Backstage with the City Center Ballet’s ‘Cinderella’

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(Host) Over the next two weekends a unique group of dancers will perform a never before seen ballet in Woodstock and the Upper Valley. The story of Cinderella will be brought to life by Lebanon’s “City Center Ballet Company.”

The dancers are young, unusually dedicated, and led by an extraordinary artistic director, as VPR’s Susan Keese Reports.

(Keese) In a mirrored dance studio in Lebanon, New Hampshire, a dozen young ballerinas point and stretch with muscled grace.

(Instructor) “Now melt, melt and stretch, and front….”

(Keese) Their teacher moves among them, her red-gold braid swaying. Ruth Mayer, the creator of the new ballet, lives in Thetford now. But from 1969 to 1984 she danced with the American Ballet Theater, America’s most prestigious ballet company. She worked with the likes of Anthony Tudor and Agnes DeMille.

(Mayer) “I was there when Baryshnikov joined and Nureyev danced with us. I was also there when Twyla Tharpe was starting to work a lot with ballet companies.”

(Keese) Mayer brings the rigor of this training and her own spark to this homegrown corps de ballet. She works her dancers hard. Most of them started at early age, working with the company’s co-founder Linda Copp, who runs the Lebanon Ballet school.

(Mayer) “And by the time I get them they’re dancing four or five days a week intensely. They will do an hour and a half to two hour class and then we rehearse.”

(Meena Lawton) “Ruth really makes it something that’s a joy to do.”

(Keese) Sventeen-year-old Meena Lawton has been dancing here for seven years. Last year she graduated high school early and moved on to a dance school in London. She’s back to dance the role of Cinderella in Mayer’s new ballet.

(Lawton) “Basically, my dream is to reach as many people as I can with my dancing. Because everybody has dreams of falling in love, and everybody has the fear of losing what’s most dear to them and using dance I hope that I get to bring everybody to those different dreams and have them see their dreams in front of them.”

(Keese) Doing Cinderella was not a dream of Mayer’s. The company’s board of directors thought a story so familiar might attract a broader audience to the ballet.

Mayer says Cinderella is usually performed to music by Prokofiev.

(Mayer) “I like Prokofiev music very much. However the Cinderella score I found very dark.”

(Keese) So Mayer chose a mix of music by Alexander Glasunov. Mayer’s Cinderella begins with a test of character, orchestrated by the fairy godmother.

(Mayer) “She turns into a beggar woman and she begs from the step sisters and they walk a big circle around her. Cinderella comes in and of course stops, offers the woman bread – at which point the prince comes in and also helps. And the fairy godmother regards both of them and says, ‘Hmmmm….'”

(Keese) Most of the male dancers in this ballet are imported from New York. But the prince is played by Drew Dixon-Vestal, a Norwich dancer who’s a former co-captain of the Hanover High School football team.

Fifteen-year-old Christina Burkhart is a fairy in a shimmering, winged costume.

(Burkhart) “My favorite scene is actually when the magic starts to happen – when the pumpkin changes, the mice turn into horses, Cinderella gets her dress and outfit for the ball. And it’s just really magical and I hope that the audience will see that.”

(Keese) Mayer thinks they will.

(Mayer) “They’ll see beautiful dancing. In the past audiences have been quite stunned by the level of dancing that they see from kids. They have come back with lovely comments.”

(Keese) The ballet will be performed on Saturday in Woodstock and at the Lebanon Opera House on April 9-10. Performances are also scheduled at the Concord City Auditorium.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

More information:
City Center Ballet

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