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Fairy Repertory

With an eye towards becoming a total-pro outfit, Ballet Tucson and 'Cinderella' highlight a Mother's Day weekend of dance

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Mary-Beth Cabana was in the middle of dyeing costumes caterpillar-green around noon one day last week.

"Let me call you back in five minutes," she said. "I want to make sure I get the color right."

That color, a sea-foam shade, was for the caterpillars who dance in the fairy scene of the sumptuous Cinderella, which Ballet Tucson brings to Centennial Hall this Mother's Day weekend. (For a slew of other local dance concerts this weekend, see below.)

Artistic director Cabana, formerly a principal with Cleveland Ballet, said the cast numbers about 140, what with Cinderella, her Prince, the evil stepfamily, four fairies, ballroom courtiers and dozens of pages, butterflies and sprites. And all those characters mean countless costumes.

"I'm trying to do eight other groups (of dyeing) today," Cabana said. The costumes are designed by Madeleine Maxwell and sewn by a trio of valiant volunteer moms. If the cast is gigantic and the costumes elaborate, so are the sets.

Based on the Perrault fairy tale and set to Prokofiev's 1944 score, the ballet opens in the posh house where the cruel Steps, mother and daughters alike, torment sweet Cinderella. Then, in a departure from Perrault's storyline, the scene switches to a magical fairyland. Here, a quartet of seasonal fairies--accompanied by sprites and caterpillars--give Cinderella her pumpkin coach, her gown and, most importantly, her glass slippers. Next comes the ballroom, glamorously outfitted with candelabras, a staircase and a double balcony.

"It's a huge scene with a big procession, a minuet, and ladies-in-waiting, flag bearers, trumpets," Cabana said.

Cinderella (Gina Ribera) and the Prince (Harald Uwe Kern), newly in love, do a grand pas de deux. In the succeeding "travelogue" scene, the bereft Prince goes 'round the world in search of his lost love, astride a mechanical horse, the scrolling oleo behind him depicting landmarks from Spanish windmills to Swiss Alps. Finally, inevitably, there's the happy-ever-after scene.

"That's a new piece of scenery," Cabana enthused. "It's a beautiful celestial backdrop in deep blue, with huge season icons, and the universe and stars. The stars are characters in deep royal-blue ball gowns encrusted with sequins."

The stepped-up production values match Ballet Tucson's growing ambitions. While a slew of children dance in the corps, most of the main parts are handled by adults and advanced teens in the company, dancing original choreography by assistant artistic director Chieko Imada and choreographer-in-residence, Mark Schneider. But imported guest stars play the two leads.

Ribera ("a lovely dancer") reprises her Cinderella of two years ago, when Ballet Tucson debuted this production. A frequent guest of the company--she's danced in its Nutcracker and Midsummer Night's Dream--Ribera has worked with National Ballet of Norway, Cleveland Ballet and Oakland Ballet. Kern, formerly of the Vienna State Opera Ballet, is now a freelancer who has danced with the Joffrey, the Basel Ballet and Ballet Internationale. Last year, he danced Oberon to Ribera's Tatiana.

And now that Ballet Tucson dances on Centennial Hall's large stage, "We are building up a repertory of full-length ballets," Cabana said. "We may do Sleeping Beauty next year, or Giselle."

The stockpiling of story ballets has another purpose, besides filling that stage: They'll be dance-ready material for next year's all-new Ballet Tucson. For several years, the troupe has been the professional branch of Cabana's respected Ballet Arts studio, but next season, she intends to take the company totally pro.

"We're going to a new level next year," she said. "I'm excited. I'm way ready."

She hopes to have a team of about eight full-time dancers, working a paid 25- to 28-week season, dancing up to five separate productions. She's already scheduled auditions around the country this summer to line up the dancers and put them under contract. And she believes Tucson audiences will support a home-based ballet company.

"This city has everything else but ballet," she said, including a symphony orchestra, opera and theater and modern dance companies. "We want to move into a more professional situation. The timing is right."

Cabana has developed a reputation for turning out fine young dancers, but, "There's a flaw in the system here," she said. "I want our kids to go out and do great things. But for some, to have professional work here and have some of them stay would be great."

Hayley Kisiel is among the young Ballet Arts-trained dancers poised to start a career elsewhere. Her Fairy Godmother in Cinderella will be her farewell performance in Tucson; after graduating from high school this month, she's off to Birmingham to join Wes Chapman's Alabama Ballet.

Deanna Doncsecz, an adult dancer who will remain with the new Ballet Tucson this fall, dances the Stepmother, while two male dancers, Joseph McGrath and Thom Gilliam, reprise their comical Stepsisters. César Rubio, often seen with the UA Dance Ensemble, takes the part of the Dancing Master and the Prince's Friend, while Ahiram Malveaux, formerly with Dance Theatre of Harlem, dances the Jeweler and another Prince's Friend.

"We're in good shape," Cabana said with satisfaction. And evil Stepmother notwithstanding, "We think this will be a nice show for Mother's Day."


ADDITIONAL STEPS

The slightly rechristened ZUZI! dance company also celebrates motherhood in its Wild Blooms, a two-weekend concert of modern dance. The opening-night show Friday benefits the Birth and Women's Health Center, a nonprofit facility staffed by midwives that was forced to shut down briefly two years ago. The production offers 12 works, including Beth Braun's "Stand and Be Counted," a piece inspired by Tucsonan Gabriella Schneider, a writer, painter and Holocaust survivor. Other choreographers include Nanette Robinson, Ojeya Cruz Banks, Wendy Joy, Kim Kieffer, Carie Schneider, Jenn Hoefle and Nate Dryden, who performs his own solo.

The shows are at 8 p.m. Friday-Sunday, May 7-9; at noon on Friday, May 14; and at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 15, in ZUZI's Theater in the Historic YWCA, 738 N. Fifth Ave. Tickets cost $14, with senior and student discounts available; $25 for one and $40 for two, for the fund-raiser May 7. Call 629-0237 for more information.

O-T-O Dance offers up Spring Sprung Dances, another potpourri of works by numerous choreographers, including Charlotte Adams, Thom Lewis, Annie Bunker, Kevin Schroder, Amy Barr and Sarah Parton. The O-T-O members will do the movement honors, along with guests Lewis and Julia Miller; composer/musician Chris Lévesque provides the music.

Curtain is at 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 8 and 9, at the Ortspace, 121 E. 7th St. Tickets cost $8 and $10. Find information at 624-3799 or orts.org.

Two UA dancers about to graduate with degrees deliver a master's concert, Fusion of Three, at one show only, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 8, at the UA's Stevie Eller Dance Theatre. Steve Casteel owns the first half, dancing ballet and modern, including a Sam Watson duet that Casteel performs with Christy Crowley. Kari Schroeder takes over the second half, dancing jazz, tap and tango, and serving up a little musical theater with the help of student singers and actors. Tickets cost $10; $8 for students and senior citizens. There's a $3 discount for those with ticket stubs from last weekend's UA Dance Ensemble concert. Call 405-3468.

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