Published February 14, 2007

In December 2005, Jenny Nesselroad was mesmerized watching acrobats soar through the air in the Cirque du Soleil production Varekai at Tropicana Field.

"I wanted to do that," said Jenny, a fifth-grader at St. Paul's Catholic School in St. Petersburg.

Now she will get her chance.

Jenny, 10, is one of several dozen students training at BB's Dance Factory in Clearwater to perform in a musical theater production called Fairies, Inc. It is inspired by Cirque du Soleil, the modern circus entertainment empire based in Quebec.

Fairies, Inc. is the brainchild of Beth Brier, director of BB's Dance Factory.

"Circus and aerial shows have been popular around the world," Brier said, "It's now catching on in the U.S."

Brier's production is a blend of dance, contortion, Chinese acrobatics and aerial feats set to lively music with original choreography. It premieres at the Largo Cultural Center on March 24 and 25.

A dance teacher for 32 years, Brier, 52, opened BB's Dance Factory seven years ago. The converted warehouse facility is 3,600 square feet and has 13-foot ceilings. Dance classes include jazz, tap, hip-hop, modern, classical ballet and pointe. For the very young, 18 to 36 months old, there is a creative movement class.

"At that age we're teaching them to follow instructions and to enjoy staying in good physical shape," Brier said.

Brier decided to offer cirque-style training because of her daughter, Catie.

"When she was 10, Catie decided she wanted to be a Chinese contortionist and run away with the circus," Brier said.

Catie, now 18, pursued that goal by training at the San Francisco Circus Center for the past two years. It is the only facility outside mainland China where Chinese acrobatics and contortion are taught, Brier said. Catie will return to Pinellas to perform a contortion and dance act and a hoop solo in her mother's production.

Contortion emphasizes extreme stretching and flexibility. Chinese acrobatics differs from American gymnastics; everything in Chinese acrobatics is based on handstands, Brier said.

Brier opened BB's Dance Factory with 22 students. There are now 150 students, toddlers to adults.

Kurt Krynski, a professional dancer trained in New York, teaches five classes a week at the studio.

One of the classes is cirque-style, which includes training in trapeze, hoops, Spanish web (rope), power tumbling and contortion.

Krynski leads a group of 5- to 11-year-old girls through warmups and wall stretches before they launch into trapeze work.

The biggest challenge with younger students is their focus, Krynski said.

"A lot depends on how serious they are," he said. "It takes hard work to develop the strength that's required for aerial skills."

Krynski's students have been training on a custom-made triple trapeze made of heavy-duty steel with cables wrapped in cotton ropes, designed by Brier. The trapeze will be used in Fairies, Inc. and students will wear costumes made by a woman in Orlando who worked with Cirque du Soleil.

Brier said her dance students do not need perfect body types, but they do need personality, enthusiasm and stage presence - like Lily Graham, a bubbly, blond 8-year-old who dances and tumbles as part of the main cast in Fairies, Inc. She also sings a solo in her role as the Song Fairy.

"Dancing is fun, but I love to sing," Lily said.

The lyrics to the solo were written by Lily's sister, Elaine, 11, who has been dancing since age 4. Like many of the girls in the cirque class, Elaine also trains in other dance styles: ballet, tap and jazz.

The sisters are homeschooled by their parents in Clearwater.

If you go

Mark your calendar

What: Fairies, Inc., a cirque-style performance

When: March 24 at 7 p.m., March 25 at 2 p.m.

Where: Largo Cultural Center, 105 Central Park Drive

Tickets: $20; children 12 and under $12.50

Call: (727) 587-6793