‘It’s a tale that every young child just knows’

Matthew Strother

March 8, 2014

This year’s spring show for the Lafayette Ballet Company is a bittersweet moment – the final show for a group of seniors who are graduating this year.

The ballet company ends the season with “Cinderella,” based on Charles Perrault’s version, the classic will be presented with a “little twist” to the story. The show runs March 14 and 15 at 7 p.m. and March 16 at 2 p.m. at Troup High School Fine Arts Auditorium.

“Cinderella” may be appropriate - becoming the star of the royal ball after years of struggle - for the transformation of the seniors, many of whom began dancing with the company as small children. At a recent rehearsal where the younger dancers were paired with the senior dancers, the older dancers’ idol status was obvious, said Artistic Director Amy Orr.

“You would have thought they were getting to dance with rock stars,” she said of the youngest dancers’ excitement to practice with the older students. “Just to be onstage with big girls and boy … was just so special to them.”

The companionship among the seniors plays in their interactions on stage, Orr said.

“Skye Mauldin, who plays Cinderella, and Chloe Battle, who plays her Fairy Godmother, have pretty much danced together since they were almost tots,” she said. “So there’s really a genuine connection between the two of them in the show. And it will be really special for us because they are graduating and going off to school, as are five other dancers.”

There are a total seven graduating seniors in the cast of about 90 for the show. The cast includes dancers from ages 7 to 18 trained at the company.

“Everybody has trained here, rehearsed here,” she said. “… Some of these girls, including Skye, Chloe and our other seniors, have been here more of their dancing lives. Most of them started between the ages of 3 and 6.”

Orr said there has been some “passing of the torch” moments, like the “rock star” moment where seniors each picked a younger dancer to go through warm-up exercises with.

The youngest cast members, at ages 7 and 8, play fairy attendants. For many, it’s their first company show since “The Nutcracker” and Orr said they “are so full of wonder” and have “meshed” with the senior girls during practice.

“As we get toward this last performance in their last few months here, we’re trying to certainly make something inspirational for the kids they’re going to leave behind and inspire, and also something memorable for them to take with them,” Orr said. “They do become – whether they want to or not – role models for the little ones coming behind them.”

The show

“‘Cinderella’ has not been performed here in, I think, a decade,” Orr said.

The choreography for the show is all Orr’s original work, and this will be the third company she has set it on. However, Orr said dancers always bring their own interpretations to the roles and each company had a unique take, and the young LSPA dancers are putting their mark on it as well.

“I urge the kids to look at other productions to have an idea,” Orr said. “The music score is pretty much universal for ballet companies, Sergi Prokotiev, a little newer composer than Tchaikovsky, more minor key, dissonant. … The score is similar, but I think everybody has their own take on ‘Cinderella.’

“Ours is pretty classical, yet I think very viewer-friendly. There’s that element of comedy, certainly color and familiar icons like the carriage, the clock ticking and the Fairy Godmother with the wand.”

One variation in the ballet is that the Fairy Godmother has four fairies to work with her, representing four seasons: spring, summer, fall and winter. Each bestow gift to Cinderella: a gown, cape, tiara and the famous glass slippers.

The new roles also allow for additional dance scenes, spotlighting more of the graduating seniors and other dancers.

“It’s a great vehicle for our dancers to perform variations,” Orr said. “As in most ballets there are ‘divertissement,’ or things that don’t necessarily further the plot, although they have a job, but it adds beauty and mystique to the story.”

She said those additions to the story are part of entertainment of ballet, adding extra “beauty and magic to the story.” There are also comedic elements supplied by the evil stepsisters and stepmother, and the love story angle between Cinderella and the Prince, played by James LaRussa of the Atlanta Ballet Company.

LaRussa is returning after two LSPA productions of “The Nutcracker.” Orr said LaRussa is not only a great dancer, but actor as well, and having him a part of the production helps teach her student dancers how to better inhabit their roles.

The props being used for the performance may top those used in the group’s 2012 production of “Alice in Wonderland.” The LDA is using a special carriage for a set from Atlanta. Orr said the company is renting costumes from another company and a volunteer is embellishing tutus to add “eye candy” for the audience. Orr said costumes will carry a lot of sparkle and glimmer, and a “magical glow.”

“It’s different from a plain classical ballet – there’s different kinds of music, not what you would expect,” said Chloe Battle, who plays the Fairy Godmother. She noted that each fairy dances to music corresponding to her representing season.

Skye Mauldin, who plays Cinderella, said the show brings more than just the classic tale. She said there is more emotion and depth to the character than just a fairy-tale princess.

“It’s going to be a great show, full of comedy and humor, love, but can’t you can’t just write off Cinderella as the fairy-tale princess story we all know and love,” Mauldin said.”There’s definitely more of an emotional aspect of it that I think is important.”

Sarah Frazer, who plays a fairy attendant and jeweler, said the cast is well-suited to their characters. And even though it’s a classic tale, Frazer said the ballet version brings twists so it’s new to the audience.

Holly Lord, who plays one of the stepsisters, said the twists will make it interesting for the dancers and audience.

“It’s going to be a wonderful ballet and I’m excited,” Mauldin said.

Orr said people should come out and see the group of graduating seniors’s last performance with the group.

“I think it’s special that we have such a large group of seniors that have trained here and performed here for so long, and I know they’ll have not only a following people that know them, but just people who have seen them that will want to come out and see them come out one last time to perform,” Orr said. “And it’s just ‘Cinderella,’ it’s a tale that every young child just knows at a young age.”

Moving on

“I ordered my last pair of point shoes last night, and it was just really sad because I won’t be here with all these people that I’ve pretty much grown up with,” said Lily Karcher, who plays the summer fairy and is one of the seniors graduating this year. “I’ve been with these people since I was 3 years old, and we’ve just all grown up together and seen each-other get better and it’s going to be really sad.”

Hallie Hale, who plays a princess, said this year is important, yet sad, since the seniors are leaving.

“I think with this show and this year in general, senior company has gotten closer than in the past,” Karcher said.

“We’re all very close,” Mauldin said. “And it’s just been a blessing to be around all these people for so long, to dance with them, to just live here with them.

Orr said it is a bittersweet show for the group because of how many graduating seniors will be leaving.

“This is the largest group of dancers who will have graduated all at one time,” Orr said.

“This is sad because we’ve done so many shows, not just spring shows, but all the recitals and all the Nutcrackers and all the spring shows that we’ve done and this is - besides our recital coming up - our last big production with everybody,” Battle said. “We’ll come back and watch the other ones, but it’s not the same being in the audience.”

The senior girls said they formed a bond of sisterhood, and even brotherhood with senior Marcus Bivins, over the years.

“We’ve been here, we know each other’s problems, we’re basically in each other’s lives, even if they want us in it or not,” Battle said. “We’re basically here every day of the week … we see each other at school, then at dance, and that’s our day right there. Then we go hang out after dance. It’s going to be sad when we go in different directions.”

“There are people here that I wouldn’t be friends with if not for dance,” Karcher said. “Now to have this last hurrah, it’s really emotional.”

The girls began to tear up as they talked about the impact dancing together had on their lives.

“Really, it’s a bittersweet moment,” Mauldin said. “It’s a chapter of our lives that’s ending, but then another one’s going to come.”

An emotional Lord added: “It’s never going to be the same.”

“There is a unity, which is not only what makes us so strong, not only just this ballet, but our company, I think it’s very special because it’s just rare these days,” Mauldin said. “It’s a beautiful thing when you have all these people that love you and support you and are like your second family.

“They are my second family basically, I consider all of you my sisters,” Mauldin said to the other dancers, eliciting a few tearful whimpers. “It’s something really special, because it’s a blessing to work with all you guys and Miss Amy (Orr) and Miss Angela (Anderson, studio director) and everyone past and present.”