A fairy-tale production
[Photos: North Carolina Dance Theatre]
Mia Cunningham, left, is Cinderella and Alexei Khimenko is Prince Charming in North Carolina Dance Theatres production of Cinderella.
By PETER SMITH
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 1, 2001
The North Carolina Dance Theatre is bringing its most lavish production ever to the Mahaffey on Friday. This $300,000 version of the family classic Cinderella, the conception of artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, features beautiful costuming and full-sized puppets dancing with their human counterparts.
The North Carolina Dance Theater Cinderella comes to the Mahaffey Theater, with lavish costumes and sets, life-size puppets and cameos by several young local dancers.
"I wanted something that parents and kids could enjoy," Bonnefoux said. "The music, the dancing, the costumes, the scenery -- we wanted to create something that would be a whole world.
"We are using Prokofiev's music, both from his Cinderella and from his Stone Flower."
Bonnefoux said he wanted to create magic on stage. "For example, the puppets we use -- at first we were going to have them just fill out the stage, then we decided to use them as dance partners. We fool audiences all the time with them, and it was such fun to choreograph.
"Our sets are part of the magic as well. I don't want to say how we do it, but when the carriage appears, thanks to Alan Vaes' brilliant sets, it's just there." (Vaes is a regular scenic designer for the New York City Ballet)
More than 115 costumes have been designed for humans and puppets. "And they're all different," Bonnefoux said. "A. Christina Giannini's costumes are some of the best I've ever seen."
Bonnefoux also is using smaller puppets and a puppet stage in the show. "When the prince goes to all these kingdoms to look for the foot the slipper fits, we use half-sized marionettes, partially because we liked the idea, and partly because it will make the final sets look even bigger and more impressive."
David Rowell, executive director at the Mahaffey, is delighted to have the NCDT back. "We're already negotiating to bring them back next year," he said. "We are enchanted by what they are doing. We've never been disappointed."
When the company tours, it invites local young dancers to participate. Jennifer Winslow and Matthew Horton, both St. Petersburg residents and students at the Cheryl Lee Studio of Dance, are among the 12 young area dancers (and six younger children in atmosphere parts) appearing in Cinderella.
Jennifer, 14, saw the show in Chautauqua, N.Y. "I loved it," she said. "I thought the dancing was really cool. The performers were acting, not just dancing."
Servy Gallardo dances the part of the court jester in North Carolina Dance Theatres production of Cinderella.
Matthew, 15, has only seen the show on video but appreciates the chance to dance with a professional company. The piece they will be dancing is called the Children's Waltz. "It's a straight waltz, but ballet. I'll be dancing with a partner."
The attempts to get a professional ballet company into St. Petersburg are many and varied, according to Cheryl Lee, the children's rehearsal director for this production. "Getting the NCDT down here is pretty amazing," she said in a recent interview. "All the schools in the area have been putting on receptions, things like that, for the longest time, trying to raise money. We still have hopes for a permanent company."
The four schools represented in the Children's Waltz are the Cheryl Lee Studio of Dance, Judith Lee Johnson Studio of Dance (both of St. Petersburg), Diane Partington's Studio of Classical Ballet (Ellenton) and Mary Jo's Dance Academy (Tampa).
While rehearsing Cinderella in February, Bonnefoux had a major heart attack, which left him working part-time on the piece, with choreographers Mark Diamond and MichealVernon. "I feel pretty good now, but pushing myself is out of the question."
Still, he says, he's glad to be back in Florida.
"We have lots of friends in St. Petersburg."
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Preview: North Carolina Dance Theater's production of Cinderella, Friday at 8 p.m., Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg. $26-$33. (727) 892-5767 or (727) 892-5700.
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