There were ballet dancers at BYU before 1971, but they belonged to a student club. Ballet dancing was an extracurricular activity. But all that changed when the university decided it could sponsor an official performing group, and BYU Theatre Ballet was born.
The program was pretty meager in the early years, says Sandra Allen, who was put in charge of it then and is currently associate department of dance chair at BYU. We had a little budget. Most of our works were choreographed by students. But we did have some fine performances.
Still, she says, she looks at where the program is now, some 40 years later, and it is phenomenal.
Current artistic director Shani Robison has been with the program for four years, and she has taken on the responsibility in a way that takes your breath away," Allen says. "She has great choreography and beautiful dancers."
BYU Theatre Ballet will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a full-length production of "Cinderella" Thursday through Saturday in the de Jong Concert Hall. The work features original choreography by Robison, danced to live accompaniment of Sergei Prokofiev's classic score provided by the BYU Philharmonic, under the direction of Kory Katseanes.
The production marks the first collaboration between the ballet and the orchestra since the 1980s, says BYU faculty member Lynn Thompson. "That, coupled with beautiful dancing, will add to the overall appeal of this classic tale that whisks audiences far away to the land of 'happily-ever-afters.' It's a perfect fit for celebrating Valentine's Day."
Another special feature will be a Prince and Princess Party that will begin an hour before each performance in the de Jong Concert Hall lobby. Children are invited to dress up in prince and princess costumes to meet Cinderella, Prince Charming, the Fairy Godmother and all of her fairies. Parents are invited to bring cameras to take pictures with the dancers. To allow children to "experience a live artistic production," all children's tickets to the performances are half-price.
"Exquisite dancing and a delicate portrayal of Cinderella, coupled with a strong, convincing Prince promises the success of the production," says Thompson.
Cinderella and her Prince are portrayed by Megan Conway and Tomas Farnsworth on Thursday and Saturday nights; Jenny Benham and Taylor Stranger dance the roles on Friday evening and for the Saturday matinee.
Paige Hollingsworth, Hillary Fullmer, Natalie Sandberg and Kayla Hoover play the comical stepsisters. Set design is by Erin Dinnell, with costumes by Marsha Russell, and illustrative designs by Kristi Harmon.
The production is a collaborative effort by the College of Fine Arts and Communications, funded by the Laycock Center for Collaboration in the Arts Grant and the Mary Lou Fulton Chair Award. "We are so grateful for these donors," Robison says, "which made it possible to do a full-length production with the Philharmonic."
That collaboration actually started a couple of years ago, she explains, when she and Katseanes talked about the possibilities. "He was interested in doing either 'Cinderella' or 'Swan Lake,' which is such a classic. We felt like we could create 'Cinderella' from scratch, and that would be more fun."
Another collaboration was bringing in Rodger Sorensen, chair of the theatre and media arts department to coach the dancers in their acting skills. "He came offering a fresh theater approach. Dancers are not always the best actors, so it has been exciting to see our dancers become one with their characters. It's been a fun journey for them. It's been so refreshing, I don't think I'll ever do a full-length production without an acting coach again," Robison says.
BYU Theatre Ballet does a full-length production every other year. In the other years, the program comprises smaller, often original, works. "Our repertoire seasons are also stunning," Robison says.
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