This is a “Cinderella” year, as Gay Porter sees it.
Before the rags-to-romance story swept into movie theaters in its latest Disney form, it supplied one of the interlocking adventures in the film of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” Now the Charlotte Youth Ballet, led by longtime dance teacher Porter, is getting into the act.
The group will perform composer Sergei Prokofiev’s version of the fairy tale Saturday and Sunday at Halton Theater, with dancers from Balleteatro Nacional de Puerto Rico starring as Cinderella and the Prince. About 80 students from a half-dozen Charlotte-area ballet schools will help flesh out the saga of the lowly girl who marries a prince.
Marena Perez, a principal dancer in the Puerto Rican company, will again put on the glass slipper after playing Cinderella for Charlotte Youth Ballet in 2012. Putting pros such as Perez side-by-side with students has been the group’s No. 1 mission since 1981, when Porter founded the company to complement her Charlotte School of Ballet. Porter thinks Perez and Jose Rodriguez, who will play the Prince, embody what being a dancer means.
“They’re a joy to work with, and they give 100 percent every time,” Porter said. Audiences enjoy their talent and technique, she adds, and dance students learn from the example.
“They come in and they watch the dancers rehearsing very professionally,” Porter said. “They realize that’s what they should be doing – not talking to their friends or coming in late. They realize the discipline of it.”
Ballet brings “Cinderella” a charm of its own, Porter says. In her staging, hard-working Cinderella dozes off in the kitchen, and children costumed as mice awaken her. Dancers playing fairies herald the stroke of midnight. When the Prince takes off after the ball seeking his mystery woman, he runs through a stageful of young dancers costumed as stars.
And the Ugly Stepsisters add a generous dose of humor. As in many stagings, Charlotte Youth Ballet’s sisters are actually men “cavorting around the sets in oversized dresses, ridiculous wigs and facial prosthetics,” said Hardin Minor, who first dolled himself up as a stepsister in 1993.
Because Minor’s longtime collaborator, Eddie Williams, is recovering from knee surgery, Minor will have a new sister-in-drag, Charlotte actor and puppeteer Drew Nowlin. A 10-year member of Minor’s Omimeo Mime Theatre, Nowlin has the virtue of being sturdy enough to hoist Minor aloft during the stepsisters’ antics.
“Bickering over their sewing, rushing to get the best wig, stealing each other’s oranges and vying for the Prince’s attention, it’s sibling rivalry at its worst (best),” Minor wrote in an email. “I had five siblings, so I had intense early training for this role!”
Though Porter founded both Charlotte School of Ballet and Charlotte Youth Ballet, the two are separate nonprofits with different boards, and students from other dance schools take part in Youth Ballet performances. Porter’s school will reach its 50th anniversary in 2018 – not that Porter is counting the years.
“It’s still fresh every day,” Porter said. “When you come in and you’re starting over with the class, or starting a rehearsal, you want to make it the best you possibly can. …. It’s new every time.
“On Sunday, I rehearsed in the morning, then I had the afternoon and evening off. I was bored and miserable. “What do I do now, except clean house or something?’ I’d much rather be in the studio.”
This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.
Charlotte Youth Ballet performs composer Sergei Prokofiev’s version of the fairy tale.
When: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Halton Theater, 1206 Elizabeth Ave.
Details: 704-330-6534, www.charlotteyouthballet.org.